Grand Canyon Rainbows

A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.

With a weak short-wave trough and residual monsoon moisture moving across Arizona there were possibilities that this would be a “monsoon transition” event. The vertical wind shear was in place but instability was marginal. The end result was a general lack of supercells—but that didn’t mean that the convection wasn’t interesting.

Small rainbow segment over Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon.
Small rainbow segment over Unkar Delta in Grand Canyon.

Multiple waves of thunderstorms moved across Grand Canyon with the earliest storms appearing before noon. With each wave, there was rain with some lightning followed by clearing and even some rainbows.

A band of heavy rain moves across Grand Canyon.
A band of heavy rain moves across Grand Canyon.
Rain approaches Lipan Point.
Rain approaches Lipan Point.

The first rainbow occurred while the sun was high overhead resulting in the rainbow appearing almost directly below in the canyon. This rainbow did not have brilliant colors but being able to see a rainbow over the Unkar Delta was interesting.

A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.
A double rainbow with supernumaries appears above Grand Canyon.
A closer look at the rainbow inside Grand Canyon.
A closer look at the rainbow inside Grand Canyon.

More showers…more rainbows. That was how the afternoon played out.

Clouds hug the rim of Grand Canyon.
Clouds hug the rim of Grand Canyon.

Late in the day I relocated to Yavapai Point for sunset colors and hoped for another rainbow. A partial rainbow appeared over the South Rim—but the arch did not continue up and over across the canyon.

A rainbow segment appears just before sunset at Grand Canyon.
A rainbow segment appears just before sunset at Grand Canyon.

A fun day.

Twilight lightning over the Grand Canyon

I never tire of traveling to Grand Canyon in hopes of capturing some amazing photographs of rainbows, thunderstorms, or lightning. Here are a few recent images showing how inspiring the weather can be at Grand Canyon.

Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning near Grand Canyon.

Storms had quickly weakened and dissipated during the late afternoon and I was about to pack my gear and head home when a small thunderstorm began to develop north of Grand Canyon. As the sun dropped below the horizon leaving only the upper portions of the storm bathed in soft light this lightning bolt sparked from the anvil region and moved through clear air before striking the Vermillion cliffs in the distance.

Another day brought numerous showers moving across the canyon…

Rain showers sweeping across Grand Canyon.
Rain showers sweeping across Grand Canyon.

…with a few lightning strikes in the canyon.

Lightning strikes in Grand Canyon.
Lightning strikes in Grand Canyon.

Then, to finish the day, there was this partial rainbow with supernumeraries.

Partial rainbow with supernumerary.
Partial rainbow with supernumerary.

Understandably, some visitors may be unhappy with the less-than-perfect weather during their visit to Grand Canyon but I couldn’t be happier.

Lightning, rainbows, and clouds across northern Arizona

July has turned out to be a good month for photographing weather across northern Arizona. For a few days in the middle of the month I was able to capture images of lightning, rainbows, and colorful clouds at sunset near Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

The conditions on 13 July 2015 were about perfect for late afternoon photography. Deep moisture was present across the eastern half of Arizona while very dry air persisted across the west. This allowed storms to form over the eastern half of the state while clear skies allowed the setting sun to shine brightly on the landscape near Sedona.

Visible satellite image showing clouds across eastern Arizona and clear skies across western Arizona.
Visible satellite image showing clouds across eastern Arizona and clear skies across western Arizona.

Cathedral Rock was nicely illuminated by the setting sun and shafts of rain caught the sunset colors. A faint rainbow was also present adding an additional dimension to the scene.

Lightning flashes behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning flashes behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and a partial rainbow frame Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning and a partial rainbow frame Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

After the sun set, I repositioned so that I could catch twilight colors in the western sky and lightning from additional storms. In the background can be seen the highly textured shape of the Cockscomb.

Lightning splits the sky behind the Cockscomb in Sedona, Arizona.
Lightning splits the sky behind the Cockscomb in Sedona, Arizona.

The next day proved to be difficult for lightning photographs but the sunset colors on the clouds over Cathedral Rock were very dramatic.

The setting sun lights up the anvil of a thunderstorm behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
The setting sun lights up the anvil of a thunderstorm behind Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.

Sensing a need for a different location, I travelled to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon a few days later (16 July) hoping to get some lightning photos over the canyon. The atmosphere had stabilized some and storms were much weaker and very little lightning was observed.

Visible satellite image showing a decrease in storm activity compared to previous days.
Visible satellite image showing a decrease in storm activity compared to previous days.

Consolation prize was a partial rainbow over the Canyon.

A partial rainbow over the Grand Canyon.
A partial rainbow over the Grand Canyon.

A very nice consolation photo, indeed!

Rainbows and lightning in the Arizona Desert

Over the weekend tropical moisture and an area of low pressure interacted to produce showers and thunderstorms—and even a few severe thunderstorms—across northern Arizona. A quick look at satellite and radar data convinced me it was worthwhile to drive down the hill from Flagstaff to Sedona to capture some lightning photos.

A rainbow arcs across the skies of Sedona and in front of Cathedral Rock.
A rainbow arcs across the skies of Sedona and in front of Cathedral Rock.

Light rain began to fall as I approached my first photo location and a horizon-to-horizon rainbow appeared. As I arrived, the southern end was quickly fading while overhead and to the north the rainbow remained brilliant. And, then, for just a brief moment, the southern end brightened again and a swath of color painted itself across Cathedral Rock. In another moment it was gone. Note, also, that there is a supernumerary rainbow visible in a portion of the bow. Supernumeraries are the closely spaced greenish purple arcs on the inner side of the primary bow.

Lightning and sunset colors over the Verde Valley.
Lightning and sunset colors over the Verde Valley.

As these storms moved to the northwest it was time to reposition and hope for some lightning. The first image shows a thunderstorm moving across the Verde Valley and the storm is lit up from below by the lights in the town of Cottonwood. Sunset colors are still faintly visible in the west and stars can also be seen. This was followed by a bolt with numerous downward stepped leaders and a brilliant return stroke.

Lightning bolt with numerous branches.
Lightning bolt with numerous branches.

Not too bad!

White Sands Reflected in Pools of Water

We recently took a trip to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The weather forecast that day called for increasing clouds and a chance of thunderstorms — some possibly severe — by late afternoon. Normally, this would be a deterrent to those wishing to visit this wonderful place but since I enjoy photographing thunderstorms and severe weather this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Rainbow over White Sands National Monument.
Rainbow over White Sands National Monument.

We arrived at WSNM in mid-afternoon and the clouds were beginning to fill the sky. We were soon rewarded with a rainbow stretching across the parabolic dunes on the edge of the dune fields. As that first storm moved away, other storms began to develop back to the west. I set up the camera to take lightning photographs and was rewarded with a couple of pretty good shots.

Late afternoon cloud-to-ground lightning over White Sands National Monument.
Late afternoon cloud-to-ground lightning over White Sands National Monument.

But the really wonderful part came the next morning. Those afternoon thunderstorms continued through the evening and into the night and produced about one and a half inches of rain across the sands. And in the bright blue sky of the following morning we found shallow lakes of up to a few inches deep scattered across the sands as a result of the heavy rainfall. The reflections of the sand dunes and other vegetation in these ephemeral lakes was simply delightful.

Reflections in the shallow lakes produced by heavy rainfall across White Sands National Monument.
Reflections in the shallow lakes produced by heavy rainfall across White Sands National Monument.