Lightning Across Northern Arizona—2017

The North American Monsoon is now in full swing across the southwest and Arizona. This brings thundershowers almost every day to northern Arizona along with a chance to photograph lightning.

I have been photographing lightning for a long time with my earliest images using an old manual focus/exposure camera with film. Those were challenging because you had to guess at the exposure (although there were many fine articles online even then on camera settings). There was no way to do a quick check of the exposure to see if it was good. On the other hand, we usually shot in the evening or nighttime hours using long exposures of several seconds or more so you were usually pretty certain whether you had the shutter open at the right moment.

With digital, everything has changed. You can instantly check your image and see whether or not you captured the lightning. There are several lightning triggers on the market that will fire the shutter for you.

Here are some recent images taken in several different locations over the past few weeks.

Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.

These were mainly in-cloud flashes so the best option was to leave the shutter open for 10-15 seconds. The longer exposure also allows some stars to appear in the image.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.

 

Waiting for the Moon at Lake Mary

During the late spring and early summer the waxing crescent Moon will align with the long axis of Lake Mary. The end result is that as the Moon sets it will have a long reflection on the lake. So I found myself on the east end of Lake Mary a few days ago waiting for the clouds to clear and the Moon to put on a show.

Sunset and early twilight over Lake Mary.
Sunset and early twilight over Lake Mary.

While waiting I shot several images of the lake using slow shutter speeds. This produces very smooth water—although it may appear somewhat unrealistic. No matter. I was having fun.

Twilight colors are reflected in Lake Mary.
Twilight colors are reflected in Lake Mary.

Here is an 8-second exposure:

Long exposure at twilight.
Long exposure at twilight.

Finally, the clouds cleared and the Moon appeared with its reflection in the water.

Moon and reflection in Lake Mary.
Moon and reflection in Lake Mary.

The crescent Moon is about 6% illuminated by the direct light of the Sun; the remainder of the Moon is lit by Earthshine which is bright enough to show detail on the shadowed face of the Moon.

Definitely worth it.

Storm Chasing and Photography—Spring 2017

We spent about a week doing storm photography across the central and High Plains in mid May. Below are summaries with photographs.

May 15, 2017

A strong southwesterly flow aloft continues across the midsections of the country so that adequate wind shear is present across large areas. The best shear, however, is across the northern High Plains and upper midwest, with less shear across the central Plains. A dryline is present across western Kansas and southward with adequate moisture to the east and a plume of moisture has moved northwestward into western Nebraska, western South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming.

After looking at too much model data, we decided to head to eastern Wyoming with hopes of storms developing over the Laramie Range and then moving to the northeast. Finding ourselves in Lusk, Wyoming, in mid afternoon, it became clear that the northern storms were too far away to reach. A storm we had passed earlier near Chugwater continued to develop so we backtracked south from Lusk to Lingle, then southeastward. We ended up in endless light rain and some small hail until we reached Mitchell, Nebraska. I took a few photos here of a weakly rotating updraft then headed east and north to watch the storm.

It wasn’t very impressive. We headed back to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, for a hotel and dinner. As we left the hotel, new storms to the west were producing continuous in-cloud lightning and occasional cloud-to-ground lightning. We went north of town and spent about 15 minutes photographing the storm and lightning.

Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Two-image panorama of a weakly rotating storm updraft.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.
Laminar bands preceed the main storm while continuous in-cloud lightning lights up the storm.

We left the storms and headed back into town for dinner. While eating, we got to enjoy the storm as it moved across town with heavy rain, small hail, and gusty winds.

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CB Mammatus and Snow

Last week we had a cold front race across the state that was generating showers and a few thunderstorms along the leading edge of the frontal boundary. As this front passed through Flagstaff we had some thunder and lightning while it was snowing. Thundersnow is not uncommon around here and we typically see a couple occurrences each year.

KFSX radar image.
KFSX radar image.

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Objects in the Night Sky—2017

The past week has been bountiful for photographing objects in the night sky. These objects include Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Moon, and the Zodiacal Light.

In mid-March the planet Venus was an evening object but was dropping closer to the horizon each evening. At the same time, Mercury was rising higher each day. On 18 March 2017, they were roughly side by side and presented an interesting spectacle in the evening twilight.

Venus and Mercury in the evening twilight above the Kachina Wetlands. Venus can be seen just to the right of center of the image; Mercury is left of center.
Venus and Mercury in the evening twilight above the Kachina Wetlands. Venus can be seen just to the right of center of the image; Mercury is left of center.

The following night I returned to Kachina Wetlands but later in the evening to capture the Zodiacal Light. The Zodiacal Light is a faint, roughly triangular, diffuse white glow seen in the night sky that appears to extend up from the vicinity of the Sun along the ecliptic or zodiac.

Zodiacal Light (28mm focal length).
Zodiacal Light (28mm focal length).

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