Monsoon–September 2023

As mentioned in an earlier post the monsoon had a late start this year–and ended about the middle of September which is fairly typical.

02 September 2023

Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning bridges the clouds above and fog below in Grand Canyon.
Lightning strikes the walls of Grand Canyon near Desert View Tower.
Lightning strikes the walls of Grand Canyon near Desert View Tower.

I went to Grand Canyon early and was photographing storms shortly before 3 P.M. It was interesting and unusual because fog rapidly developed deep inside the canyon as the storms approached from the south. For a moment I wasn’t certain I would see anything in the reduced visibility. But close lightning bolts dropped from the cloud base above, through the clear air, and then disappeared in the fog in the inner canyon. It was really spectacular to see this.

Another storm dropped a lightning bolt into the canyon near Desert View Tower with multiple contact points. Wow!

A double rainbow over Palisades of the Canyon and Desert View Tower in Grand Canyon.
A double rainbow over Palisades of the Canyon and Desert View Tower in Grand Canyon.
A rainbow moments before sunset spans the canyon.
A rainbow moments before sunset spans the canyon.

And then the rainbows arrived with some brilliant and colorful arcs of light over Desert View point. Finally, just moments before sunset, another rainbow stretched from the North Rim to the South Rim.

It was an amazing day.

12 September 2023

An early evening storm produced a lot of in-cloud lightning that lit up the thunderstorm at the same time that the setting Sun was illuminating it from the West. And all of this was reflected in the waters of Mormon Lake.

Thunderstorm after sunset near Mormon Lake.
Thunderstorm after sunset near Mormon Lake.

13 September 2023

Storms were more isolated this day allowing for nice views of the convection. I was able to get several photographs of the storms over the Little Colorado River (LCR) valley as I was heading towards Grand Canyon. Late in the afternoon a short segment of a rainbow appeared over the LCR.

An early afternoon thunderstorm over the Little Colorado River valley east of Grand Canyon.
An early afternoon thunderstorm over the Little Colorado River valley east of Grand Canyon.
Thunderstorm over the eastern portions of Grand Canyon.
Thunderstorm over the eastern portions of Grand Canyon.
A short segment of a rainbow with Desert View Tower.
A short segment of a rainbow with Desert View Tower.

14 September 2023

I spent the late afternoon and early evening in Wupatki National Monument and was able to get some really great sunset photographs. There was lightning after dark but most of it was too far away for interesting structure and branching.

A burst of color on a rain shaft at sunset over Wupatki National Monument.
A burst of color on a rain shaft at sunset over Wupatki National Monument.
Fading sunset colors over Wupatki National Monument.
Fading sunset colors over Wupatki National Monument.

15 September 2023

Late afternoon and early evening storms were present to the west of Mormon Lake. I kept hoping for some dramatic lightning with sunset color–but only got the latter. It was still pretty good!

The setting sun illuminates a rain shaft over Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake.
The setting sun illuminates a rain shaft over Mormon Mountain and Mormon Lake.

17 September 2023

I was actually trying to photograph Comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura but these clouds were in the way. This was taken well after sunset and the color was pretty remarkable.

Sunset colors on a mid-level deck of clouds.
Sunset colors on a mid-level deck of clouds.

So after a late start the monsoon season produced many photogenic opportunities for clouds, sunsets, fog, and lightning.  And now the long wait until next season.

Previous posts on the 2023 North American Monsoon:

Monsoon–July 2023

A double rainbow arches above Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
A double rainbow arches above Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

The North American Monsoon (NAM) has been slow to get started this year. A general rule of thumb is it gets going around the 4th of July and is considered late (but still normal) by mid-July. Likewise an early start can occur as early as mid June–as it did last year.

Composite image of late afternoon lightning strikes over the grasslands of Wupatki National Monument.
Composite image of late afternoon lightning strikes over the grasslands of Wupatki National Monument.
A segment of a rainbow over Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
A segment of a rainbow over Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Several lightning clusters that occurred during twilight at Wupatki National Monument.
Several lightning clusters that occurred during twilight at Wupatki National Monument.

During the month of July the GFS weather forecast model consistently showed the NAM getting started “Real Soon Now.” But the target was always several days away. Finally, late in the month the rains arrived as an¬†inverted trough (IVT; def. 2) moved across Arizona.

Lightning over the San Francisco Peaks with Marshall Lake in the foreground.
Lightning over the San Francisco Peaks with Marshall Lake in the foreground.
Lightning touches down deep in Grand Canyon.
Lightning touches down deep in Grand Canyon.

There have been some photogenic storms. A little over a week ago I traveled to the South Rim of Grand Canyon hoping to get some lightning. Although there were some flashes they were far away. On the other hand, the sunset was pretty good. A band of clouds just above the horizon effectively blocked the Sun at my location while beams of light were getting under the clouds and into the canyon farther to the west. The alternating beams of light and shadow were pretty nice.

