Warm air creates springtime mirages on Great Lakes

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Inversions Cause Mirages of Floating Skyscrapers on Great Lakes


by Zain Haidar, Weather Channel staff

As springtime weather takes over in the Midwest, visitors and residents near Lake Michigan can see skyscrapers and massive ships hovering over the water.

A combination of atmospheric conditions brings the mirages to life.

"Mirages are caused by the refraction of light rays. Most commonly you will see this on hot days when there appears to be water on the surface of a road at some distance ahead. The change in density from the very hot air near the asphalt and the somewhat cooler air just above that creates the mirage," weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce said.

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Warm air creates springtime mirages on Great Lakes
#GreatLakes #mirages @MLive http://t.co/3aTO01gq9R http://t.co/dKfJpoQdqI http://t.co/9pzaokpsDt #meteorology #optics http://t.co/6p0UQrti8T
VERY COOL: Camper captures image of mirage over Lake Michigan: http://t.co/2CLOkRFFwa http://t.co/JY1Mj5daXY
#SuperiorMirage of #Chicago as seen from Warren Dunes State Park in Bridgman, #Michigan after sunset on 4/29/2015. http://t.co/Ah3OPkSti4
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MLiveeports that people mainly see the Chicago skyline "clearly from the Lake Michigan shore" and other unusual sights.

(MORE: Melting Lake Michigan Ice Reveals Historic Shipwrecks)

On a typical day, warm air near the surface and colder air in the atmosphere above that keep light rays from the skyline and other far-away objects from reaching viewers near the Great Lakes' shores.

Around this time of year, a 'temperature inversion' occurs, meaning warm air switches with cold air above the water's surface and alters the way light refracts.

It's a similar phenomenon to the one that created stunning fog pools in the Grand Canyon last December.

In this case, though, those usually unseen light rays act as a kind of natural telescope, providing a line of sight on objects much too far away for normal observation.

One viewer reported seeing a freighter hovering over Lake Huron.

Even weirder: The illusions can flip sideways or completely upside-down based on how the light rays are moving.

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