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I was recently at a park looking at the gorgeous scenery. I looked above and saw thick grey clouds covering up 3/4 of the sky. The sun's light is still visible for 1/4 of the sky, and it looks low enough to refract it's light through the clouds to form a rainbow. The rain started dripping slowly for 10 minutes. At five minutes I decided to take a panorama shot and ask the question, why won't a rainbow form at the start of a storm. I thought the place I was standing had the perfect condition for a rainbow to form.
Here is the panorama scene shot

  • There were a few rain drops pouring from the sky

  • The time I looked at the sky was 5:00 p.m., so the sun should be at an appropriate location.

But even if my scenario didn't give a rainbow, is this rare event still possible?

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The big deal with a rainbow is the angle between the sun and water droplets. The sun has to be behind you and the rainbow will occur at about 42 degrees away from the line from the sun through you. If everything lines up, you can have a rainbow at any time. (I've seen them on water spraying from a hose where things lined up just right.) This will work better when the sun in low in the sky, if the sun is too high in the sky the line from it to you goes into the ground. Since thunderstorms are often afternoon phenomenon, the sun is more likely to be low in the sky after the storm than before.

Looking at your panorama, it doesn't look like the sun was visible to you, so I wouldn't expect to see one.

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