Rainbow State

A virtual tour of the scientifically best place for rainbows

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Steven Businger

Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State, and research from a University of Hawaii professor shows that this is more than just a cute nickname.

Minghue Chen

According to scientist Steven Businger, four factors make Hawaii the best place on Earth to see this stunning natural phenomenon in action.

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1.

The warm ocean water surrounding Hawaii radiates heat into the atmosphere at night, leading to morning showers as evaporated water condenses.

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The best time to see rainbows is in the morning and evening, when the Sun is within 40 degrees of the horizon, so early rain makes for some of the best rainbows.

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2.

Hawaii’s mountains push trade winds upward, causing rainclouds to form overhead while leaving the sky clear for viewing on the side opposite the wind.

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3.

Daytime heat drives wind circulation, which can cause afternoon showers around the mountains, setting the stage for spectacular rainbows as the Sun sets.

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4.

Hawaii’s relative isolation means the air has less pollen and pollution, which offers rainbows a veritable “blank canvas” any time of day.

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Rainbows can form anywhere with enough sunlight and water in the air. Ireland’s rain and the mist around waterfalls are also known to produce incredible rainbows.

But if you’re looking for the best light show nature can offer, Hawaii’s unique conditions make for rainbows so incredible they’re part of its culture.

“In Hawaiian mythology the rainbow is a symbol of transformation and a pathway between Earth and Heaven, as it is in many cultures around the world.”

Steven Businger, professor in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

Matt Champlin

Read more stories on the environment here.

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