I went out to the Mormon Lake Overlook early last evening (12/08/2018) to photograph a couple of different events. First was the launch of the ULA Delta IV-Heavy NROL-71 mission from Vandenburg Air Force Base. After that, I planned on pointing the camera up towards Comet 46P/Wirtanen.
Only part of my plans worked out. The launch was scrubbed at T-7 seconds but I didn’t know about that until much later. I just kept shooting a series of 15-seconds exposures pointed towards the western horizon and hoping that I would capture it. No launch—and there was nothing to capture.
But, wait, not so fast! It turns out there was a shallow layer of fog in the Mormon Lake basin and the series of 15-second exposures over a period of about 10 minutes resulted in a nice time-lapse movie of the fog. Unfortunately, the camera was pointed at mostly sky with very little of the ground but I’m happy with the lucky result.
Time lapse showing undulations on the top of the fog layer.
Next, I shot a series of 60-second exposures of the comet. Although the skies were cloudless, there was a lot of moisture in the air. See the discussion above about fog! The presence of this moisture and very thin fog above resulted in very colorful stars. A nice effect.
For the third act, I pointed the camera back down and over the lake basin towards Flagstaff. The fog was dissipating at this time but still shows up well. What also shows up is the large amount of light pollution in Flagstaff. Flagstaff is the worlds First International Dark Sky City but it takes a lot of work to keep the skies dark. I fear we may be losing the battle.
In the wake of a departing low pressure system I expected that there might be areas of dense fog in the morning. I awoke well before sunrise to look at satellite images to see if fog was developing. And, yes, there were some hints that fog was present. Good!
I left the house around 6 a.m. and headed east on Lake Mary Road. A few miles outside of town I ran into fog. Visibility dropped quickly to around 1/4 mile. Drive carefully!
My destination was the Mormon Lake Overlook. I had some success last winter at this site with a similar fog situation. As I approached the overlook the fog lifted becoming a low cloud deck above me. Hmmmm….not quite what I wanted. Ahead, I could see the edge of the cloud/fog. As I made the final approach to the overlook the road gained a bit of elevation and, suddenly, I was above the cloud/fog deck. Wonderful.
The sun had not yet risen but it was light enough to see that there was a shallow layer of fog covering the Mormon Lake basin. Moments later the sun began to rise through the dense fog.
As the fog began to dissipate over Mormon Lake, I headed towards Anderson Mesa Station (home to several telescopes) because it is high enough to be above the fog. But first, along the way, the road dropped down into the fog and I saw this fog bow.
Finally, atop Anderson Mesa I once again was above the fog and able to photograph a Glory—this time projected onto trees with autumn colors.
Finally, here is a time-lapse of the fog over Mormon Lake that includes the Glory and the right-hand side of the fog bow.
Edit: Replaced GOES-16 visibile image with IR image.
By late morning it was evident that convection was going to be interesting. Updrafts were quite vigorous and there was pileus atop many updrafts.
I thought about photographing storms but got sidetracked. Then I heard the first Severe Thunderstorm Warning on NOAA Weather Radio. Less than an hour later a Tornado Warning was issued.
I looked at the radar data for the warned storm but was unable to see a clearly defined mesocyclone or tornado vortex signature (TVS). As it turns out, this was a non-supercell tornado (NST), sometimes called a landspout—and landspouts are often difficult to detect by radar.
This warning finally got my attention. A short while later, I headed out the door to see if any other storms would be as interesting as this one. I drove east towards some existing convection near and north of Winslow—stopping frequently to take photographs.
New storms then began to form back to the west and I set my sights on these. By this time, I had moved back west to the Two Guns exit on Interstate 40. Two Guns is now a ghost town and there are several old and interesting buildings in the area. I set up so that I could photograph both the old buildings and the storm. That worked out well.
Then it was time to move to the north side of I-40 so I could get some photos without any buildings in the way. You know—just in case a tornado formed.
No tornadoes were observed although for a brief period the visual appearance and radar depiction suggested that the storm was developing supercell characteristics and had some rotation.
I shot both still images and video. Unfortunately, the dynamic range from the brilliantly lit updraft to the dark shadowy areas elsewhere was too much for the video and portions of the updraft were overexposed.
Still, the video shows some interesting evolution. Thirty minutes (1711–1741 MST) of raw video was compressed into ~18 seconds.
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.
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.
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.