If You Look for Rainbows, You’ll See Rainbows (But You May Get Wet)


2016-08-22 – People I know are surprised to see a rainbow. I see them pretty often. And they are rarely a surprise—because I look for them.

I saw one early Saturday evening. I was at Festa Italiana on Taylor Street in Chicago.

Saturday was an on-again-off-again rainy day. In the morning, I had checked my weather app and then headed out for a bike ride—safe with the assurance that it wouldn’t be raining for another two or three hours. Within 20 minutes it was raining hard enough to turn back. My planned 25-mile ride was cut short at 8. And I was soaked.

It was like that for the rest of the day.

Then we got an invite to go to a street fair. I checked the forecast again. Clearing. So we headed out. Despite the forecast, the sky didn’t look so clear. Yes, there were patches of blue. But there were also patches of angry storm clouds. Good thing we were meeting our friends IN a restaurant.

I saw the rainbow when we turned east on Taylor Street.

Of course, that’s when I saw the rainbow. Rainbows in the late afternoon are always in the east. They don’t appear anywhere else. That’s the geometry that creates rainbows. The sun is at your back. If the sun is in the west, the rainbow will be in the east. (Morning rainbows are in the west because the sun is rising in the east.)

We parked in a lot close to the entrance of the festival, so the rainbow was still in the sky when we entered. A band was playing Sinatra hits near the entrance. All the seats faced west. So there was an entire audience completely unaware that, if they turned around, they could see a rainbow.

And yes, they were a little damp. But not much. The rain that creates a rainbow could be falling on you, but it doesn’t have to. You just have to point your eyes toward the rain and have the rain reflect and refract back to you.

Like I said, I know when conditions are right for a rainbow. So I go looking for them. When I lived close to Lake Michigan, I would often run down to the lake when the weather was right, because, at the lake, there would be no trees or buildings to obstruct the view. In Chicago, the lake is east. Perfect for afternoon rainbows.

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