MORRIS – In ancient mythology and history, they were thought to be bad omens, but the “sundogs” that lit up the sky Monday were welcomed by the several Grundy County residents who saw them.
“This morning when I got up to drink my coffee, I saw the top of it coming over the horizon,” Coal City resident Dave Neal said Monday. “It’s one of those natural phenomenons that you really enjoy seeing.”
A sundog – scientifically known as a parhelion – is a natural atmospheric phenomenon. It is characterized by brightly colored spots showing on the circumference of a rainbow-colored sun halo that forms as a result of sunlight being refracted by ice crystals, according to the National Weather Service.
Sundogs were seen Monday morning across northern Illinois because of low temperatures, blowing snow and scattered cloud cover.
“I’d heard about them, but I hadn’t seen one before,” said Morris resident Jon Erickson, who snapped a photo Monday of a sundog in Morris. “It was really neat.”
Both Erickson and Neal said they watched the sundog for about 40 minutes before it disappeared.
The origin of the term “sundog” is unclear, according to Oxford English Dictionary, but according to the History Channel, the earliest depiction of the unusual weather event can be traced to April 20, 1535, when a Swedish oil-painting titled “The Sun Dog Painting” was created.
The Swedish interpreted the sundog as a bad omen from the Gods, marking the God’s displeasure with their current king.
Today, sundogs can be seen in every part of the world in every season, but are more prevalent and striking in the colder temperatures.
“They are not uncommon in the winter, but usually occur when temperatures are low causing ice crystal to form in the air,” said Amy Seeley, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Sundogs were seen by Illinois residents earlier this month on Jan. 6 when the first wave of cold temperatures hit the area.
“I saw one last time it was so cold, but I didn’t have my camera,” Neal said. “This time, I had enough time to drink my coffee and enjoy the sunrise.”