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'Mere coincidence': Brad Panovich explains why the sky is sometimes green before a tornado

Summer in the Carolinas means a greater threat of severe weather. Are there signs in the sky that indicate a tornado is imminent?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As we move closer to summer, that means more severe storms across the Carolinas, but are there signs in the sky you can point to in order to know if severe weather's on the way? 

Everyone knows the famous scenes from "Twister" and "The Wizard of Oz" that showed a tornado coming from a distance, but what about other commonly discussed "signs" of a tornado? 

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Does the sky always turn green if a tornado is about to touch down? 



No, though the sky can appear green during severe weather, it will not always turn green when a tornado is about to touch down. 


This is false.


Panovich says it's a mere coincidence that the sky turns green before a tornado. He says because severe storms usually happen later in the day, the sun is at the exact right angle to create this color in the sky. 

"It's the heating of the day, and the sun is beginning to set, so the combination of that red-orange yellow glow from sunset hitting the blue of the water in the cloud creates green," Panovich said. 

A study by Bohren backs up that explanation. He says the storm itself isn't the source of green light but provides the dark backdrop against which the green light is seen. 

Panovich said another factor is how close you are to the storm. 

"That color is underneath the cloud, so when the storm is closest to you, it's going to be the darkest and greenest," Panovich said. "When it's far away, it's white because you see the top of the cloud."

Tornadoes can happen at various times of the day, meaning you won't always see that green sky. 

"Think about North Carolina, where we get a lot of tornadoes at night," Panovich said. "There are zero colors at night. You can also get storms in the middle of the day when the angle of the sun is much higher, and you won't see that green."

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Contact Meghan Bragg at mbragg@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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