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'The great purpling' of Pa.'s skies and streets

Plus, the power of a Home Depot sausage.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

January 6, 2023
Inside this edition: Showstopper, Home Depot sausage, Altoona Avatar, lucky grapes, sister act, fast cars, and welcome to Purple-vania.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show returns Saturday. It's been around for more than a hundred years but was halted for several of them. Why?  

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth sharing: "That one sausage stand at the South Philly Home Depot" is on Kyra Shiomos' list — uploaded to TikTok in two parts — of things that would send non-Philadelphians into a coma

» One thing worth knowing: An Altoona company made the prop bows for James Cameron's big Avatar sequel out of PVC and wood. Owner Ned Miller told the Altoona Mirror the work took years to complete.

» One thing worth doing: File this one away for next New Year's Eve, but if pork and sauerkraut aren't your thing, try eating 12 grapes at midnight or circling the block with a suitcase for good luck instead.

» One thing worth reading: Forty students at Neumann University in Delaware County are living in a convent with nuns amid a student housing crunch. The sisters are learning TikTok and loving "the energy."

» One more thing worth sharing: A tunnel that carried the Pennsylvania Turnpike through the Laurel Ridge found new life as a secretive race car test site that perplexed hikers traversing the woods around it.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Pa. House gets new speaker in surprise compromise
» Who is Mark Rozzi, Pa.'s surprise House speaker?
» Shapiro taps 2020 Trump foe as elections chief
» Hire of Tamir Rice's killer tore apart Pa. borough
» Century-old law exploited by Pa. election deniers
» The Pa. legislature gets an infusion of new blood
» Partisan fights eclipse legislative accomplishments
» Josh Shapiro's transition team picks raise eyebrows
» Join a free panel on Pa.'s patchwork governments
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism for Pennsylvania.
A bright purple sky over a field, trees, and several houses.
(~ Arjuna ~ / Flickr)

We receive a fair amount of reader correspondence here at PA Local — questions, answers, misguided defenses of Home Alone 2

And that outreach has revealed a clear fascination — read: fixation — with lighting, so much so that we’ve decided to quickly explain two phenomena that keep finding their way into the ‘ole Gmail-bag. The first involves purple street lights, the second a purple/pink “aura” in the sky.

Let’s start with the former. 

Street view

A few years ago, folks in cities nationwide started noticing that their public spaces had taken on a strange tint at night. The source? Their local lampposts. 

In Schuylkill County, Tamaqua resident George Haldeman showed up at a borough council meeting as recently as this past September looking for answers. He wasn’t particularly alarmed but was definitely curious as to why some streets were suddenly lit up like a college dorm room.

It was a similar story in State College in October, and Willow Grove before that.

Conspiracy theories abounded, none of which I’m sharing here, but the truth was much tamer.

In an interesting piece for Insider, Adam Rogers writes that “The Great Purpling” of towns like Tamaqua across North America owed to defective batches of LED lights. It was that simple.  

"There's a laminate on the fixture that gives it its [normal] white color," Jeff Brooks of Duke Power, which operates in the south and midwest, explained. "As that laminate began to degrade, it caused the color tint to change toward purple.” The most likely culprit was heat damage. 

Without the laminate, an LED's true indigo color shines.

Officials in Tamaqua told George Haldeman that the manufacturer would pay for replacements. Officials in State College said they were working on swap outs too.

But there’s likely more purple in Pennsylvania’s future, especially with cities like Philadelphia in the process of converting tens of thousands of old sodium-vapor street lights to more cost effective, energy efficient, and powerful — sometimes to a fault — LEDs. 


If you’ve driven past the Brookville exit on I-80 in Jefferson County, you likely smelled the medical marijuana facility there before you saw it. 

But the growhouses that dot the Pennsylvania map now, six years after the legalization of medical cannabis here, can be visible from a distance too — incredibly so

Once again, LED lights are involved — only this time the coloring is intentional. 

We’ve received a number of related messages, most featuring cellphone photos of intensely bright pink and purple clouds with bemused or irritated captions. There have also been lots of social media posts with near-identical queries, many suspecting that weather played a role. 

Here’s what’s actually happening: 

The greenhouses involved in the cultivation of cannabis often use powerful arrays of lights at various ends of the color spectrum — including combinations of red and blue — to boost photosynthetic growth and ultimately the plant’s potency. That use is sometimes ratcheted up in winter's darkest months.

The spillover effect is greatly enhanced by snow, fog, and low clouds.

It can also be obscured with blackout curtains on growhouse windows, the kind one Cumberland County producer intentionally dropped during last year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month to paint the sky pink.

Of course this light pollution has its critics, and at least one U.S. county, Humboldt in California, has a law on the books saying light "shall not escape [a cannabis grow operation] at a level that is visible from neighboring properties between sunset and sunrise."

The Pennsylvania law governing the production of medical marijuana — the only legal form of the drug here — largely defers to local zoning rules, which remain a highly variable patchwork

Why do the commonweath's cultivators use transparent greenhouses instead of opaque warehouses in the first place? It's cheaper, allowing natural light in, which helps to lower energy and production costs.

Have a question about Pennsylvania you want answered? Send it to us here and we'll add it to the queue. 

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor 

Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism for Pennsylvania.
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

A foggy day at the Tyler Arboretum in Media, via Don N. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A foggy path surrounded by bare trees.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show was halted by World War II between 1943 and 1946 and enjoyed a surge in post-war popularity upon its return. 

The Farm Show Complex was turned into an Army Air Corps training center and plane engine repair facility during those years. Artifacts from the period were discovered during COVID-19-era renovations.

The show temporarily went virtual in 2021 due to the pandemic.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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