Lightning at Grand Canyon

Lightning at Grand Canyon.
Lightning at Grand Canyon.

The North American Monsoon is in full swing and is producing daily thunderstorms and heavy rains across the southwest. Lightning is always a favorite subject for me this time of year and I have tried a few times to get interesting photos. Today was a good day.

Rain falling at Wupatki National Monument.
Rain falling at Wupatki National Monument.

I stopped briefly at Wupatki National Monument and photographed an interesting rain shaft over the grasslands of the park — but no lightning.

Lightning near the Little Colorado River canyon.
Lightning near the Little Colorado River canyon.

I moved on towards Grand Canyon but made a stop at one of the Little Colorado River overlooks along the way and was able to get a few good bolts.

Lightning at Grand Canyon.
Lightning at Grand Canyon.
Rain falling into Grand Canyon.
Rain falling into Grand Canyon.

I arrived in time to watch new thunderstorms develop south of the canyon and then move across the canyon to the North Rim. Capturing bolts landing below the rim is always interesting and I managed to get a few. But the best and closest lightning bolts occurred while it was raining and I was safely watching from the inside of my vehicle.

Lightning behind the ruins at Two Guns, Arizona.
Lightning behind the ruins at Two Guns, Arizona.
Solstice sunset.
Solstice sunset.

A few days earlier I was able to catch this bolt of lighting at the Two Guns ruins near I-40. And a few days before that I caught this great sunset from Mormon Lake.

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.