Sunset Convection and Lightning

It was a pleasant evening in Sedona watching thunderstorms as the sun sank lower in the western sky. It was mostly clear in that direction allowing sunlight to illuminate storms in the east. This is one of my favorite setups: clear in the west and stormy in the east.

Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms and Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms and Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.

The setting sun produced wonderful pastel colors on the clouds and occasionally illuminated the rock spires and buttresses in the middle distance. And after sunset, distant storms showed large anvils along with occasional bolts of lightning.

Thunderstorms and Lightning

The North American Monsoon has been sputtering—for lack of a better term—the past week or two. We get a few days of storms followed by a hot and dry period. Finally, however, moisture is beginning to increase and we are seeing more storms. I have tried several times this year to get great photographs of storms and lightning but my success rate has been pretty low.

Here are a few photographs from the past week.

Clouds develop across the whole sky in Sedona.
Clouds develop across the whole sky in Sedona.
An outflow boundary arrives and thunderstorms develop within a few minutes.
An outflow boundary arrives and thunderstorms develop within a few minutes.
A distant thunderstorm seen from Wupatki National Monument.
A distant thunderstorm seen from Wupatki National Monument.
Mid-afternoon lightning near Mormon Lake.
Mid-afternoon lightning near Mormon Lake.

And, finally we have a time lapse of the same storm that produced the lightning above. The video is 200x real time; from the motion it can be seen that the storm has some slow rotation. This storm moved off the higher terrain and became severe as it neared the Camp Verde area.

The weather models have been consistent with forecasting a significant increase in storm activity next week.

Snow and Fog in Sedona, Arizona

A late-season winter storm brought snow to the high deserts of northern Arizona. An early morning check of weather conditions indicated that Sedona airport (KSEZ) had reported snow. And satellite data showed an area of fog in the Verde Valley, including Sedona. This had the potential to be a great opportunity for photographs.

Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Fog and low clouds surround Cathedral Rock.
Snow covered cactus.
Snow covered cactus.
Fog and mist partially obscure the red rock cliffs.
Fog and mist partially obscure the red rock cliffs.
Snow covered yucca plant below the red rocks.
Snow covered yucca plant below the red rocks.

The early morning visit to Sedona was worth the effort. And the trip home included a stop at the recently re-opened Indian Gardens  Cafe in Oak Creek Canyon.

Moon and Planets in the Evening Sky

On Monday and Tuesday (28-29 October 2019) the thin crescent Moon passed near the planets Venus and Mercury in the evening twilight sky. A check of The Photographers Ephemeris indicated that I could set up at Little Horse trailhead near Sedona and capture the thin crescent as it slipped between the spires of Cathedral Rock. Venus and Mercury would also be visible.

Ah, if only is was as easy as that. I never was able to see the crescent Moon.

A very thin crescent Moon sets behind Cathedral Rock.
A very thin crescent Moon sets behind Cathedral Rock.

But, wait! A closer inspection of the images shows that I did capture the crescent Moon. It was only 1% illuminated in a bright twilight sky. If you look carefully at the image and above the two people, you can just barely see a very thin crescent in the gap.

Venus and Mercury set behind Cathedral Rock.
Venus and Mercury set behind Cathedral Rock.

The next evening the Moon was 4% illuminated and higher in the sky making it an easy target. Venus and Mercury were below and the star Antares was to the left. Fitting all four objects in the image was the goal and I was successful. The only issue was the strong winds which resulted in some camera movement during the image capture.

Moon, Venus, Mercury, and Antares in evening twilight.
Moon, Venus, Mercury, and Antares in evening twilight.

I used Stellarium to determine how the Moon, planets, and stars would look at that time of the evening. I also used the Ocular plugin to show the field of view (FOV) of various lenses and focal lengths so that I could know, in advance, which lens would capture the whole scene. Very helpful!

Moonrise and Cathedral Rock—August 2019

Here are two views of the Moon rising behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona. The first image shows the Moon ~95% illuminated and was taken from the meadows in Crescent Moon Picnic Area. I like how the Moon lies behind the dark pillar located in the gap between two sunlit pillars.

The second image was taken on the following night with the Moon ~98% illuminated and was captured from Pyramid Trail, a location about twice as far away as the first image. This doubling of distance results in the Moon appearing larger relative to Cathedral Rock—a nice illusion.

Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock (12 August 2019).
Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock (12 August 2019).
Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock (13 August 2019).
Moon rise behind Cathedral Rock (13 August 2019).

The Photographers Ephemeris was used to determine the timing and location to get the Moon rising in the gaps.