As school kids, teachers told us that it’s impossible to see beyond two miles because of the curvature of the earth. Dutifully, we believed it. But then we find there are exceptions, like when you’re higher off the ground, in a building or on an airplane. And of course it’s easier to see when the weather is clear or there’s less smog in the air. But is it possible we could actually see across Lake Erie? The math says no; not from standing on the shore. Just as the teacher told us, it’s a mirage, it’s not really there.
Explain then the photograph (above) taken by Outdoors Page photographer Tom Mahl last week from the shore at Rye Beach in Erie County! It’s easy to see trees on the opposite shore, and one can make out sail boats and cottages as well. After long examination of the photo, and much discussion,the Outdoors Page staff has come to the conclusion that this may well be a Fata Morgana, a very rare kind of mirage that allows the viewer to peer something over the horizon as if it were only a few miles away.As light passes through layers of the air with varying temperatures and densities, it bends or refracts.
On the lake at this time of year, it’s sometimes the case that cooler air is closer to the lake and warmer air higher up (the opposite of usual conditions).This forms an atmospheric duct which acts like a refracting lens, creating a series of images that can make the Canadian coast appear just a few miles away.
Brenda Culler, Spokesperson at Ohio Division of Natural Resources Office of Coastal Management told me that until I made my inquiry, nobody in her office had ever heard of this phenomenon and she can’t say for sure that what Dr. Mahl observed is a Fata Morgana. “However, right now, based on current conditions, that would be possible.” Still,she says it’s not necessary to be looking at a mirage to see across the Lake. “People on the Canadian side routinely report that they can make out the Key Center Tower in Cleveland, easily 57 to 60 miles away. “From Maumee State Park,” (near Toledo)she adds, “it’s very easy to see Kelley’s Island(32 miles) or Cedar Point (36 miles).”Have you seen the Canadian shore on a clear day? Which is it; a distant shore or a floating mirage?
Send me a picture drop us a line, we’d love to hear your story. Haven’t seen one yet? Well, get outdoors!