Hurricane Dorian Turns Florida Skies Purple, Residents Share Breathtaking Images

Skies in some parts of Florida turned an eerie shade of purple after Hurricane Dorian passed by the state, according to reports.

Local residents shared images of the unusual sky on social media, with some expressing their relief that the storm had largely spared the state from its worst effects.

"Our little piece of Florida survived Hurricane Dorian and we were rewarded with this GORGEOUS purple sky tonight!!" one Instagram user, crafty.rn from St. Augustine—a city on Florida's northeast coast—wrote on the platform.

Experts say that the strange purple skies are the result of light from the sun at sunset being scattered in a particular way by hurricane storm clouds.

"The colors result from a phenomenon called Raleigh scattering," Scott Cordero, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, told Newsweek. "Molecules and small particles in the atmosphere change the direction of light rays, causing them to scatter."

"Scattering affects the color of light coming from the sky, but the details—the colors—are determined by the wavelength of the light and the size of the particle," he said.

Some areas of Florida also experienced the same phenomenon after Hurricane Michael—the first Category 5 storm to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992—passed last year.

In the wake of Michael, meteorologist Lauren Rautenkranz put together an explainer video, in which she described how normally we see blue skies because of the way that blue wavelengths of light from the sun are scattered by tiny particles in the Earth's atmosphere.

Normally, we see blue skies because of the way that blue wavelengths of light from the sun are scattered by tiny particles in the Earth's atmosphere.

"As sunlight shines down to Earth, most of the colors of the spectrum are able to reach the surface uninterrupted," Rautenkranz said in the video. "But the shorter wavelengths, blue and violet, are scattered in every direction. This light bounces from particle to particle until it eventually reaches your eyes."

Our eyes have limitations. They cannot normally detect the violet wavelengths— the shortest on the spectrum—so the sky tends to appear blue because these waves are scattered in all directions. But hurricanes can bring a unique mixture of conditions which allow us to see the scattered violet light that is already there but we don't usually notice.

"Since violet is the shortest wavelength of the spectrum, our sensitive eyes only detect blue," Rautenkranz said in the video. "However, the violet is there and we saw it after Hurricane Michael, but why? In this case the air, was super saturated, we had dew points in the mid- and upper 70s [degrees Fahrenheit,] the sun was setting—so were losing daylight—and the hurricane's clouds surrounded us, hanging low to the ground."

"This combination allowed our eyes to see [the sky's] true colors, since violet is there to begin with, we just don't usually get to see it," Rautenkrantz said. "The light was scattered around the moisture in the air, causing the magical purple color."

After causing catastrophic destruction in the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, Dorian stayed just far enough away from Florida to limit its impacts on the state. While it brought rain and strong winds, leading to minor flooding and power outages, the state mostly escaped unscathed.

Nevertheless, the storm—which was located just over 100 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina as of 2 a.m. EDT—still poses a threat to other states as it moves northwards. In fact, after weakening to a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, it has now strengthened again to a Category 3, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 115 miles per hour.

The graph below, provided by Statista, shows the cost of damage by weather incidents worldwide over the past 20 years.

Economic cost weather damage statista
Global economic losses caused by weather events. Statista

According to the National Hurricane Center, Georgia and the Carolinas are now at risk from destructive winds, heavy rainfall that could lead to flash-flooding and "life-threatening" storm surges.

Dorian equaled the record for the most powerful Alantic hurricane to make landfall, tying with the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

This article was updated to include additional comments from Scott Cordero.

Hurricane Dorian, purple skies, Florida
Purple skies in Jacksonville, Florida, on September 5, 2019 after Hurricane Dorian passed. Amy Pope-Latham
Hurricane Dorian Turns Florida Skies Purple, Residents Share Breathtaking Images | U.S.