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Quirky Weather Effect Shows Upside-Down Chicago Skyline Over Lake Michigan

Chicago Skyline
Many people of all ages go camping at Warren Dunes State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan to get some much-needed physical activity — which can even benefit those who don’t begin exercising until age 70 to 84.

For two metro Detroit residents, however, their April camping trip to Warren Dunes took a bizarre and seemingly supernatural turn.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Joshua Super and his girlfriend, Shalee Blackmer, of Orchard Lake Village, noticed a strange sight when they went to take a photo of the sunset over the lake. They saw a distorted collection of shapes and columns that appeared to hover over the horizon.

Upon a closer look, they realized they were looking at an upside-down Chicago skyline.

“I wouldn’t call myself a believer in aliens, but I truly thought it was something like that,” said Super, 22.

At about 60 miles away, Chicago normally can’t be seen from the opposite side of Lake Michigan — so how can its skyscrapers appear in the sky this way?

As it turns out, Super and Blackmer saw a mirage, according to Andrew T. Young, a San Diego State University astronomer and a leading expert on mirages. This particular mirage was classified as a superior mirage, which takes place when a large and well-defined area of warm air sits over a layer of colder air and distorts light rays from the atmosphere.

“A thermal inversion forms over the lake, bending the line of sight from the camera to Chicago back down, and producing the inverted image, which is typical of mirages,” Young said. “Normally, Chicago is hidden by the curvature of the Earth, so that it lies below the lake horizon. Here, the optical ray curvature is stronger than the curvature of the lake surface, and that brings the city’s buildings into view.”

At this time of the year, when the Great Lakes are still cold but the air has begun to warm up, superior mirages aren’t an uncommon occurrence.

It’s important to distinguish mirages from illusions, as the two terms aren’t interchangeable. In a mirage, the atmosphere acts as a lens to reflect an image.

Super’s photo of the mirage has garnered almost 1.5 million views on Reddit alone since he posted it online, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“I feel like I’ve known about Michigan and its different weather phenomena all my life, but I was completely blindsided by this,” he said.

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