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WEATHER U: Islands in the sky?

Barry Burgess was at the right place at the right time and snapped this amazing photo on a cold winter’s day near Queensland, N.S. 
The island, which Barry believes to be Shut-in Island, appears to be levitating above the water or looming.
Barry Burgess was at the right place at the right time and snapped this amazing photo on a cold winter’s day near Queensland, N.S. The island, which Barry believes to be Shut-in Island, appears to be levitating above the water or looming. - Contributed

I’ve been at my “new job” for 18 months; can I still call it new? When I started, I was a little concerned about coming up with topics to write about, five days a week.

On the weekend, someone asked me how I do it? I can honestly say, I couldn’t do it without you. I get dozens of emails every day and many of them are from curious weather observers – my favourite people.

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Smith wrote in with this great question:

“Why does the land ‘loom up’ preceding stormy weather. This expression is commonly used on P.E.I. when it looks as though you could spit on N.S.” 

By definition: the word loom means to appear larger. It’s used to describe a refraction phenomenon. In previous Weather University columns, I've written about mirages, both superior and inferior. These are other examples of atmospheric refraction, but they actually produce a mirage. These mirages can be inverted or distorted. In the case of looming, depending on atmospheric conditions, the object appears to be elevated or lowered. 

Looming is caused by the refraction of light through air layers of different temperatures. For it to be seen, the air close to the surface must be much colder than the air above it. This condition is common over snow, ice and cold water. When cold air lies below warm air, light rays are bent downward toward the surface, tricking our eyes into thinking an object is located higher than it actually is. This effect can also make objects appear to be floating in the air and cause objects located below the horizon to appear above it. 

Paul mentioned that this often happens off Prince Edward Island before a storm.  Many of our coastal storms move up from the southwest, carrying warmer air, that slides over the relatively cold water – ideal conditions for looming. 

If you’re curious about a weather-related event or phenomenon, don’t hesitate to ask me! 



Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.


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