The non-Monsoon of 2019

Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.

It’s been an unusual monsoon season across Arizona this year. After both a wet winter and wet spring—with above normal precipitation amounts all the way into the month of May—things went dry. The North American Monsoon started late this year with the first significant rainfall not arriving until the second half of July. This was unfortunate as the dryness partially contributed to a very damaging wildfire (Museum Fire) burning across portions of the San Francisco Peaks.

Just a few days later, the rains finally arrived. And, then, they stopped again. And it has been that way much of this monsoon season. A few days of rain, then a week or more of dry weather. A normal pattern would have rain falling perhaps four days out of seven for a two-month period. Folks around here have dubbed this monsoon the “nonsoon”.

And, of course, with the lack of moisture and thunderstorms opportunities for photographing storms, heavy rain, lightning, and sunsets has been a challenge. But it only takes one great photograph to make it a successful season. I’m still trying to get that photograph.

Here are some of the more interesting photographs from this “nonsoon monsoon” season.

The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.

Arizona Monsoon Clouds—August 2018

The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

A previous post displayed photographs of storms and weather that occurred during July of this year’s North American Monsoon. Here are photographs from August (plus the first day of September).

Cumulus and Cumulonimbus

A search for wildflowers and thunderstorms brought me to Rogers Lake west of Flagstaff. It’s a lake only ephemerally during springs with heavy snow runoff. But it makes a grand place for photographs when a wide-open vista is desired. Earlier convective storms were pushing an outflow boundary southward with new convection developing on the boundary.

Outflow boundary and convection over Rogers Lake with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
Outflow boundary and convection over Rogers Lake with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.
A distant cumulonimbus can be seen from the Doney Mountain Picnic Area near Wupatki National Monument.
A distant cumulonimbus can be seen from the Doney Mountain Picnic Area near Wupatki National Monument.
Thunderstorms move across Grand Canyon with low clouds clinging to the higher points and buttes.
Thunderstorms move across Grand Canyon with low clouds clinging to the higher points and buttes.

There was just enough vertical wind shear on this day to allow some storms to briefly exhibit supercell characteristics and deviate to the right —which brought this thunderstorm near the edge of the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

A strong thunderstorm over the North Rim of Grand Canyon is reflected in a small pool of water.
A strong thunderstorm over the North Rim of Grand Canyon is reflected in a small pool of water.
A weak, late afternoon thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun.
A weak, late afternoon thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun.

Fog and Smoke

Sometimes the unexpected can be magical. When fog forms in Grand Canyon the visitors may be disappointed but there is the potential for amazing photographs.

A long-lived cluster of thunderstorms east of Grand Canyon pushed a cool, moist outflow into the canyon producing areas of fog near the South Rim.
A long-lived cluster of thunderstorms east of Grand Canyon pushed a cool, moist outflow into the canyon producing areas of fog near the South Rim.
More fog in Grand Canyon.
More fog in Grand Canyon.

Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim produced both amazing and dull conditions.

Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim creates a colorful sunset.
Smoke from the Obi Fire on the North Rim creates a colorful sunset.
Smoke from the Obi Fire fills Grand Canyon and reduces visibility.
Smoke from the Obi Fire fills Grand Canyon and reduces visibility.

Sunset and Full Moon

Sunset after the storms can be amazing. And if there is a nearly full moon, things can get very interersting.

A backlit thunderstorm at sunset over Grand Canyon.
A backlit thunderstorm at sunset over Grand Canyon.
Post-sunset colors illuminate the underside of a dissipating shower.
Post-sunset colors illuminate the underside of a dissipating shower.
Dissipating cumulus clouds at sunset with O'Leary Peak in the distance.
Dissipating cumulus clouds at sunset with O’Leary Peak in the distance.
Dissipating showers are backlit by the setting sun.
Dissipating showers are backlit by the setting sun.
The nearly full moon illuminates the inner canyon as twilight fades behind a distant thunderstorm.
The nearly full moon illuminates the inner canyon as twilight fades behind a distant thunderstorm.
A dissipating thunderstorm anvil cloud is seen above pueblo ruins in Wupatki National Monument at sunset.
A dissipating thunderstorm anvil cloud is seen above pueblo ruins in Wupatki National Monument at sunset.

Rainbows

A double rainbow above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
A double rainbow above Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
A rainbow, dissipating anvil, thunderstorm, and towering cumulus.
A rainbow, dissipating anvil, thunderstorm, and towering cumulus.

Lightning

And lightning…

An amazing anvil bolt...and too close!
An amazing anvil bolt…and too close!
Lightning west of Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning west of Sedona, Arizona.
Anvil bolt over Cathedral Rock. (It's out of focus—<u>you</u> try focusing in the dark!)
Anvil bolt over Cathedral Rock. (It’s out of focus—you try focusing in the dark!)
Lightning illuminates Grand Canyon at night.
Lightning illuminates Grand Canyon at night.
Lightning strikes the Moenkopi Plateau (composite image).
Lightning strikes the Moenkopi Plateau (composite image).
Several bolts strike behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Several bolts strike behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun lights up rain curtains as a brilliant lightning bolt strikes behind Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

It’s early September and the summer monsoon pattern is beginning to fade away. Soon it will be time to start thinking about autumn colors on the peaks.

Arizona Monsoon Clouds—July 2018

Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.

The North American Monsoon arrived in northern Arizona during the first week of July—which is an average start date. Within just a few days, we quickly transitioned from Extreme Fire Danger to High—and within a week or two—to Moderate.

Summer monsoon season is my second storm chase season—the first is in late spring across the High Plains. Second season is more about lightning, clouds with dramatic scenery, and colors at sunset. This July has been a bit more challenging than other seasons but still successful.

