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.

Storm Chasing and Photography—Spring 2018

Cumulonimbus Mammatus over Wyoming grasslands.

03 June 2018

We left Flagstaff yesterday and spent the night in Albuquerque and today we will drive the rest of the way to Denver. We will be spending two weeks in Denver visiting family and friends—and will do a bit of storm chasing if the right conditions present themselves.

We had dinner last night at the Owl Cafe—a Route 66-style diner. We’ve been here before and like the decor. The food isn’t too bad, either.

The drive from Albuquerque to Denver was interesting as we were in a post-frontal airmass and the clouds had these abstract undulations. We stopped a few times for photos along US 84 in eastern New Mexico.

Owl Cafe interior.
Owl Cafe interior.
Owl Cafe interior.
Owl Cafe interior.
Windmill and clouds in eastern New Mexico.
Windmill and clouds in eastern New Mexico.
Gate and clouds in eastern New Mexico.
Gate and clouds in eastern New Mexico.

Continue reading →

Updating to a Secure Website

The Internet moves on—and web sites are moving from HTTP to HTTPS (secure). In fact, some browsers now put up an alert to an unsecured web site. This means it’s time to convert this WordPress site from HTTP to HTTPS.

It should be easy. But things could go wrong. So this is just a notice that if this site behaves badly it could be the upgrade.

Update: The conversion isn’t working quite right. Some pages show the secure lock while others do not. I’ve submitted a trouble ticket to my hosting company.

Update 2: Tech support provided useful information and it now appears that everything is working.

Lightning-caused Wildfires

And so it begins. The North American Monsoon has begun with many thunderstorms but not much rain. As a result, lightning-sparked wildfires are a possibility.

Just by chance, I was heading out towards Mormon Lake this morning to capture images of the building thunderstorms over the San Francisco Peaks. I had noticed that the early buildups had some interesting structure—a combination of convective vertical growth as well as some laminar wave clouds.

As I drove towards Upper Lake Mary I saw a small plume of smoke from a wildfire. Moments later, I spotted a helicopter dropping water on the fire.

Fortunately, the fire was a very short distance from the lake allowing multiple passes in quick succession.

Helicopter lifting water bucket from Lake Mary.
Helicopter lifting water bucket from Lake Mary.
Helicopter approaching Lake Mary to refill bucket.
Helicopter approaching Lake Mary to refill bucket.

The recent increase in moisture and a slight cooling of temperatures that we’ve experienced over the past few days will result in good chances of quickly containing this wildfire.

Ligntning map for 07 July 2018.
Ligntning map for 07 July 2018.

The lightning map for 07 July 2018 shows plenty of lightning across the higher terrain—so it’s likely this fire was caused by lightning.

Milky Way and Sunset Crater National Monument

The weather has been fairly typical for late June and early July: warm temperatures, breezy afternoon winds, and mostly clear and sometimes absolutely clear skies.

That will change dramatically over the next few days as the North American Monsoon ramps up across Arizona and the desert southwest. As subtropical moisture begins to move northward we will see a significant increase in cloudiness and thunderstorms. Clear night skies will quickly become a distant memory.

With that in mind, I took advantage of clear skies and did some Milky Way photographs. I decided to try Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument so that I could get some of the volcanic hills and ridges in the image.

The Milky Way arches across the sky at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.
The Milky Way arches across the sky at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

Near the horizon is Mars which is becoming very bright in the evening sky—and will reach its peak brightness later in July. The planet Saturn is also visible within the starry mass of the Milky Way.