The non-Monsoon of 2019

Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.

It’s been an unusual monsoon season across Arizona this year. After both a wet winter and wet spring—with above normal precipitation amounts all the way into the month of May—things went dry. The North American Monsoon started late this year with the first significant rainfall not arriving until the second half of July. This was unfortunate as the dryness partially contributed to a very damaging wildfire (Museum Fire) burning across portions of the San Francisco Peaks.

Just a few days later, the rains finally arrived. And, then, they stopped again. And it has been that way much of this monsoon season. A few days of rain, then a week or more of dry weather. A normal pattern would have rain falling perhaps four days out of seven for a two-month period. Folks around here have dubbed this monsoon the “nonsoon”.

And, of course, with the lack of moisture and thunderstorms opportunities for photographing storms, heavy rain, lightning, and sunsets has been a challenge. But it only takes one great photograph to make it a successful season. I’m still trying to get that photograph.

Here are some of the more interesting photographs from this “nonsoon monsoon” season.

The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.

Grand Canyon National Park: 100 Views

In celebration of Grand Canyon National Park’s centennial, the Grand Canyon Conservancy has published Grand Canyon National Park: 100 Views.

In celebration of this legacy national park’s centennial, the work of some of the country’s most talented photographers is paired with essays by canyon veteran Scott Thybony in a love letter to an irreplaceable place. Like candles on a birthday cake, 100 breathtaking photographs capture the deep and abiding appeal of Grand Canyon—as Thybony so eloquently writes, its “pure geometry of earth and sky.” This book is truly the “collector’s item” for Grand Canyon National Park’s centennial year!

I’m pleased to note that three of my photographs were selected for inclusion in this book.

Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.

The first image is an example of not giving up. I was packing up my gear to leave Lipan Point and drive home when a small cumulus appeared. I stopped what I was doing and watched it for awhile and realized that it might become a thunderstorm. So I unpacked the gear and set it up again and waited. The sun went down and then the storm started to produce lightning. And I got this shot of lightning exiting from the top of the storm, heading down in the clear and then going through a layer of low clouds before hitting and illuminating the ground.

The following two images were shot the same day. Thunderstorms were slow to develop but there was this interesting band of clouds just above the horizon. I waited until the sun was behind the clouds and the result was these beautiful beams of light and shadow spreading across the canyon.

Beams of light and shadow play across Grand Canyon.
Beams of light and shadow play across Grand Canyon.

Finally, after the sun had set thunderstorms developed across the North Rim of Grand Canyon. There was still plenty of twilight to backlight the storms and to produced some reflected light in the canyon.

Twilight thunderstorms and lightning over Grand Canyon.
Twilight thunderstorms and lightning over Grand Canyon.

“Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it, not a bit. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.

-John Wesley Powell

Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt and Major Powell.

Arizona Monsoon Clouds—August 2018

The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

A previous post displayed photographs of storms and weather that occurred during July of this year’s North American Monsoon. Here are photographs from August (plus the first day of September).

Cumulus and Cumulonimbus

A search for wildflowers and thunderstorms brought me to Rogers Lake west of Flagstaff. It’s a lake only ephemerally during springs with heavy snow runoff. But it makes a grand place for photographs when a wide-open vista is desired. Earlier convective storms were pushing an outflow boundary southward with new convection developing on the boundary.

Outflow boundary and convection over Rogers Lake with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Outflow boundary and convection over Rogers Lake with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
A distant cumulonimbus can be seen from the Doney Mountain Picnic Area near Wupatki National Monument.
A distant cumulonimbus can be seen from the Doney Mountain Picnic Area near Wupatki National Monument.
Thunderstorms move across Grand Canyon with low clouds clinging to the higher points and buttes.
Thunderstorms move across Grand Canyon with low clouds clinging to the higher points and buttes.

There was just enough vertical wind shear on this day to allow some storms to briefly exhibit supercell characteristics and deviate to the right —which brought this thunderstorm near the edge of the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

A strong thunderstorm over the North Rim of Grand Canyon is reflected in a small pool of water.
A strong thunderstorm over the North Rim of Grand Canyon is reflected in a small pool of water.
A weak, late afternoon thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun.
A weak, late afternoon thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun.

Fog and Smoke

Sometimes the unexpected can be magical. When fog forms in Grand Canyon the visitors may be disappointed but there is the potential for amazing photographs.

A long-lived cluster of thunderstorms east of Grand Canyon pushed a cool, moist outflow into the canyon producing areas of fog near the South Rim.
A long-lived cluster of thunderstorms east of Grand Canyon pushed a cool, moist outflow into the canyon producing areas of fog near the South Rim.
More fog in Grand Canyon.
More fog in Grand Canyon.

Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim produced both amazing and dull conditions.

Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim creates a colorful sunset.
Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim creates a colorful sunset.
Smoke from the Obi Fire fills Grand Canyon and reduces visibility.
Smoke from the Obi Fire fills Grand Canyon and reduces visibility.

Sunset and Full Moon

Sunset after the storms can be amazing. And if there is a nearly full moon, things can get very interersting.

A backlit thunderstorm at sunset over Grand Canyon.
A backlit thunderstorm at sunset over Grand Canyon.
Post-sunset colors illuminate the underside of a dissipating shower.
Post-sunset colors illuminate the underside of a dissipating shower.
Dissipating cumulus clouds at sunset with O'Leary Peak in the distance.
Dissipating cumulus clouds at sunset with O’Leary Peak in the distance.
Dissipating showers are backlit by the setting sun.
Dissipating showers are backlit by the setting sun.
The nearly full moon illuminates the inner canyon as twilight fades behind a distant thunderstorm.
The nearly full moon illuminates the inner canyon as twilight fades behind a distant thunderstorm.
A dissipating thunderstorm anvil cloud is seen above pueblo ruins in Wupatki National Monument at sunset.
A dissipating thunderstorm anvil cloud is seen above pueblo ruins in Wupatki National Monument at sunset.

Rainbows

A double rainbow above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
A double rainbow above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
A rainbow, dissipating anvil, thunderstorm, and towering cumulus.
A rainbow, dissipating anvil, thunderstorm, and towering cumulus.

Lightning

And lightning…

An amazing anvil bolt...and too close!
An amazing anvil bolt…and too close!
Lightning west of Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning west of Sedona, Arizona.
Anvil bolt over Cathedral Rock. (It's out of focus—<u>you</u> try focusing in the dark!)
Anvil bolt over Cathedral Rock. (It’s out of focus—you try focusing in the dark!)
Lightning illuminates Grand Canyon at night.
Lightning illuminates Grand Canyon at night.
Lightning strikes the Moenkopi Plateau (composite image).
Lightning strikes the Moenkopi Plateau (composite image).
Several bolts strike behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Several bolts strike behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

It’s early September and the summer monsoon pattern is beginning to fade away. Soon it will be time to start thinking about autumn colors on the peaks.

A Transition Season Severe Weather Event

Lightning behind Wukoki Pueble in Wupatki National Monument.

September 1 marks the first day of “meteorological autumn” and it started out with a severe weather event across portions of northern Arizona. Severe storms are more likely during what is often called the “transition season” as we make the switch from the North American Monsoon weather pattern into a fall pattern.

In the transition season the westerlies begin to push southward again as the large area of high pressure over the southwest weakens. Disturbances in the westerlies along with stronger jet-level winds can combine with copious amounts of residual tropical moisture to bring severe thunderstorms to the area.

250 mb pattern for 1200 UTC 01 September 2018. (Image from NOAA/Storm Prediction Center.)
250 mb pattern for 1200 UTC 01 September 2018. (Image from NOAA/Storm Prediction Center.)
Upper air sounding for KFGZ at 1200 UTC 01 September 2018.
Upper air sounding for KFGZ at 1200 UTC 01 September 2018.

A short-wave trough and moderate jet stream were present across Arizona at 1200 UTC 01 September. Monsoon moisture was also present. The first hint that something was up was the development of thunderstorms—some severe—before sunrise. This patch of storms moved to the east and northeast and, in its wake, left a pool of cooler air across northeastern Arizona along with an outflow boundary. Outflow boundaries can often play an important role in subsequent convection with increased severity and rotation as the storm moves across the boundary. (Maddox et al. 1980; Rasmussen et al. 1998)

Afternoon runs of the HRRR model showed storms developing along an east-west line across northern Arizona and that some of these would interact with that boundary, become severe and turn to the right moving southeast. And that’s pretty much what happened. Score one for the HRRR model.

HRRR simulated radar forecast for the afternoon of 01 September. (Animated GIF courtesy of College of DuPage.)
HRRR simulated radar forecast for the afternoon of 01 September. (Animated GIF courtesy of College of DuPage.)
Reflectivity from KFSX radar at 1607 MST.
Reflectivity from KFSX radar at 1607 MST.

Other storms produced very large hail with a report of 2.75″ hail in Holbrook and another of 2.00″ near Tolani Lake.

View of rapidly developing convection east of Wupatki National Monument (Panorama from northeast through south).
View of rapidly developing convection east of Wupatki National Monument (Panorama from northeast through south).

I was watching and photographing these storms from the southern portions of Wupatki National Monument. There was explosive vertical growth in these storms along with some generally unorganized rotation. The storm also developed a rear-flank downdraft. And I was able to hear the “hail roar” (i.e., a roaring sound that originates in the storm cloud caused by large hailstones hitting the ground or colliding in mid-air). I’ve occasionally heard hail roar in High Plains storms but never in Arizona.

