Thundersnow in Flagstaff

It has been a dry October and the last measurable precipitation at the Flagstaff airport was September 26 until rain and snow fell on Sunday, October 27.

Forecast models had been showing a slight chance of rain and/or snow with the passage of a cold front but precipitation amounts were light. The GEFS plumes showed generally less than 0.03 inches. The airport actually measured a bit more than that as 0.05″ of rain fell with a trace of snow.

Radar depiction of rain and snow moving across northern Arizona (2019_1028_2235).
24-hour lightning map.
GEFS plume forecast for Flagstaff.

Overall, not a bad forecast. So I was not surprised that rain and some snow arrived with the cold front. I was surprised that it was accompanied by thunder and lightning.

It’s always interesting to observe Thundersnow!

A look at the lightning map shows that the only place where there was cloud-to-ground lightning was in the vicinity of Flagstaff.

And now we return to our dry weather pattern.

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.)