Lightning Across Northern Arizona

The North American Monsoon has produced many days with spectacular thunderstorms and lightning. Below are some of my favorite lightning photographs from this summer. These were taken in Grand Canyon, Sedona, San Francisco Volcanic Field, and Flagstaff.

Lightning over Northern Arizona in summer 2022.
Lightning over Northern Arizona in summer 2022.

We are now in the midst of a monsoon break but moisture will return over the next several days to northern Arizona bringing another chance for thunderstorms and photography.

Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbows, and Fog

The North American Monsoon continues to bring convective activity to much of northern Arizona on a daily basis. There have been plenty of opportunities for colorful sunrises and sunsets as well as rainbows and even some fog.

Light rain showers are illuminated by the rising sun over Anderson Mesa.
Light rain showers are illuminated by the rising sun over Anderson Mesa.
A partial rainbow appears right after sunrise over Mormon Mountain.
A partial rainbow appears right after sunrise over Mormon Mountain.
Early morning light on Upper Lake Mary.
Early morning light on Upper Lake Mary.
Sunset colors illuminate a thunderstorm near Twin Arrows.
Sunset colors illuminate a thunderstorm near Twin Arrows.
The setting sun briefly illuminates heavy rain falling on the San Francisco Peaks.
The setting sun briefly illuminates heavy rain falling on the San Francisco Peaks.
Light rain from a dissipating thunderstorm is illuminated by the setting sun.
Light rain from a dissipating thunderstorm is illuminated by the setting sun.
The almost daily rainfall has resulted in many opportunities for morning fog.
The almost daily rainfall has resulted in many opportunities for morning fog.

The rainy season should continue for at least a few more weeks so there should be additional opportunities for colorful photographs.

Monsoon Convection at Wupatki National Monument

Thunderstorms develop in the late afternoon near Wupatki National Monument.
Thunderstorms develop in the late afternoon near Wupatki National Monument.

Time lapse of thunderstorms developing near Wupatki National Monument.

Once again I traveled to Wupatki National Monument to photograph thunderstorms and lightning–and even the Moon.

Thunderstorms had generated several outflow boundaries and two of these boundaries converged and produced new thunderstorms to the southeast of Wupatki NM. The top image and time-lapse video shows the developing thunderstorms along with an appearance of the waxing Moon.

Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

Thunderstorms had also formed on the mesas and plateaus of northeast Arizona earlier in the afternoon and were moving to the west and southwest. These storms would likely arrive in the vicinity of Wupatki NM by late afternoon and early evening. Of note, the high-resolution weather forecast models indicated that the storms would dissipate as they moved across the lower elevations of the Little Colorado River valley. I was more optimistic based on the afternoon radar and satellite data.

These storms continued to move westward and generated a weak haboob–the second in two days in this area. The thunderstorms also generated plenty of lightning as they moved across the San Francisco volcanic fields.

Sunset colors over the Coconino Plateau.
Sunset colors over the Coconino Plateau.

And there was a nice sunset, too.

Monsoon Storms–July 2022

As noted in a previous post we had an early start to the North American Monsoon which brought thunderstorms and rain to northern Arizona in the second half of June. This was most welcome as it had been a very dry spring. Then we went into a down period for the first third of July with very little activity. That was completely reversed as we entered a period of very strong monsoon activity which brought frequent heavy rains and flash flooding.

So the first part of July had few targets. The remainder of July had above normal amounts of total precipitable water and very high surface dewpoints which produced an environment with mostly cloudy skies and very low cloud bases. None of this is particularly conducive to photographing storms with beautiful light (i.e., golden hour, blue hour). Nonetheless, if you head out often enough you will get some good photographs.

A cluster of late afternoon storms that lingered into twilight produced some beautiful lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

This day in Sedona produced very little lightning but did get a nice sunset and a partial rainbow.

Lightning beyond Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning beyond Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
A brilliant and colorful sunset in Sedona, Arizona.
A brilliant and colorful sunset in Sedona, Arizona.
As the sun set, a partial rainbow formed.
As the sun set, a partial rainbow formed.

Convection often starts early over the elevated terrain of the San Francisco Peaks. These storms eventually produced flash flooding over recent wildfire burn scars.

Convection starts early over the peaks.
Convection starts early over the peaks.

Convective towers mix with laminar wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks. Shot from Marshall Lake–now just a dry grassland.

Morning convection and wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
Morning convection and wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
A cloud-to-cloud lightning flash over Mormon Lake, Arizona.
A cloud-to-cloud lightning flash over Mormon Lake, Arizona.

Sometimes you don’t have to travel any farther than your back porch to see lightning.

Lightning from my back porch.
Lightning from my back porch.

After several days of heavy rain and high dewpoints fog would form in the shallow basins. But getting photos of fog at sunrise in July means a very early start!

Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
An example of what happens with too much moisture: overcast skies and low cloud bases.
An example of what happens with too much moisture: overcast skies and low cloud bases.
Sunset panoramic image from Flagstaff.
Sunset panoramic image from Flagstaff.

Maybe August will be better. The photo above is a sunset panorama (10 images stitched together) taken on the first day of August.

 

Sunset panorama

Sunset panorama over Flagstaff.
Sunset panorama over Flagstaff.

Yesterday (01 August) had only scattered thunderstorm activity for much of the day. However, radar indicated a weak convergence boundary near Flagstaff so there was a chance of late afternoon storms developing close by. And so it did happen.

A strong storm was located east of Flagstaff just before and after sunset. As the sun dropped to the horizon the underside of the storm and anvil cloud was lit with golden hour light. This is a panorama of that view. It was taken with a ultra-wide-angle lens in portrait mode with ten individual images that were stitched together.

Beautiful!