PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- A long-time hiker who had taken to the mountains of Western Washington to get away and recharge after a tough morning found herself smack dab in the middle of a unique weather event: A Brocken Spectre.
Nikki Klein was up at the Visitor's Center at Hurricane Ridge, located high atop the Olympic Mountains on Oct. 11 and had been sitting in a meadow by herself for a couple of hours watching the wind interact with the clouds and taking a few videos "so I wasn't tempted to fall into my phone," she says.
"As the sun started to get lower, I decided that I would climb the ridge behind me to get a different view of the mountains for sunset," she said. "I picked a spot off the trail on the ridge where I could see 360 degrees around me and sat down."
Another hiker came by and stopped to chat for a bit.
"We talked for a few minutes about mountain things and how beautiful it was, and then he mentioned that there was a rainbow behind me," she said. "I turned around to see the ball-shaped rainbow with a silhouette in the center."
She said she stood up quickly-- and the rainbow moved with her.
"I began taking pictures as quickly as I could, thinking that it would vanish, but to my joy, it stayed for about 30 minutes."
The fellow hiker also had his own personal display too.
"(We) just reveled in the experience playing with our shadows and learning that he had his very own rainbow shadow orb. He couldn't see mine, and I couldn't see his and we did not interact or interfere with each other's unless we crossed paths. It was the most amazing thing… and I was just enthralled drinking in this gift I had been given by the mountains."
Only you can see your own display
Brocken Spectres are part of what's known as a "glory" effect in atmospheric optics.
"Glories appear when light hits the little water droplets making up clouds or fog," according to NOAA. "The light separates out into the different colors that make it up, the same way it does in a rainbow. Because of the way light bounces around in the droplets, we get a small series of circles instead of a big arcing bow."
"(The spectre) occurs when someone is close to the edge of a layer of fog or cloud, and able to look down in the opposite direction of the sun to see their shadow projected on the cloud," says associate scientist Michael Kavulich, Jr. with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Because the observer's shadow is projected through the 3-dimensional volume of the fog, rather than on a solid surface like we are used to, the shadow cast by objects further away from your eyes will appear ‘larger’ than it seems like they should, just like two parallel lines such as train tracks will appear further apart the closer they are to you."
He says because of this, "your personal shadow can feature very long and distorted arms and legs, appearing as a shadowy, inhuman ‘Spectre’ that mirrors your movements."
Glories are unique to your eye's position, and it's why the other hiker couldn't see her glory but could see his own.
How to make your own ‘Brocken Spectre’
Kavulich says you can replicate the Brocken Spectre shadow effect with a bright spotlight on a foggy night. Stand in front of the light, and then look behind you.
"The effect will be most pronounced if there is a long distance through the fog that your shadow travels, so try to do it with a spotlight or other bright, small single light source pointing out into the fog," he says.
Video struck a chord across the globe
Klein knew she had witnessed something special, and when she posted the photos to social media, the world soon took notice.
"It has been kind of a runaway train since then," she said. She's received messages from religious and spiritual groups from around the world, interested scientists and weather experts, "and everything in between."
"I've received messages saying everything from that I'm 'extremely blessed' to 'are you sure you didn't die up there?' " she said. "It seems to be very inspiring to a lot of people so I'm really happy that I could capture my special gift from the mountains and share it."