A look into what causes Alabama’s beautiful sunrises

They’re all different, but we get plenty of stunning ones
Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 10:29 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2022 at 3:20 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Have you witnessed a beautiful or simply jaw-dropping sunrise in Alabama? You are definitely not alone. We get some truly magnificent sunrises (and sunsets), but why exactly are some of them so great?

A sunrise over Montgomery.
A sunrise over Montgomery.(WSFA 12 News)

It typically has to do with clouds. Clouds are a huge reason why a particular sunrise stands out from the rest. But not just any clouds; we need mid-level and/or upper-level clouds to grace our skies at the right moment for a sunrise to truly pop.

Those mid- and upper-level clouds allow us to get those incredible and deep purples, pinks, reds, and oranges. We also need enough breaks in those clouds to allow the sun to shine through. It’s also vital that there isn’t an abundance of low-level “thick” cloud cover that would block out the sun’s rays.

Sunrises and sunsets are reddish-orange because the other colors are scattered out.
Sunrises and sunsets are reddish-orange because the other colors are scattered out.(WSFA 12 News)

That combination of things allows for enough of the sun’s light to strike the underside of the mid- and upper-level clouds as it rises in the morning sky. If clouds that are 6,000 to 40,000 feet up in the sky are illuminated, you usually get a spectacular sunrise. The sunrise will likely begin to show itself upwards of an hour before the official sunrise time, and it can stay beautiful for several minutes afterwards.

During that window, the sunrise and its associated color assortments will change several times -- sometimes quite quickly. So it’s important to never give up on a sunrise just because at one moment it doesn’t look great.

The reasoning behind the reddish and orange-ish colors, by the way, is because the sun’s light has to travel farther to reach our eyes when it’s on the horizon (sunrise and sunset). As the light travels, all colors except the oranges and reds are scattered out by particles in the air. So when we see the color around sunrise and sunset, all that’s left is brilliant reds and oranges.

It’s more than just clouds up in our morning sky, though, that make sunrise. There are a few other things that need to come together to get the absolute best sunrise possible. Contrary to popular belief, you actually want a haze-free, pollution-free and smoke-free sky to get the deepest, most colorful sunrises and sunsets. Essentially you want “clear” or “clean” air overhead and to your east (for sunrise) and west (for sunset).

We measure sunrises on a 1-10 scale on Today in Alabama.
We measure sunrises on a 1-10 scale on Today in Alabama.(WSFA 12 News)

The pollutants that exist in hazy, smoky or dirty skies lead to “pale” hues of yellow and pink during a sunrise. Those same pollutants also effectively rob a sunrise or sunset of its potential brilliance and intensity if they are prevalent enough in the sky.

If the air is “clean” and has some mid-level or high-level clouds present, be prepared to be dazzled. Now it’s not every day we get a sunrise that is unforgettable or stunning, but always be on the lookout if you notice some clouds in the sky!

Also listen in on Today in Alabama as Meteorologist Tyler Sebree sometimes gives out his rating of a given morning’s sunrise. If you snap a photo, be sure to send it in so we can see it and perhaps show it on air.

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