Grand Canyon Rainbows

A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.

With a weak short-wave trough and residual monsoon moisture moving across Arizona there were possibilities that this would be a “monsoon transition” event. The vertical wind shear was in place but instability was marginal. The end result was a general lack of supercells—but that didn’t mean that the convection wasn’t interesting.

Small rainbow segment over Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon.
Small rainbow segment over Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon.

Multiple waves of thunderstorms moved across Grand Canyon with the earliest storms appearing before noon. With each wave, there was rain with some lightning followed by clearing and even some rainbows.

A band of heavy rain moves across Grand Canyon.
A band of heavy rain moves across Grand Canyon.
Rain approaches Lipan Point.
Rain approaches Lipan Point.

The first rainbow occurred while the sun was high overhead resulting in the rainbow appearing almost directly below in the canyon. This rainbow did not have brilliant colors but being able to see a rainbow over the Unkar Delta was interesting.

A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.
A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.
A closer look at the rainbow inside Grand Canyon.
A closer look at the rainbow inside Grand Canyon.

More showers…more rainbows. That was how the afternoon played out.

Clouds hug the rim of Grand Canyon.
Clouds hug the rim of Grand Canyon.

Late in the day I relocated to Yavapai Point for sunset colors and hoped for another rainbow. A partial rainbow appeared over the South Rim—but the arch did not continue up and over across the canyon.

A rainbow segment appears just before sunset at Grand Canyon.
A rainbow segment appears just before sunset at Grand Canyon.

A fun day.

Lightning over the San Francisco Peaks

The data and models suggested there would be convection from the San Francisco Peaks northward to Grand Canyon and into far northwestern Arizona. At best, however, these would be weak storms and would probably dissipate by late afternoon. With that in mind, I headed to the south rim of Grand Canyon. And the models were right about both the location and weak character of the storms. After shooting for a short time I left well before sunset.

Sunset at Wupatki...before the lightning.
Sunset at Wupatki…before the lightning.

As I was leaving, radar data showed a strong storm well to the southeast of Flagstaff. Leaving Grand Canyon National Park, I was able to see the storm in the distance and hoped I might get a few good photos at sunset. I stopped at Wupatki National Monument to take a few photos just as the sun was dropping behind the hills to the west. A moment later, I saw a flash of lightning. Then another…and another. These flashes were almost 40 miles away but were clearly visible.

Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
8-second single exposure.
8-second single exposure.
Lightning composite taken over a 4-minute period.
Lightning composite taken over a 4-minute period.
Lightning composite.
Lightning composite.

I spent the next 90 minutes shooting lightning photos from this spot. The storm was moving towards me and the lightning bolts were getting closer, larger and brighter. There were lots of cloud-to-ground strokes with multiple branches and leaders lighting up the sky. Because these lightning bolts were south of the San Francisco Peaks and the Cinder Hills, there are no photos showing the bolts in contact with the ground.

24-hour lightning map.
24-hour lightning map.

Above is a plot of 24-hour lightning ending the morning of 10 September 2021. There are two distinct clusters of lightning around the San Francisco Peaks. The cluster to the northwest occurred during the afternoon. Many of these were visible from the South Rim of Grand Canyon. The cluster to the southeast of the San Francisco Peaks occurred during twilight.

And what of the time spent at Grand Canyon? Yeah, this is what I saw.

Weak showers at Grand Canyon.
Weak showers at Grand Canyon.
Some mammatus.
Some mammatus.

Glad I left early and caught the second act.

Morning Fog at Mormon Lake

A few days of tropical moisture—remnants of Tropical Depression Nora—brought widespread rainfall to much of northern Arizona. As the moisture was replaced by drier air in the middle- and upper-levels but was unchanged in the near-surface layer, we were left with a situation in which fog might form in the early morning hours.

 

So, up before dawn to drive out to Mormon Lake and the surrounding basin. And there was fog—at least in one corner of the basin. Here is a 30-minute time lapse compressed down to 17 seconds showing the movement of the fog as it sloshes back and forth.

Sunrise through morning fog.
Sunrise through morning fog.

As this was taking place, the sun rose through a shallow layer of fog.

Sunset at Grand Canyon.
Sunset at Grand Canyon.

Bonus: on the previous evening the sun was setting through layers of smoke from the western wildfires.

Edit: updated image.

Moonrise over Grand Canyon

The late February full Moon presented an opportunity to photograph the Moon rising between the dramatic Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple in Grand Canyon.

Moonrise between Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple in Grand Canyon.
Moonrise between Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple in Grand Canyon.

Moonrise was about a half-hour before sunset. This meant that the distant walls of the canyon would still be illuminated by late afternoon Sun. On the other hand, the eastern horizon was still pretty bright as the Moon rose from behind Wotans Throne. So bright, in fact, that it was difficult to see the Moon. As a result, I got better results about 15 minutes later as the Sun moved lower and the Moon moved higher in the sky.

Moonrise with Earth's shadow over Grand Canyon.
Moonrise with Earth’s shadow over Grand Canyon.

The second shot was taken just a minute or two before sunset and only the uppermost portions of the canyon rim remain illuminated by the sun. In addition, Earth’s shadow can be seen just above the horizon.

Several groups of hikers ascending the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon.
Several groups of hikers ascending the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon.

Bonus shot: While waiting for the Moon to rise I took photographs of hikers ascending the South Kaibab Trail just below and above Ooh-Aah Point.

The 2020 nonsoon-Monsoon

A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.

This is the second year in a row in which the North American Monsoon has failed to deliver its normal weather to Arizona. The monsoon had a late start in July with only a few isolated rain events early in the month and the main event starting around the third week of July. But even that faltered after a week and the final week of July was dry.

August was even worse with no measurable precipitation until after mid-month and even then the amounts were light. The National Weather Service in Flagstaff has posted some climate data for the area for August. It was the hottest August and the 2nd driest on record in Flagstaff and most of the west experienced similar conditions (Figure 1; Figure 2; Figure 3).

Photographing summer monsoon storms has been a challenge this year because there were so many dry periods. Even so, there are always interesting weather events and clouds that make it worthwhile. So here is a collection of the most interesting weather photographs from this summer.

Convection

Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.
Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.

A time-lapse movie shows that the ducks are more interesting than the convection.

Developing Cb's over the San Francisco Peaks.
Developing Cb’s over the San Francisco Peaks.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.

Rainbows

Full rainbows eluded me this year butI did manage to photograph a rainbow segment.

Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Lightning

As with rainbows, lightning was elusive this year. It was typically a case of being in the wrong place on the wrong day and at the wrong time. But I did get lucky with the following image.

Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.

Sunsets

And when there is no lightning and no rainbow, one can be content with the sunset.

A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.

Miscellaneous

Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.

Perhaps 2021 will be a normal monsoon year.