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.

Lightning Across Northern Arizona—2017

The North American Monsoon is now in full swing across the southwest and Arizona. This brings thundershowers almost every day to northern Arizona along with a chance to photograph lightning.

I have been photographing lightning for a long time with my earliest images using an old manual focus/exposure camera with film. Those were challenging because you had to guess at the exposure (although there were many fine articles online even then on camera settings). There was no way to do a quick check of the exposure to see if it was good. On the other hand, we usually shot in the evening or nighttime hours using long exposures of several seconds or more so you were usually pretty certain whether you had the shutter open at the right moment.

With digital, everything has changed. You can instantly check your image and see whether or not you captured the lightning. There are several lightning triggers on the market that will fire the shutter for you.

Here are some recent images taken in several different locations over the past few weeks.

Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning over the North Rim, Grand Canyon.

These were mainly in-cloud flashes so the best option was to leave the shutter open for 10-15 seconds. The longer exposure also allows some stars to appear in the image.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Lightning near Kendrick Peak in northern Arizona.

Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Early evening thunderstorms move into Flagstaff, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.
Sunset lightning in Sedona, Arizona.

 

Big snow on the peaks

Clouds swirl around the snow covered Kendrick Peak.
Clouds swirl around the snow covered Kendrick Peak.
Sunset colors illuminate the Kachina Peaks.
Sunset colors illuminate the Kachina Peaks.

After five days of snow the skies finally cleared showing several feet of new snow on the peaks of northern Arizona. Late afternoon shadows race across the meadows of Brannigan Park while sunlight continues to illuminate the high peaks.