By Stacey Leasca
Apr 19, 2021
SEEING A RAINBOW, NO MATTER HOW FLEETING, is a spectacular sight. While it may feel rare to you to see one, it turns out there is a place where you can (nearly) guarantee seeing the colorful display nearly every single day. And that place is none other than the Aloha State.
Steven Businger, a professor in the University of Hawaii Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, published a new paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society outlining the multitude of reasons why Hawaii should be named the rainbow capital of the world, namely due to the near-daily presence of the color bands of light.
“Rainbows are some of the most spectacular optical phenomena in the natural world, and Hawaii is blessed with an amazing abundance of them,” Businger wrote in his article. “Rainbows in Hawaii are at once so common and yet so stunning that they appear in Hawaiian chants and legends, on license plates, and in the names of Hawaiian sports teams and local businesses. Visitors and locals alike frequently leave their cars by the side of the road in order to photograph these brilliant bands of light.”
How is it that Hawaiians are blessed with so many rainbows? According to Businger, the islands are home to all the necessary ingredients for creating perfect rainbows day after day.
As he explained to Science Friday, Hawaii’s unique combination of trade winds, cumulus clouds, mountainous terrain and clean air all give it the perfect climate for rainbow making.
“With the exception of some volcanic haze, we have a very clean atmosphere here because we’re so far away from pollution sources,” Businger said. “And that results in very strong sunshine that produces a brilliant rainbow.”
Beyond their presence in the sky, Businger also wrote that the local belief in what rainbows represent makes the state the prime place to call the rainbow capital, too.
“The cultural importance of rainbows is reflected in the Hawaiian language, which has many words and phrases to describe the variety of manifestations in Hawai’i,” Businger wrote. “There are words for Earth-clinging rainbows (uakoko), standing rainbow shafts (kahili), barely visible rainbows (punakea), and moonbows (a nuenue kau po), among others. 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.”
To help both Hawaiians and visitors to the islands spot as many rainbows as possible, Businger and a few of his colleagues developed the RainbowChase app, which pulls in nearby weather information to help users find potential rainbow conditions nearby. The team is also planning to expand the app’s coverage to the mainland and across the globe in the coming months. Just make sure to go looking for rainbows in the early morning or evening hours, when the sun is within 40 degrees of the horizon, as that’s when Businger says your chances are best. Then, say “thank you” to whoever sent you the beautiful sight from the other side.