Thursday, April 28th 2022, 8:23 pm - Warm air blowing over the cold lake leads to this mesmerizing illusion every spring.
Toronto’s skyline glistens above Lake Ontario whether it’s sunny or storming. But the weather on certain days can make the skyline appear to float above the lake altogether, multiplying and inverting into a surrealist mass of concrete and windows. Here’s an inside look at how the lake can turn the skyline into a bizarre work of optical art.
Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn, a meteorologist for The Weather Network, took these fascinating pictures of Toronto’s scrambled skyline from more than 50 km across Lake Ontario.
Toronto’s skyline seen through a mirage over Lake Ontario. (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn)
From a distance, Toronto’s downtown core appeared to flip upside down while floating above the water, revealing an immense wall of buildings that look like the city’s development ran amok overnight. Only the CN Tower appears to emerge above the fray.
MIRAGES ARE COMMON IN THE SPRING
Lecky Hepburn witnessed a superior mirage, a phenomenon she says is common over Lake Ontario during the springtime.
“We get it every spring when you get warm, dry air that flows over the cold lakes,” she said in an interview after documenting the incredible sight.
The waters of Lake Ontario can spark raging bands of snow and cool off a warm day in a hurry. But the lake’s profound influence on our environment doesn’t stop at the weather—it can also affect light itself.
A superior mirage forms during a temperature inversion, or when temperatures rise with height. Inversions are common over Lake Ontario as temperatures warm up through the spring months.
The sharp contrast between the adjacent layers of air affects how light travels through each layer between the source and your eyes.
Light shining off the Toronto skyline hits the inversion and bends back toward the surface, making it appear as if the buildings are both floating and inverted.
The image of CN Tower escapes the optical trickery because the top half of the building is above the inversion.
Toronto’s lights add a vibrant touch when a mirage distorts the skyline. (Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn)
This springtime mirage is especially vivid at night when the lights from Toronto and cities beyond the horizon are visible as a result of the strong inversion above the lake’s surface.
“We’ve seen some strange lights for sure,” she said. “It’s this bright light that just comes in and disappears. Yeah, if we didn’t know anything about science and meteorology we would think that they’re UFOs as well.”