Friday, May 3, 2013

Temperature inversion = refraction

On Tuesday evening, we went to Cahoon Park in Bay Village and I swear I could see the Canadian shoreline across the lake. Turns out I might have been right. A local TV station reports that due to an unusual combination of cold water and warm air, you could see all the way across Lake Erie on Wednesday. I'd heard about this some years ago; apparently the same type of event made the skyline of downtown Cleveland visible from the Canadian side. I think someone even claimed to be able to see people and cars, and to hear traffic noise (the sound waves get bent as well as the light waves), but that seems unlikely.

Apparently there are a number of mirage-type phenomena caused by unusual refraction paths due to temperature inversions. They're called looming and fata morgana, in which one or more images over the horizon appear to float above the true horizon. What I saw did appear to be separated from the horizon by a gap of sky.

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