Here are some photographs of storms and storm-related activity during July 2018.

Early stage Cumulonimbus

A pair of developing cumulonimbus as seen from Kachina Wetlands.
A pair of developing cumulonimbus as seen from Kachina Wetlands.

Cumulonimbus over Hart Prairie.Cumulonimbus over Hart Prairie.

Outflow boundaries and arcus clouds

Gust front and arcus clouds advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds continue to advance across Wupatki National Monument.
Gust front and arcus clouds continue to advance across Wupatki National Monument.

This complex of storms was moving westward across Wupatki National Monument. I had originally planned to photograph the system from the Doney Mtn. Picnic Area but the system arrived at that location before I did. So I retreated back to US-89 and the entrance to the Monument. Both of these images are panoramas that span the northeast through south. The San Francisco Peaks can be seen at the far right of both images.

Rainbows (and maybe a tornado?)

A rainbow (and possible vortex).
A rainbow (and possible vortex).

As convection approached a rainbow developed and I was busy trying to reset the camera to capture the full bow. Only later, when examing the images, did I notice what might be a vortex bisecting the rainbow. Because I did not see it in real time I cannot say whether there was any rotation. It may just be a random bit of cloud debris.

Lightning

The best part of the thunderstorm season is trying to capture lightning. It’s more than just getting a photograph of lightning—it’s important to get lightning in an interesting location.

Lightning visibile from South Rim of Grand Canyon with Desert Tower in the distance.
Lightning visibile from South Rim of Grand Canyon with Desert Tower in the distance.
Lightning over the Painted Desert as seen from South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning over the Painted Desert as seen from South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning over the Painted Desert.
Lightning over the Painted Desert.
A composite of four images showing multiple lightning strikes on the San Francisco Peaks. These storms dropped almost 6 inches of rain in under 3 hours.
A composite of four images showing multiple lightning strikes on the San Francisco Peaks. These storms dropped almost 6 inches of rain in under 3 hours.

Menacing thunderstorms

Sometimes I chase storms—other times they chase me. We were mountain biking on Observatory Mesa when this thunderstorm developed and enveloped the San Francisco Peaks. It was definitely time to turn around.

A thunderstorms envelopes the San Francisco Peaks.
A thunderstorms envelopes the San Francisco Peaks.

Sunset after the storm

And, of course, sunset after the storms can be pretty amazing,

Sunset over Grand Canyon as seen from Lipan Point.
Sunset over Grand Canyon as seen from Lipan Point.
A distant thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun at Grand Canyon.
A distant thunderstorm is backlit by the setting sun at Grand Canyon.
Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Late afternoon sun briefly lights up Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Dark skies behind Cathedral Rock.
Dark skies behind Cathedral Rock.
The setting sun lights up the clouds as shadows race up the face of Cathedral Rock.
The setting sun lights up the clouds as shadows race up the face of Cathedral Rock.

Reflections

Reflections in pools of water can produce interesting images. Several days of heavy rain resulted in ponds of water at Crescent Moon Picnic Area.

The setting sun illuminates Cathedral Rock which is reflected in a small pond.
The setting sun illuminates Cathedral Rock which is reflected in a small pond.

Rainfall amounts

As is typical, rainfall amounts can vary widely over even just a few miles. Here is a map showing the rain gauge amounts for July on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks southward through Flagstaff and beyond. Amounts range from 2.5 to 14.5 inches.

Rain gauge totals for July 2018.
Rain gauge totals for July 2018.

August continues to bring thunderstorms, lightning, and flooding to northern Arizona.

Monsoon thunderstorms continue across Northern Arizona

The North American Monsoon continues across the Southwest bringing thunderstorms almost every day to northern Arizona. Rainfall amounts across much of the state have been well above average with Flagstaff receiving 4.5″ compared to a normal of 2.6″ in the month of July,

Of course, all this storminess brings opportunities for photographing interesting skies, lightning, and sunsets.

I was heading towards the South Rim of Grand Canyon when I decided that Wupatki National Monument might be more interesting. Although there wasn’t much in the way of lightning there was a nice sunset with a thunderstorm in the distance.

Sunset at Citadel Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Sunset at Citadel Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

Another day brought a great sunset with beams of light illuminating the inner canyon.

Sunset from Lipan Point, Grand Canyon National Park.
Sunset from Lipan Point, Grand Canyon National Park.

I found myself in Sedona a few nights later hoping for lightning at sunset. The lightning was there but clouds to the west blocked the light of the setting sun. This spectacular bolt of anvil lightning traveled horizontally for a great distance before terminating above Cathedral Rock.

Lightning over Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning over Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona.

Early afternoon cumulus development near Marshall Lake on Anderson Mesa resulted in this small cumulus cloud producing a very photogenic shadow.

Cumulus cloud over Marshall Lake.
Cumulus cloud over Marshall Lake.

And, later that afternoon, we found ourselves at Lower Lake Mary watching another cumulus cloud develop to our east and reflected in the water.

Cumulus cloud reflected in Lower Lake Mary.
Cumulus cloud reflected in Lower Lake Mary.

I’ve been trying to capture evening thunderstorms and lightning (image) over Grand Canyon with a crescent moon illuminating the interior the canyon. Not very easy to do. I was able to get the moonlit canyon. And there was lightning but it was over 100 km away and resulted in teeny, tiny bolts in the phots. Well, I’ll just keep trying.

A crescent moon illuminated the interior of Grand Canyon.
A crescent moon illuminated the interior of Grand Canyon. (120 second exposure, f/4, ISO 200, 16mm)

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.