Sunshower

October 06, 2021

Even though it had been overcast all last week there was no forecast for rain.  Areas to the west and north of us did receive rain, but not us.  That finally ended Friday night as the moisture that had been eluding us finally resulted in a good rain shower.  Saturday began with a mist shower (very light but lasting) and then cleared off.  During the afternoon we had bright skies and a prediction of 50% chance of rain.  I figured the mist was going to count as our quota.  When Melissa looked out the window she noticed that despite the bright clear sunshine, we were getting a heavy rain.  We were having an interesting phenomenon called a sunshower.

When I looked online, I found a sunshower (sun shower) is a meteorological phenomenon in which rain falls while the sun is shining.  A sunshower is usually the result of accompanying winds associated with a rainstorm that can sometimes be miles away.  The airborne raindrops are then blown into an area where there are no clouds, causing a sunshower.  This can also occur when a single rain cloud passes overhead, and the sun’s angle keeps the sunlight from being obstructed by the overhead cloud.  The conditions that cause a sunshower often lead to the appearance of a rainbow if the sun is at a sufficiently low angle.  Although this designation is used in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK, the term “sunshower” is rarely found in dictionaries.  When I checked the skies during the sunshower, I noticed we had dark clouds all around, but nothing overhead.  In addition, the sun was below the high clouds on the horizon and the sun was brightly shinning.  Perfect conditions.

The sunshower phenomenon has a wide range of remarkably similar folkloric names and themes in cultures around the world.  A common theme is of clever animals or tricksters getting married or they are related to the devil, but many variations of this theme exist.  It is possible that the term is originally French.  The first known example, dated 1703, is quoted ‘as the French say’ and runs on, “to go and thrash him round the churchyard, as the devil does his wife in rainy weather when the sun shines”.  In 1738, writer Jonathan Swift expanded the saying in a reference to mixed sun and rain as, “The devil was beating his wife behind the door with a shoulder of mutton.”   Neither makes sense to me.

Thoughts:  The only sense I can make out of either of these sayings is the contradiction between the sunshine and the sunshower.  One would assume there was no way for the sun to shine during a rain shower, so somehow the supernatural must be involved.  I was amused when I trained as an archaeologist that whenever an artifact was found by a researcher who did not know what it was used for, the assumption was that it was “religious.”  The book Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay spoofs this idea, as an amateur archeologist in the year 4022 uncovers the remains of a motel caught in a catastrophe from the year 1985.  A picture of the archaeologist kneeling before the ceremonial altar wearing the accompanying sacred ring (toilet/seat) thought to be worn by the priest says it all.  Humans do not like to “not know,” and when we are unsure, we tend to make up an explanation.  I do not know is an acceptable answer, but we also need to try and find the answer.  It is not acceptable when we just call it a hoax.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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