What Was That Ring Around The Moon?

12:59 PM, Dec 2, 2009   |    comments
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Triad, NC -- "A ring around the sun or moon, means rain or snow is coming soon". Maybe you have heard this saying before, but have you ever taken the time to think about why this piece of weather folklore might hold some water?

Many viewers contacted WFMY News 2 Tuesday night in search of answers for what caused the ring around the moon. So, let's start from the beginning.

In advance of approaching storm systems, especially in the winter, moisture in the upper levels of the atmosphere begin to increase first.  The moisture is evident in the high clouds that begin to increase through the day.  These high clouds or cirrus clouds are composed of fine crystals of ice. 

It is only when a layer of cirrus clouds reaches the optimum thickness that a ring will be able to form. The layer of the clouds must not be too thick, however, or the light will not shine through the clouds.

The layer if cirrus clouds or ice crystals are critical because it is the ice crystals within the cirrus clouds that create the ring.  As the light of the moon shines through the cirrus clouds the ice crystals cause the light from the moon to refract and produce the ring. 

Refraction is the bending of light as it passes through one medium to the next.  In the case of the ring around the moon the two mediums are the atmosphere and the ice crystal. 

Interestingly enough, the ring is not unique to the moon, but you can also find rings around the sun as well when similar conditions are in place.  We are just more likely to notice the ring around the moon because of the contrast between the light of the ring and the dark of the night.

The folklore attached to the ring around the moon definitely speak some truth; Even the one where you count the number of stars inside the ring to determine the number of days before snow.  The temperatures may not be cool enough to support snow at the time of the ring, but as the storm system moves in and begins to usher in cooler air along with the moisture already in place, the scenario could be such to produce snow.  Typically this process of events could take three to five days to take shape (three to five stars inside the ring).

We'd love to hear your weather folklore stories and see any pictures that you took of the ring around the moon. You can comment below and/or upload your photos to our PHOTO GALLERY.


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