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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/16/2008

Squall Chasing and a Sun Pillar

By Kevin Ambrose


I know it's a bad winter for snow when I need to chase a squall to try to get a good snow photo. What made the situation worse is that I could not catch up to the darn squalls, they moved too fast. It kind of reminded me of storm chasing during the summer months, but the snow squalls moved much faster than your garden-variety thunderstorm. As I got close to DC, I was able to take some photos of the squalls moving by the city. At that time, the squalls moved south and east into Maryland and I gave up the chase. I have posted a wide angle view and close up of the squalls.


Later in the day, shortly before sunset, I photographed what I believe is a sun pillar. It was probably caused by ice crystals in the air, produced from the dying snow showers. It is rare to see a sun pillar, especially when the sun is above the horizon. Any other opinions are welcome.


Definition of a sun pillar: A vertical shaft of light extending upward or downward from the sun. Typically seen during sunrise or sunset, sun pillars form when sunlight reflects off the surfaces of falling ice crystals.

By Kevin Ambrose  | January 16, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: CommuteCast: Breezy, Cold After Snow Show
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Great pic of the pillar! Nature paints the most beautiful pictures.. Well done!

On another note, what do the latest NAM and GFS suggest for next week's storms? Still bullish or backing off somewhat? I know anything over 3 days is virtually worthless, but I'm clinging to whatever I can at this point. The kids need SOME white stuff to frolic in this winter!

Posted by: jeff | January 16, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

excellent shot! You must have been on your toes yesterday -- I remember it snowed all of ten seconds here on mcpherson square.

Posted by: grant | January 16, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Too bad we can't post photos anymore or if we can I'd like to know how. I was in Jefferson County, WV yesterday and the squall blew through about 10:15 and dropped the temperature on my car thermometer from 36 to 26 in ten minutes. It did not snow for more than a half hour and they easily had two inches.

Posted by: JT | January 16, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

JT, photo posting will be returning soon. Look for a post on it as soon as later this week. As always, you can email photos to for possible inclusion as well

Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | January 16, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

The squalls were things of beauty. We were sitting in a conference room, listening to a lecture on Hawaii and the juxtaposition between the snow outside and the talk of surfing inside was brilliant!


Posted by: sigmagrrl | January 16, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Great shot, Kevin.

Can anyone explain why the snow from squalls seems to fall at such a high velocity? When living in Vermont for a few years, I noticed that the snow from squalls fell much faster (in terms of downward flake speed) than even the heaviest snows from larger winter storms. Is there some sort of downdraft at play in squalls that drives the flakes downward at a faster rate? Thanks for any insight!

Posted by: Parker | January 16, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse


Snow squalls are often accompanied by gusty winds which will blow around the snowflakes more than during a typical steady snowfall. Other than that, there shouldn't be any difference, given the same snowflake type. The explanation of the factors that make a snowflake type is quite extensive. Check out this webpage on snowflake types:

Posted by: Kevin, Capital Weather Gang | January 16, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

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