Watch CBS News

How Do Wildfires Impact Sunsets And Sunrises?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Dawn and dusk have been putting on a show in the sky lately.

Pretty colors have popped through the clouds, partly due to a destructive situation up north.

We wanted to know: How do we get such vibrant sunsets and sunrises? And how are wildfires impacting them?

Good Question. Jeff Wagner learned when you'll need to get your camera ready.

We know it when we see it. The Bob Ross-like brush strokes creating a camera-worthy canvas in the sky.

"I love the cotton candy blues and pinks," said Tara Serrah.

"Anything with the most colors, so like yellow to purple would be ideal," added Jennifer Marana.

Midday is typically just blue, but it's often bookended by beauty. How do sunsets and sunrises get such vibrant colors?

"It all comes down to the particles that are in the atmosphere at that time," said Paige Marten, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Those microscopic particles in the air are scattering the sun's rays and colors that come with it.

"When the smaller particles dominate, which is typically on a blue sky day, this is known as Rayleigh scattering, and the sky is blue," Marten said.

At dawn or dusk the sun is further away along the horizon. Blue light scatters even more before reaching our eyes, leaving behind red, orange, even shades of pink or purple.

"Wildfire smoke can actually enhance a regular sunset," added Marten.

Which is what's happening across Minnesota. The wildfire smoke drifting south from Canada put even more particles in the air, allowing red hues to dominate. It's also creating a haze, enhancing the sun's red or orange color.

What happens when we maybe throw some clouds in the mix?

"I feel like when there's a cotton candy sky, like there's usually clouds in the sky," said Hannah Pfeiffer.

The clouds help the sun's rays scatter as well, while also taking on the colors. The combination often leads to the most picturesque views.

Is there a way to predict if we're going to have a beautiful sunset?

Often following an afternoon storm, some of the best sunsets burst through the remaining clouds. Severe weather has a way of cleaning the air.

"And clean air is very effective at scattering that blue light, so this will cause those dramatic sunsets," said Marten.

While wildfire smoke can beautify sunsets, it can be unhealthy to breathe. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality alert for parts of central and northern Minnesota through Friday morning.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.