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Rainbow in rural Minnehaha County shot with a telephoto lens.
Rainbow in rural Minnehaha County shot with a telephoto lens.
Rainbow over silos east of Baltic.
Rainbow over silos east of Baltic.
A small raincloud with a rainbow dropping over the Palmer Creek Unit of Badlands National Park.
A small raincloud with a rainbow dropping over the Palmer Creek Unit of Badlands National Park.
Rain with bow in rural Lyman County near Reliance.
Rain with bow in rural Lyman County near Reliance.
Mammatus clouds over an abandoned farmhouse in rural McCook County.
Mammatus clouds over an abandoned farmhouse in rural McCook County.
The first bit of evening sunlight illuminated the back of a severe storm in McCook County. Immanuel Lutheran’s steeple is in the foreground.
The first bit of evening sunlight illuminated the back of a severe storm in McCook County. Immanuel Lutheran’s steeple is in the foreground.
As the sun set, the light turned from yellow to orange.
As the sun set, the light turned from yellow to orange.
Mammatus clouds above Immanuel Lutheran.
Mammatus clouds above Immanuel Lutheran.
The color turned from orange to varying shades of red as the evening progressed.
The color turned from orange to varying shades of red as the evening progressed.
A brilliant rainbow just south of Parkston.
A brilliant rainbow just south of Parkston.
The first light after an afternoon storm south of White Lake.
The first light after an afternoon storm south of White Lake.
Post storm clouds above the Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Sioux Falls.
Post storm clouds above the Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Sioux Falls.
A full rainbow above Slim Buttes Lutheran near Reva.
A full rainbow above Slim Buttes Lutheran near Reva.
Rain colored by the setting sun above Our Lady of the Prairie Church in rural Harding County.
Rain colored by the setting sun above Our Lady of the Prairie Church in rural Harding County.
Billowing clouds above Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls.
Billowing clouds above Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls.
Sunset above the upper falls of the Big Sioux in downtown Sioux Falls.
Sunset above the upper falls of the Big Sioux in downtown Sioux Falls.
Storm clouds piling up above Lake Oahe north of Pierre.
Storm clouds piling up above Lake Oahe north of Pierre.
Sunset after the rain above Lake Oahe at Bush’s Landing in rural Sully County.
Sunset after the rain above Lake Oahe at Bush’s Landing in rural Sully County.

Catching Rainbows

Jul 26, 2017

Our neighbor state to the northwest may be known as big sky country, but South Dakota ranks right up there in terms of amazing things to witness in the great blue yonder. On a clear night, it isn’t hard to get lost in the numberless stars blinking back at you. Who hasn’t been soothed by the nearly unobstructed blue sky accented with white, fluffy clouds sailing overhead? As much as I enjoy those kinds of sky gazing, there is nothing quite like watching a summer storm burst from the horizon and relentlessly fill the sky with terrible beauty, only to soften its show with a breathtaking rainbow dancing away into the evening.

Unfortunately, this year, the raindrops have been few and far between across the whole state. The season started promising enough. On May 3, I chased a rainbow. It was after work when I looked up to see a potential rainbow situation brewing. It was a pretty strong spring shower with a few lightning bolts and very few clouds behind it to the northwest. Once I got behind the showers and the sunlight came streaking through, one of the most brilliant full rainbows I have ever witnessed began to form. I chased it as it moved southeast for about 20 miles, stopping at churches, silos and over grass fields for various photo ops.

It's not always that easy. Many times, only a slender, faint rainbow drops from a distant cloud. Sunlight, amount of water falling, size of the raindrops and angle of view all have role to play in forming the phenomena. Trying to get all those factors to work together takes some work and a lot of luck.

In mid-June, a large line of severe thunderstorms marched across eastern South Dakota. I drove through the rain and wind to the back end of the storm just as the sun set in rural McCook County. I’ve seen a lot of beauty in the sky in my day, but watching the evening sunlight emerge under the clouds and light up that storm was like watching an artist unveil a masterpiece. The mammatus clouds caught the setting sunlight and created shadows and patterns across the whole eastern half of the sky. I had two cameras and the beautiful church steeple of Immanuel Lutheran south of Canova in front of me, as well as an old barn nearby. I did my best to capture what I saw, but even so, I feel like I didn’t come close.

A double rainbow near Ben Clare, along the South Dakota/Iowa border.

 

In July, I was in Perkins County working on a video project when a summer storm rolled up from Wyoming. I saw light under the clouds towards the Slim Buttes, so I drove that way in case I could recreate the visual magic I had seen in McCook County. When I got to Slim Buttes Lutheran in northeastern Harding County, the sunlight broke free, but there was still a light rain falling with very large drops. The conditions were perfect for a rainbow. I looked out my rear window and sure enough, a full and richly colored rainbow began to appear. Later I drove a few miles farther east to capture the last of the setting sunlight as it played off the falling rain. It created a colorful scene that you really had to see to believe.

It’s only the end of July, and as I write this there are storms north of town, which is good for farmers, ranchers and sky watchers. Even so, I’m hoping for more than a few more opportunities to catch a rainbow.

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.

Comments

10:48 am - Wed, July 26 2017
Mary Taylor said:
Beautiful enough to be featured in a 2018 South Dakota Skies calendar!

Thank you.
05:18 pm - Thu, August 3 2017
Karen Antonides said:
Your pictures are amazing! I live in Ohio now but I was born in South Dakota. I miss the country and wide open spaces. Thanks for the great pictures of home. Do you do a calendar? I certainly will order one!

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