Fogbow on Hawksbill Mountain, Virginia

December 06, 2021



Photographer: John Adam 

Summary Author: John Adam 

Hawksbill Mountain, at approximately 4,050 ft. high (1,234 m) is the highest peak in the Shenandoah National Park of Virginia. We were driving along parts of the Skyline Drive hoping to catch views of the fall leaf colors, but (i) were about a week or more too early, and (ii) were driving in thick fog most of the way! However, there are some beautiful hikes of varying lengths all along the road, and we decided to take the one to the summit of this peak (it’s about a mile from the parking lot and not at all strenuous). The leaf colors were quite spectacular when viewed from “within” the woods. At the top we encountered a slowly-changing fogbow as the mist drifted and thickened. A faint supernumerary bow was visible at times, as well as a reddish tinge on the upper portion of the bow. A small gathering of other hikers on the peak turned into a short impromptu lecture about meteorological optics and the beauties of nature, despite not being able to see a panoramic view of the valley below!

Cloud or fog droplets (usually no more than 100 microns in diameter) are much smaller than the rain drops producing rainbows. These tiny cloud droplets result in a bow that’s very broad compared to the bow formed by rain drops. Thus, fogbow colors are pale because the individual colors overlap. Note that unlike a rainbow, there’s very little color or tone gradation in fogbows. Photos taken on October 12, 2021.

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