The Rare Phenomenon Known As “Crown Flash”

When looking up at the sky, you can see some really weird things, but one thing that makes people scratch their heads, wondering if they’re hallucinating, is a phenomenon known as “crown flash.” According to the Guinness World Records, the extremely rare meteorological phenomenon was first described in the Monthly Weather Review in 1885. A crown flash occurs when sunlight reflects off of tiny ice crystals above the crown of a cumulonimbus cloud. These ice crystals are aligned by the strong electric field effects around the cloud, so it may appear as a tall — sometimes curved — streamer or pillar of light, or it may resemble a massive flash like a searchlight. When the electric field is disturbed by electrical charging (typically from lightning) within the cloud, the ice crystals are reoriented, causing the light pattern to shift and appear to “dance” in a mechanical fashion. The phenomenon is so rare that many meteorologists have never seen one.