In Search of The Green Flash

Green Flash
By Eric Snider

Dusk at the Naples Pier, early June. Cool breezes have blown away the daytime heat and now fan the throng of people strolling the boarded walkway. Most have come for the sunset — a Naples pastime.

We, however, are here for something a little more specific.

The Green Flash.

No, a super hero is not about to descend from the sky. The Green Flash is a real, if rare, phenomenon that looks just like its name — a fleeting burst of vivid green above the upper rim of the sun just as it disappears into the horizon. Some Green Flashes are bigger than others. Some are more noticeable than others. But all of them give you the feeling you’ve witnessed something magical.

Will it happen tonight?

Seeking fellow searchers

“Are you here for The Green Flash?”

We posed the question to a number of Pier walkers. “What’s that?” a woman asks. We explain. She looks us over, deciding if we’re messing with her, then brightens and says, “I’ll keep an eye out for it.”

“We’ve been coming out here for four years and never seen it,” says Giuseppe Crismale, a gregarious New Jersey transplant whose accent still carries traces of his native Italy. “The Naples Borealis,” quips Vita, his wife of 44 years.

Just to be clear: The Green Flash is not specific to Naples, or Florida, or the tropics. It can be seen pretty much anywhere — but it’s hard to imagine a better place than this lovely Pier jutting into the Gulf of Mexico.

Brooklynites Barbara and Robert Chobor have heard of the Green Flash, but wonder if it’s reality or myth. When told it’s real, they enthusiastically sign on to our mission. “Let’s hope tonight’s the night,” Barbara says.

If you go Flash hunting

Theories abound about what causes The Green Flash, but suffice to say that it involves light refraction, atmospheric conditions and other scientific stuff. Gene Proulx, who retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and before that spent years at sea in the Coast Guard, reckons he’s seen a half dozen Green Flashes at different places around the world (including twice in Florida). The best chances to see one, he says, are under perfectly clear skies in pollution-free environments.

He offers a couple of pointers for those seeking the experience. Foremost, don’t stare at the descending sun for any length of time. Closely watching the sunset, besides posing a risk to your eyes, can distort your vision. You might see green when it’s really not there.

Don’t wear sunglasses. The Green Flash, Gene says, can only really be seen with the naked eye. So what to do? Use peripheral vision to track the falling sun, then as it touches the horizon quickly focus on it for the final drop. Or, he adds with a chuckle, “Have three or four drinks and you’ll see anything you want.”

The Final Countdown

Seconds left. The brilliant white sun is rimmed with yellow, its last plunge seems to accelerate. The high clouds are painted with pinks and blues with splashes of lemon. The gleaming orb touches the horizon. We lock our eyes on it, hoping for green. Seconds later, halfway gone, no green. The sun’s last sliver vanishes. Come on green.

… Not tonight. Oh well — it was a long shot, anyway. Then it occurs to us: Green Flash or not, it was certainly one dazzling sunset on the Naples Pier. And those are by no means rare.

Check out that evening’s sunset in time-lapsed video below.

Seen a Green Flash? Taken photos or video, or just care to tell us about it? Share your experience with us on the Paradise Coast Facebook page.



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