Light pillars — meteorological phenomena caused by the reflection of light off of ice crystals in the air — rise above a neighborhood in Powell. (Greg Wise)

Greg Wise was returning home from photographing a high school basketball game during last week’s frigid snap when an unusual sight in the sky caught his eye. 

“I looked up getting out of my truck and [saw] the streaking light pillars over Powell,” he told WyoFile in an email. 

Wise, a nighttime photographer, had heard of this rare weather phenomenon, but hadn’t seen it in person until that moment. 

He wasn’t prepared for a sub-zero shoot, but he did his best, he wrote. “I stood out there in my driveway freezing and hand-holding my camera shooting a long exposure,” he said. 

The light pillars that he captured, which appear as slender vertical beams, are the result of light reflecting off tiny ice crystals suspended in the air. They can appear in a variety of weather conditions, including extreme cold. 

That’s precisely what gripped much of Wyoming over the weekend. Temperatures dipped to record lows in several places, according to the National Weather Service Riverton office. That included 18 below zero in Greybull, 20 below zero in Buffalo and 15 below zero in Riverton. Snow accompanied the icy temperatures in many parts of the state. 

Wise said he’ll keep an eye out for more light pillars — with the goal of being prepared next time with a tripod, an interesting foreground and, perhaps, a very thick pair of gloves.

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Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. Thanks for the good information and picture, Greg and WyoFile. We have been seeing light pillars all over Torrington this past week and they are beautiful! Did not know the actual cause outside of the frigid air.