Harvest Moon—October 2020

The nearly-full Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert and Wupatki National Monument. Two buttes on the eastern horizon (~80 km distant) are Montezuma’s Chair and Roundtop, remnants of ancient volcanoes.

Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Harvest Moon rises above the Painted Desert.
Sequence of the Moon rise.
Sequence of the Moon rise.

The second image is a composite showing the path of the Moon as it rose above the two buttes.

Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.
Late afternoon sun on the Tloi Eechii Cliffs.

The third image is a view of the Tloi Eechii cliffs while we were waiting for the Moon to rise.

The photographs were taken from the Doney Mountain Picnic area and overlooking Wupatki National Monument and the Painted Desert.

The 2020 nonsoon-Monsoon

A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.

This is the second year in a row in which the North American Monsoon has failed to deliver its normal weather to Arizona. The monsoon had a late start in July with only a few isolated rain events early in the month and the main event starting around the third week of July. But even that faltered after a week and the final week of July was dry.

August was even worse with no measurable precipitation until after mid-month and even then the amounts were light. The National Weather Service in Flagstaff has posted some climate data for the area for August. It was the hottest August and the 2nd driest on record in Flagstaff and most of the west experienced similar conditions (Figure 1; Figure 2; Figure 3).

Photographing summer monsoon storms has been a challenge this year because there were so many dry periods. Even so, there are always interesting weather events and clouds that make it worthwhile. So here is a collection of the most interesting weather photographs from this summer.

Convection

Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.
Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.

A time-lapse movie shows that the ducks are more interesting than the convection.

Developing Cb's over the San Francisco Peaks.
Developing Cb’s over the San Francisco Peaks.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.

Rainbows

Full rainbows eluded me this year butI did manage to photograph a rainbow segment.

Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Lightning

As with rainbows, lightning was elusive this year. It was typically a case of being in the wrong place on the wrong day and at the wrong time. But I did get lucky with the following image.

Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.

Sunsets

And when there is no lightning and no rainbow, one can be content with the sunset.

A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.

Miscellaneous

Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.

Perhaps 2021 will be a normal monsoon year.

Lightning at twilight over the Painted Desert

The North American Monsoon is in full swing with daily thunderstorms — all presenting opportunities for photography. I finally got a chance to photograph some twilight lightning while looking out over the Painted Desert from — where else — the Painted Desert Overlook between Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument.

Double flash of lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.
Double flash of lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.

 

Lightning flash behind a volcanic cinder cone.
Lightning flash behind a volcanic cinder cone.

 

Shortly after these images were taken rain began to fall and I called it an evening. The drive back home was slow and difficult in the torrential downpour that was constantly interrupted by brilliant flashes of lightning. It was one of the most active nights of lightning in the Flagstaff area of the season. And it did rain hard! One automated raingage reported over 4 1/2 inches in two hours.

Lightning across the landscape of northern Arizona

The North American Monsoon (NAM) is in full swing across the southwestern states and the daily showers and thunderstorms present many opportunities for dramatic lighting and lightning.

Earlier this week I traveled to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park hoping to get some sunset images with storm clouds hanging over the canyon. Well, there certainly were clouds — and there wasn’t much of a sunset. The backup plan was to photograph lightning. On this count, the storms didn’t disappoint. There was a storm to the west and I was able to point the camera across the lines of cliffs and rock faces that were already falling into deep shadow in the late twilight. And off in the distance was a great flash of lightning.

 

Lightning over the Grand Canyon.
Lightning over the Grand Canyon.

A few days later I tried once again to capture twilight lightning — this time at Sunset Crater National Monument. A storm developed in early evening and moved to the northeast over the lower terrain of the Painted Desert in the Little Colorado River Valley.

 

Lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.
Lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.

 

In the foreground can be seen the Ponderosa Pine trees at the higher elevations in the Monument; in the middle distance are some of the many cinder cones that are a part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field; in the far distance are the lower elevations of the Painted Desert.

 

 

Lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.
Lightning over the Painted Desert of northern Arizona.

 

With the typical NAM lasting through early September there should be plenty of opportunities for more dramatic lightning photographs.

 

Amazing colors at Petrified Forest National Park

Although I have lived in Arizona for over a decade I have never visited Petrified Forest National Park even though it is only a two hour drive from Flagstaff. We usually drive by the Park entrance while heading somewhere else and promise ourselves that we will visit it someday.

A petrified tree in the Crystal Forest area.
A petrified tree in the Crystal Forest area.

Finally — we visited the Park. And it’s truly amazing. But not just for the petrified remains of 225 million year old trees from the Late Triassic. The colors that can be found here are simply beautiful. Within Petrified Forest National Park, the layers of the colorful Chinle Formation — from which the Painted Desert gets its name — include the Blue Mesa Member, the Sonsela Member, the Petrified Forest Member, and the Owl Rock Member.

Multi-colored vistas of the Blue Mesa Badlands.
Multi-colored vistas of the Blue Mesa Badlands.

The Blue Mesa Member consists of thick deposits of grey, blue, purple, and green mudstones and minor sandstone beds.

The Petrified Forest Member consists of thick sequences of reddish mudstones and brown sandstone layers and the Owl Rock Member consists of pinkish-orange mudstones mixed with hard, thin layers of limestone.

Detail of a petrified tree. Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park is almost solid quartz.
Detail of a petrified tree. Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park is almost solid quartz.

The Sonsela Member contains brown, cross-bedded sandstone; blue, grey, and purple mudstones and numerous small grey and white sandstone beds; and white cross-bedded sandstone and conglomerate of rounded pebbles and cobbles which contains the logs of the Rainbow Forest.

Petroglyphs at the Puerco Pueblo site in Petrified Forest National Park.
Petroglyphs at the Puerco Pueblo site in Petrified Forest National Park.

And there are also archeological sites including old pueblos and petroglyphs.