Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)—III

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) remains a visually interesting object in the evening twilight. It is only visible for short time each evening between the time it gets dark enough to see it and when it gets too low on the horizon and is obscured by dust or clouds.

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) at 1833 MST 20 December 2021. Image has been inverted to help show the fine structore of the tail.
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) at 1833 MST 20 December 2021. Image has been inverted to help show the fine structore of the tail.
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) at 1833 MST 20 December 2021.
Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) at 1833 MST 20 December 2021.

The comet has undergone a rapid brightening in the past few days. From Spaceweather.com:

The outburst might signal a fragmentation event in the comet’s core. This would come as no surprise. The comet is heading for its closest approach to the sun (0.61 AU) on Jan. 3rd. Increasing heat may be liberating new jets of gas and dust from the comet’s core—or worse, blowing away huge chunks of ice and rock.

There have been numerous magnificent images posted to the Spaceweather.com website:

In the southwest we are heading into an extended period of cloudy skies with rain and snow so it is unknown when I will get another chance to shoot photographs of the comet.

A Frosty Morning in Sedona

Last week we headed down to Sedona for a trail run. Because of a recent rain event followed by a very cold night there was frost on the ground and some of the vegetation. Especially wonderful was the spiky frost on many rocks and tree roots.

Spiky frost on a small rock.
Spiky frost on a small rock.
Frost on an exposed root.
Frost on an exposed root.
Frosted plants.
Frosted plants.

It was beautiful—and it didn’t last long.

Aspen Leaves and Autumn Color

The changing color of aspen leaves has peaked in many locations — and just now peaking in others. It’s always interesting to see which areas go early and which hang on until later.

Here are some photos of aspen around northern Arizona this past week.

Going, going... (Hockderffer Hills near FR151.)
Going, going… (Hockderffer Hills near FR151.)
Arizona Trail near Hart Prairie.
Arizona Trail near Hart Prairie.
Arizona Trail.
Arizona Trail.
Aspen trees with shadows.
Aspen trees with shadows.
Aspen trees at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road. (Notice how many trees have been scarred from folks carving their initials in the bark.)
Aspen trees at Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road. (Notice how many trees have been scarred from folks carving their initials in the bark.)
Forest Road 151.
Forest Road 151.
A tunnel through the trees on FR 151.
A tunnel through the trees on FR 151.

Thunderstorms and Tornadoes in Arizona

A potent weather system moved across Arizona on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, and produced a variety of weather including tornadoes, large hail, heavy rain, and flooding. This system was well forecasted and the various models did a very good job depicting the possibilities.

Radar-estimated rainfall amounts across Arizona on Tuesday morning.
Radar-estimated rainfall amounts across Arizona on Tuesday morning.

Areas of moderate rain moved across Arizona in the pre-dawn hours with many locations receiving more and one inch of rain by sunrise.

There had been some expectations that the severe weather would commence before sunrise owing to the favorable vertical wind profiles. Both the low-level shear and deep-layer shear supported organized thunderstorms with the possibilities of rotating supercells and even tornadoes. That scenario did not manifest probably because the widespread overnight rain cooled the boundary layer enough to inhibit strong thunderstorm development.

The forecast models also suggested a second period of severe weather was possible in the afternoon as temperatures warmed and buoyant instability increased across the area.

Severe thunderstorm with a Three-Body Scatter Signature (TBSS; also known as a "hail spike").
Severe thunderstorm with a Three-Body Scatter Signature (TBSS; also known as a “hail spike”).
Severe thunderstorm with a hook echo (left) and strong velocity couplet (right). The box indicates that a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect for this storm.
Severe thunderstorm with a hook echo (left) and strong velocity couplet (right). The box indicates that a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect for this storm.
Severe thunderstorm continues to show a hook echo (left); on the right is Correlation Coefficient where low values may indicate tornadic debris. The warning has been upgraded to a Tornado Warning.
Severe thunderstorm continues to show a hook echo (left); on the right is Correlation Coefficient where low values may indicate tornadic debris. The warning has been upgraded to a Tornado Warning.

Strong thunderstorms developed across the desert regions of central and southern Arizona in the afternoon. These moved quickly to the northeast and into the higher terrain of the Mogollon Rim and Tonto Rim. At least two of these thunderstorms began to acquire supercellular characteristics and began to show rotation signatures in the Dopper radar data. By mid afternoon, one storm had developed a well-defined hook echo and velocity couplet. This storm was already producing strong winds and hail and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning (SVR) was already in effect. As the rotation rapidly intensified, the SVR was replaced with a Tornado Warning (TOR). Polarimetric Dopper radar data indicated low values of Correlation Coefficient (CC). This often accompanies tornadic debris lofted into the air. This was clearly a dangerous storm and the TOR was justified.

Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) depiction of large hail swaths.
Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) depiction of large hail swaths.
MRMS rotation tracks associated with the tornado.
MRMS rotation tracks associated with the tornado.

Eventually, the rotation weakened but the storm was still producing large hail as it moved northeastwards. Other storms also produced large hail. The Multiple Radar Multiple Sensors (MRMS) data shows these long swaths of large hail across portions of Arizona.

Forecasters from the National Weather Service offices in Arizona did a great job of anticipating this severe weather event and issuing timely warnings.