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  • Author or Editor: Craig F. Bohren x
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Craig F. Bohren
Alistair B. Fraser

Green thunderstorms are observed occasionally, yet with one exception they have received no scientific attention, experimental or theoretical. Fraser suggested that thunderstorms themselves are not green but that a thick thunderstorm provides a dark backdrop for green airlight near sundown. Greenness is a consequence of reddened sunlight illuminating selective scatterers along the observer's line of sight. Bohren's alternative explanation is that green thunderstorms may be a consequence of the intrinsic blueness of clouds because of selective absorption by pure water, liquid or solid. Most clouds are so thin that the light transmitted by them is not markedly colored because of selective absorption. Only the most massive clouds—large both vertically and horizontally—are thick enough to shift the color of incident sunlight upon transmission. If that incident light is sunlight reddened at sundown, the transmitted light can be perceptually green. These two explanations do not exclude one another but allow for multiple causes, including those not yet identified.

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Frank W. Gallagher III
William H. Beasley
, and
Craig F. Bohren

Green thunderstorms have been observed from time to time in association with deep convection or severe weather events. Often the green coloration has been attributed to hail or to reflections of light from green foliage on the ground. Some skeptics who have not personally observed a green thunderstorm do not believe that green thunderstorms exist. They suggest that the green storms may be fabrications by excited observers. The authors have demonstrated the existence of green thunderstorms objectively using a spectrophotometer. During the spring and summer of 1995 the authors observed numerous storms and recorded hundreds of spectra of the light emanating from these storms. It was found that the subjective judgment of colors can vary somewhat between observers, but the variation is usually in the shade of green. The authors recorded spectra of green and nongreen thunderstorms and recorded spectral measurements as a storm changed its appearance from dark blue to a bluish green. The change in color is gradual when observed from a stationary position. Also, as the light from a storm becomes greener, the luminance decreases. The authors also observed and recorded the spectrum of a thunderstorm during a period of several hours as they flew in an aircraft close to a supercell that appeared somewhat green. The authors' observations refute the ground reflection hypothesis and raise questions about explanations that require the presence of hail.

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