Beams of light and shadow filter deep into Grand Canyon.
Beams of light and shadow filter deep into Grand Canyon.
Beams of light and shadow filter deep into Grand Canyon.
Beams of light and shadow filter deep into Grand Canyon.

The following day I went to Wupatki National Monument in hopes of lightning and rainbows. There was a late afternoon storm that moved towards the Monument and produced a lot of lightning. As it got closer it weakened but was still dropping rain and a short time later a beautiful, full double rainbow appeared. All I needed to do was position myself so that I could get the rainbow arch to frame Wukoki Pueblo.

Time lapse of convection developing over the San Francisco Peaks with Marshall Lake in the foreground.

A new storm formed to my southeast as twilight came on and began to produce a lot of lightning. This was the 3rd act of the day and it was a good one.

Later in the week I took a short drive to Marshall Lake near Flagstaff to time lapse the early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks–and with some reflections in the waters of the lake. A few lightning bolts landed near the peaks adding to the show.

A few more trips to Grand Canyon rounded out the month.

And, now, the monsoon is on hiatus again.

Monsoon Convection at Wupatki National Monument

Thunderstorms develop in the late afternoon near Wupatki National Monument.
Thunderstorms develop in the late afternoon near Wupatki National Monument.

Time lapse of thunderstorms developing near Wupatki National Monument.

Once again I traveled to Wupatki National Monument to photograph thunderstorms and lightning–and even the Moon.

Thunderstorms had generated several outflow boundaries and two of these boundaries converged and produced new thunderstorms to the southeast of Wupatki NM. The top image and time-lapse video shows the developing thunderstorms along with an appearance of the waxing Moon.

Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
Lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

Thunderstorms had also formed on the mesas and plateaus of northeast Arizona earlier in the afternoon and were moving to the west and southwest. These storms would likely arrive in the vicinity of Wupatki NM by late afternoon and early evening. Of note, the high-resolution weather forecast models indicated that the storms would dissipate as they moved across the lower elevations of the Little Colorado River valley. I was more optimistic based on the afternoon radar and satellite data.

These storms continued to move westward and generated a weak¬†haboob–the second in two days in this area. The thunderstorms also generated plenty of lightning as they moved across the¬†San Francisco volcanic fields.

Sunset colors over the Coconino Plateau.
Sunset colors over the Coconino Plateau.

And there was a nice sunset, too.

Monsoon Storms–July 2022

As noted in a previous post we had an early start to the North American Monsoon which brought thunderstorms and rain to northern Arizona in the second half of June. This was most welcome as it had been a very dry spring. Then we went into a down period for the first third of July with very little activity. That was completely reversed as we entered a period of very strong monsoon activity which brought frequent heavy rains and flash flooding.

So the first part of July had few targets. The remainder of July had above normal amounts of total precipitable water and very high surface dewpoints which produced an environment with mostly cloudy skies and very low cloud bases. None of this is particularly conducive to photographing storms with beautiful light (i.e., golden hour, blue hour). Nonetheless, if you head out often enough you will get some good photographs.

A cluster of late afternoon storms that lingered into twilight produced some beautiful lightning over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.
An isolated thunderstorm produced lightning at sunset over the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

This day in Sedona produced very little lightning but did get a nice sunset and a partial rainbow.

Lightning beyond Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning beyond Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
A brilliant and colorful sunset in Sedona, Arizona.
A brilliant and colorful sunset in Sedona, Arizona.
As the sun set, a partial rainbow formed.
As the sun set, a partial rainbow formed.

Convection often starts early over the elevated terrain of the San Francisco Peaks. These storms eventually produced flash flooding over recent wildfire burn scars.

Convection starts early over the peaks.
Convection starts early over the peaks.

Convective towers mix with laminar wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks. Shot from Marshall Lake–now just a dry grassland.

Morning convection and wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
Morning convection and wave clouds over the San Francisco Peaks.
A cloud-to-cloud lightning flash over Mormon Lake, Arizona.
A cloud-to-cloud lightning flash over Mormon Lake, Arizona.

Sometimes you don’t have to travel any farther than your back porch to see lightning.

Lightning from my back porch.
Lightning from my back porch.

After several days of heavy rain and high dewpoints fog would form in the shallow basins. But getting photos of fog at sunrise in July means a very early start!

Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Morning fog with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
An example of what happens with too much moisture: overcast skies and low cloud bases.
An example of what happens with too much moisture: overcast skies and low cloud bases.
Sunset panoramic image from Flagstaff.
Sunset panoramic image from Flagstaff.

Maybe August will be better. The photo above is a sunset panorama (10 images stitched together) taken on the first day of August.