Skip to main content

You won’t find the term ‘Rainbow Lighting’ in NOAA’s weather glossary, but this combination of weather phenomenon does happen.

It’s just unusual to see a rainbow and lightning at the same time, and getting a photo of them together when it happens is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event.

To start, conditions have to be perfect for rainbows and lightning to happen simultaneously.

For the rainbow, there must be a significant amount of water droplets in the air and the sun must be positioned to the back of the observer. Oh, but that’s still not enough. In order to have a chance to see a rainbow, the sky around the sun has to be nice and clear.

Yes, lightning does occur much more frequently. In fact, around the world, there are over 3,000,000 flashes every day. That’s around 44 strikes every second.

We get lightning when ice crystals high in a thunderstorm flow up and down in the turbulent air. This causes them to crash into each other where small negatively charged particles called electrons are knocked off some ice crystals and added to other ice crystals as they crash past each other. This separates the positive (+) and negative (-) charges of the cloud.

The top of the cloud becomes positively charged with particles called protons, while the base of the cloud becomes negatively charged.

Because opposites attract, the negative charge at the bottom of the storm cloud wants to link up with the ground’s positive charge. The positive charges at the ground are attracted to the negative charges in the cloud. This can create an electric current that we see as a bright flash of a lightning bolt. Sometimes, the electrical current also occurs from cloud-to-cloud, making the lightning bolt flash between the clouds.

As you can see, a lot has to happen to make a rainbow. A lot has to happen to make lighting. So much has to happen to make them both at the same time.

So there’s a lot of weather phenomenon going on in the photo below. If the incredible odds of making a rainbow and light simultaneously aren’t enough for you, somehow the photographer happened to be there with a camera, facing the right direction at the exact right time. Pretty amazing.

An incredible photo of lightning and a rainbow captured in Switzerland County, Indiana in April 2024 by Riki Karaus.


2024 Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is fast approaching and it could be historic once again. Learn why it’s expected to be such an active season here.


If you'd like to know what we're working on, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.