Low clouds, fog, and a K-H wave in the cold pool behind the storm.
Low clouds, fog, and a K-H wave in the cold pool behind the storm.
Cumulonimbus mammatus behind the storm.
Cumulonimbus mammatus behind the storm.

Behind the storm, cold outflow dominated and low clouds and fog quickly developed across the low hills of Wupatki National Monument. A broad area of mammatus clouds was also present.

Lightning behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.( Single exposure of 1/4 second.)
Lightning behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.( Single exposure of 1/4 second.)

And the lightning was impressive.

Lightning map for 01 September 2018. (Courtesy of WeatherBell.)
Lightning map for 01 September 2018. (Courtesy of WeatherBell.)

Arizona Monsoon Clouds—July 2018

Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

The North American Monsoon arrived in northern Arizona during the first week of July—which is an average start date. Within just a few days, we quickly transitioned from Extreme Fire Danger to High—and within a week or two—to Moderate.

Summer monsoon season is my second storm chase season—the first is in late spring across the High Plains. Second season is more about lightning, clouds with dramatic scenery, and colors at sunset. This July has been a bit more challenging than other seasons but still successful.

Here are some photographs of storms and storm-related activity during July 2018.

Early stage Cumulonimbus

A pair of developing cumulonimbus as seen from Kachina Wetlands.
A pair of developing cumulonimbus as seen from Kachina Wetlands.

Cumulonimbus over Hart Prairie.Cumulonimbus over Hart Prairie.

Outflow boundaries and arcus clouds

Gust front and arcus clouds advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds continue to advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds continue to advance across Wupatki National Monument.

This complex of storms was moving westward across Wupatki National Monument. I had originally planned to photograph the system from the Doney Mtn. Picnic Area but the system arrived at that location before I did. So I retreated back to US-89 and the entrance to the Monument. Both of these images are panoramas that span the northeast through south. The San Francisco Peaks can be seen at the far right of both images.

Rainbows (and maybe a tornado?)

A rainbow (and possible vortex).
A rainbow (and possible vortex).

As convection approached a rainbow developed and I was busy trying to reset the camera to capture the full bow. Only later, when examing the images, did I notice what might be a vortex bisecting the rainbow. Because I did not see it in real time I cannot say whether there was any rotation. It may just be a random bit of cloud debris.

Lightning

The best part of the thunderstorm season is trying to capture lightning. It’s more than just getting a photograph of lightning—it’s important to get lightning in an interesting location.

Lightning visibile from South Rim of Grand Canyon with Desert Tower in the distance.
Lightning visibile from South Rim of Grand Canyon with Desert Tower in the distance.
Lightning over the Painted Desert as seen from South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning over the Painted Desert as seen from South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning over the Painted Desert.
Lightning over the Painted Desert.
A composite of four images showing multiple lightning strikes on the San Francisco Peaks. These storms dropped almost 6 inches of rain in under 3 hours.
A composite of four images showing multiple lightning strikes on the San Francisco Peaks. These storms dropped almost 6 inches of rain in under 3 hours.

Menacing thunderstorms

Sometimes I chase storms—other times they chase me. We were mountain biking on Observatory Mesa when this thunderstorm developed and enveloped the San Francisco Peaks. It was definitely time to turn around.

A thunderstorms envelopes the San Francisco Peaks.
A thunderstorms envelopes the San Francisco Peaks.

Sunset after the storm

And, of course, sunset after the storms can be pretty amazing,

Sunset over Grand Canyon as seen from Lipan Point.
Sunset over Grand Canyon as seen from Lipan Point.
A distant thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun at Grand Canyon.
A distant thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun at Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Dark skies behind Cathedral Rock.
Dark skies behind Cathedral Rock.
The setting sun lights up the clouds as shadows race up the face of Cathedral Rock.
The setting sun lights up the clouds as shadows race up the face of Cathedral Rock.

Reflections

Reflections in pools of water can produce interesting images. Several days of heavy rain resulted in ponds of water at Crescent Moon Picnic Area.

The setting sun illuminates Cathedral Rock which is reflected in a small pond.
The setting sun illuminates Cathedral Rock which is reflected in a small pond.

Rainfall amounts

As is typical, rainfall amounts can vary widely over even just a few miles. Here is a map showing the rain gauge amounts for July on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks southward through Flagstaff and beyond. Amounts range from 2.5 to 14.5 inches.

Rain gauge totals for July 2018.
Rain gauge totals for July 2018.

August continues to bring thunderstorms, lightning, and flooding to northern Arizona.