Nate continues: "Several longtime area residents have mentioned this to me, and some even claim to have seen it personally. Does this actually happen sometimes, or is it an urban legend? If it's real, are there any photos of it?"
Yes, Nate, it is a real phenomenon. I've seen it myself.
On his SandHillCity.com website, local history buff Bob Beaton has a rundown of newspaper articles and mentions of the "mirage" that date back to 1894. The most recent is a 2008 Tribune article by Marie Havenga about a film crew putting together a documentary on the subject; however, it's unclear that film was ever completed.
What your friends have witnessed is caused by a phenomenon known as "temperature inversion," where atmospheric conditions and air temperatures align exactly right so the lights of Milwaukee and other cities on the west shore of Lake Michigan show up as if they're just a few miles away. It's not exactly Milwaukee's lights, but a reflection of them that show up more than 80 miles to the east on our shoreline.
WOOD-TV meteorologist Bill Steffen has a good explanation on how it happens on his blog. CLICK HERE to see it, as well as a photo of such an event.
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