Weather Blog

A 'tornado' of light? No, just rare, fancy light pillars

A 'tornado' of light? No, just rare, fancy light pillars
Photo Copyright: Mike Hollingshead /

A cold morning in the Midwestern plains in January isn't all that rare, but an amazing light show a cold morning produced on Jan. 26 was quite unique!

Photographer Mike Hollingshead of was out in the Nebraska corn fields near Blair when he happened upon this light show that could give auroras a run for their breath-taking money.

"I've seen light pillars in town a few times but never with the V shape on top," he told" Some seemed to have stacked Vs above one another. Not long after getting there the show was over. It was near a corn milling plant with mid-teens temps."

What causes these funnels of light? It has to do with the shapes of the ice crystals amid calm weather.

"Ordinary pillars are produced by plate-shaped ice crystals roughly half way between you and the light source," atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley told "These are different. Their rarely seen flared tops show that they were made by column-shaped crystals drifting slowly downwards and aligned horizontal by air resistance."

Whatever their cause, it would almost make it worth it to deal with the icy morning temperatures.

Here is a larger version: (Photos copyright Mike Hollingshead / and used with permission from the photographer.)

Speaking of picturesque photos, we've had our fair share around the Northwest over the past few days. Here is a sun pillar from Eatonville, taken on Jan. 27 by Dave and Mary Jenkins. That too is caused by ice crystals reflecting the sunlight, only this straight-vertical type is much more common.

Here is more information on how sun pillars form, from

And here is another great sunset photo, only sans the pillar, from Mukilteo, shot by J.W. Karlsten: