Lightning and Rainbows

Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park. The north flanks of Kendrick Peak are illuminated by the bolt.


We are in the midst of the “Transition Season” where the summer monsoon pattern fades away and the mid-latitude westerlies and low pressure systems move across the area. Another of these events is in progress as a weak closed-low moves across the southwest bringing showers and thunderstorms to the area.

Thunderstorms begin to develop over the San Francisco Peaks.
Thunderstorms begin to develop over the San Francisco Peaks.

Saturday afternoon we set out for the north side of the San Francisco Peaks hoping that thunderstorms would form over the higher terrain and then move northwestward across Kendrick Park. A few storms did form over the peaks and some of them were briefly photogenic but there was very little in the way of lightning. Eventually, approaching rain chased us from Kendrick Park to the northwest where we set up near Slate Mountain in a large meadow with good views of the peaks.

Distant lightning under the rainbow.
Distant lightning under the rainbow.
A multi-pronged lightning strike under the rainbow.
A multi-pronged lightning strike under the rainbow.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park. The north flanks of Kendrick Peak are illuminated by the bolt.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park. The north flanks of Kendrick Peak are illuminated by the bolt.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park. The north flanks of Kendrick Peak are illuminated by the bolt.
Twilight lightning over Kendrick Park. The north flanks of Kendrick Peak are illuminated by the bolt.

These slow-moving storms continued to move towards the northwest and this time we got lightning and rainbows—and rainbows with lightning. As the sun dropped lower in the west the rainbow quickly faded and rain was again approaching our location. We retreated back to Kendrick Park—this time with the thunderstorms located to our northwest with light from the setting sun still illuminating some clouds. Lightning stikes were frequent and close enough to fill the field of view of the 17-mm focal length lens. Several of these lightning bolts struck the northern flanks of Kendrick Peak. About a half-hour after sunset it was over and the storms quickly dissipated.

Another fun day of storms and lightning.

250-mb height/winds at 0000 UTC 26 September 2021.
250-mb height/winds at 0000 UTC 26 September 2021.
24-hour lightning plot with a lightning cluster near the San Francisco Peaks.
24-hour lightning plot with a lightning cluster near the San Francisco Peaks.

Milky Way, Moon, and Mercury

It’s that time of year when the Milky Way is visible through much of the night. It is best observed when there is no Moon in the sky—and from very dark skies away from areas of light pollution. I wanted to capture both the Milky Way in a very dark sky and to capture Moonlight gently lighting up the still partially snow-covered mountains. So I headed out to Kendrick Park for some midnight sky photography.

The Milky Way rises above the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.
The Milky Way rises above the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.

The result is this composite of two images. The first was taken of the San Francisco Peaks as the moon was low in the west at around 1118 MST. This was a bit more than an hour before moonset (0030 MST). An exposure of 300 seconds at ISO 800 and an aperture of f/8 was used.

The second image was taken at 0047 MST shortly after the moon had set allowing the fainter stars in the night sky to appear. This image was also 300 seconds at ISO 800 and an aperture of f/5.6. To prevent streaking of the stars an iOptron Sky Tracker was used. The two images were then blended together.

This is similar to images taken in the past of Cathedral Rock and Wukoki Pueblo with the Milky Way rising above. Also present low in the photograph is airglow (or nightglow).


Last week the two-day old crescent Moon (only 3.7% directly illuminated) provided a photo opportunity as it set over Upper Lake Mary. During the months of May, June, and July, the thin crescent Moon lines up with the long axis of Upper Lake Mary. This results in nice reflections of the Moon on the waters of the lake—but only if there is little or no wind. A bonus this month was the small planet Mercury was also setting in the northwest.

A thin crescent Moon throws a large reflection in Lake Mary, Flagstaff, Arizona.
A thin crescent Moon throws a large reflection in Lake Mary, Flagstaff, Arizona.

The image also shows the unlit part of the crescent Moon illuminated with Earthshine, also known as Da Vinci Glow. Yes, that Leonardo Da Vinci. Mercury can be seen just above the treetops on the far right side of the image.