JOPLIN, Mo. —
Leilani Vaipulu, a barista at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company, had just finished serving her final customers Thursday when she noticed through the tint of the coffee shop’s windows what appeared to be a rainbow in the sky.
“So I ran out there and took a few pictures,” said Vaipulu, who is a junior at Joplin High School. “I was excited because the skies were just an amazing color.”
The rainbow — at one point, a double rainbow — appeared over Joplin late Thursday afternoon as rain moved through the area. It quickly became a hot topic online as residents snapped and uploaded photos to their social media sites. Vaipulu’s photo was originally posted to the coffeehouse’s Facebook page.
Vaipulu said she was impressed not only with the colors of the rainbow and surrounding sky, but also by the rainbow’s size and completeness.
“I was just kind of amazed because I have never seen the two ends of a rainbow,” she said. “Usually they just disappear. This one kind of was a perfect rainbow, the kind that you draw on a piece of paper.”
Vaipulu said she was thrilled by reactions to her photo posted on the coffee shop’s Facebook page by customers, who said the rainbow was “like God had his arms wrapped around Joplin” and that it “looks like the dome that covered Springfield in ‘The Simpsons Movie.’”
Rainbows are created by the refraction of light through raindrops as you are looking at the rain with the sun behind you, said David Gaede, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in Springfield.
“The sunlight is actually coming through each one of the raindrops and is being refracted just like a prism,” he said. “The light is being broken up into each of its component colors.”
Factors such as the size of the raindrops, the number of raindrops that are falling through the atmosphere and the angle of the sun’s rays could determine the size and brightness of each rainbow, Gaede said.
Rainbows are circular in nature, but only half of a rainbow is ever visible from the ground because the horizon prevents the other half from being seen, Gaede said.
Because only a portion of a rainbow can be seen, residents of 17th century Ireland began saying that finding the end of one was as likely as finding a pot of gold, according to the National Weather Service. That expression morphed into the legend that a pot of gold is found at the end of a rainbow.
No two people will ever see the same rainbow because raindrops are constantly in motion and no two pairs of eyes can be in the same location at the same time, according to weather authorities.