UH professor makes a case for why Hawaii is the rainbow capital of the world

Andrew Gomes, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·2 min read

Mar. 13—Hawaii is known as the world capital for such things as surfing and endangered species. Now a University of Hawaii scientist is making a case for rainbows.

Steven Businger, a UH professor of atmospheric sciences, recently published an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that proposes Hawaii as the best place on Earth for the colorful displays of water and light.

The article, titled "The Secrets of the Best Rainbows on Earth, " explains why the Aloha State has the most favorable mix of conditions to produce rainbows.

"Rainbows are some of the most spectacular optical phenomena in the natural world, and Hawaii is blessed with an amazing abundance of them, " the article states.

A variety of factors are at play in the production of rainbows, and Hawaii is well positioned to take advantage of the key ingredients—sun and rain—because the state's location in the subtropical Pacific means the overall weather pattern is dominated by tradewinds, with frequent rain showers and clear skies between showers, according to Businger.

Other favorable conditions for rainbows in Hawaii mentioned in Businger's article :—The warm nighttime sea surface that heats the atmosphere from below while cloud tops cool, resulting in morning rain showers and rainbows—Mountains that lift tradewind flows to form clouds, which can produce rain that mixes with sunshine in leeward areas—Afternoon showers that can form over ridge crests and mountain slopes to produce prolific rainbows as the sun sets during periods of lighter winds—Air that isn't clouded with pollution, dust or pollen that can dull or limit rainbows' color spectrum—Waves, off of which ocean spray can be whipped up to create an additional supply of rainbows Businger also describes in his article the importance of rainbows in the Hawaiian culture, which like other cultures around the world regards rainbows as a symbol for a pathway between Earth and heaven, but also developed many different words to describe rainbow components, color variations, shapes and positions.

Examples include "punakea "

for a barely visible rainbow, "uakoko " for a low-lying rainbow and "hakahakaea " for a largely green rainbow.

The general word for rainbow in Hawaiian is "anuenue."

Businger, whom UH described as having a passion for photographing rainbows, was not available for an interview Friday.

In the article, he wrote that a recent effort by Brian Brettschneider, a climate researcher in Alaska, concluded that the greatest rainbow potential in North America is in southwestern Alaska, and that high potential extends along the British Columbia coast down to Washington and Oregon west of the Cascade Range.

Businger's article, published last month, attempts to make a case for Hawaii laying a broader claim for rainbow preeminence.

"This paper makes a case for why Hawaii is the rainbow capital of the world, " Businger wrote.