Picture Courtesy of Tom Kreyche from Capitol Hill, Seattle
Pictures courtesy of Seelye Martin in Laurelhurst, Seattle
Why TWO rainbows? Most of the time only one is clearly apparent.
As many of you know, rainbows result when light from the sun enters a raindrop and experiences a reflection at the back of the drop and heads back to the observer (see schematics). Sunlight has all wavelengths of visible light, from short wavelengths (purple and blue) to longer wavelengths (red and orange), with yellow and green in between. As sunlight reaches the raindrop it is refracted (bent) upon entering the drop, reflected off the back of the drop, and then refracted again when leaving. The interesting thing is that the amount of bending during refraction depends on wavelength, with longer wavelengths (e.g., red) bent less than shorter wavelengths (e.g., blue). This is called dispersion, which results in the sunlight being broken up into a spectrum of colors: the rainbow.
But sometimes, there are TWO reflections in the back of the raindrop, which produces another rainbow, with the colors reversed (see figure below). This is the secondary bow, which is generally fainter than the primary bow. Look at the pictures above; can you see the reversal of colors? Red is at the top of the primary bow, but at the bottom of the secondary bow.
Quiz time....is this picture of a double rainbow below real or fake? The answer: FAKE. No color reversal between the bows. Someone got carried away with Photoshop.
Spring is rainbow season here in the Northwest. Why? Lots of instability, so there are plenty of cumulus clouds and their transient showers. The showers are followed by sun, which helps produce the rainbows. Classic spring showers and sunbreaks! A winter storm with a continuous cloud deck without breaks is no good for rainbows.
Why is it very unstable this time of the year? Because instability is associated with a big change in temperature with height and spring has this in spades. The sun is strong and warms the surface, while the atmosphere aloft has not warmed appreciably yet.
There is one question about double rainbows I can't answer: Are there two pots at both sides? I will leave this important question to others more qualified to deal with it.
Come to think of it, maybe I can answer the question. This is my kind of gold. And they make it in Ellensburg!