An optical phenomenon, known as Fata Morgana or mirage, can occur over the waters of Lake Michigan when rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion. The thermal inversion or temperature inversion involves cold temperatures near the earth’s surface and warmer temperatures above, which is the opposite of normal conditions when warmer air is usually close to the surface with cooler air above. This time of year the cold waters of Lake Michigan can be considerably colder than the air above.
Video of Fata Morgana from Warren Dune looking west toward Chicago just over 50 miles away on Sunday, May 5, 2019 …
Technically, in order for the proper refraction of light that creates a Fata Morgana, an atmospheric duct has to be formed by a well-defined layer warm air above a layer of significantly cooler air.
In calm weather, a layer of significantly warmer air may rest over colder dense air, forming the atmospheric duct that acts like a refracting lens. Thermal inversion alone is not enough to produce this kind of mirage.
Fata Morgana mirages often significantly distort objects to the point of being unrecognizable. Images can also be inverted. The Chicago skyline in the photo by Joshua Nowicki looks intact, and remarkably accurate, except the base of the skyline is not refracted (elevated) into view.
Nowicki captured a distorted mirage of the Chicago skyline on April 17, 2017 from a vantage point of New Buffalo, Michigan.
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