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Through the shelf

Through the Shelf
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 21mm, iso 400, f/8, 1/160th // buy print)

Last Friday night I had a gallery show at Obliq Art in downtown Phoenix, and it sorta got my juices flowing again for some storm chasing. So I figured I’d start the new year off with another image from last summer.

This was an image from that epic storm in the Marana area north of Tucson. I posted one a few days after the storm that had a sorta “supercell” look to it…and it was one of my favorites from 2013.

But I love this one too, for two reasons. One…the lightning explodes from the main bulk of the storm and then pierces the shelf cloud below it. I love the two exit points. And finally…the semi-truck being there to give some scale to an otherwise large, boring farm field. Plus you also have some great blowing dust showing the powerful winds that were going on (which would eventually knock over my camera).

Ah…memories. Already getting excited for my annual plains trip at the end of May!

First view of the Booker, Texas supercell

First view of the Booker Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 500, f/8, 1/6th, blended image // buy print)

I’ve told the story of the Booker Supercell before quite a few times in various places, but it’s one I never get tired of telling. It was such a pinnacle moment for me in my life, or at least, as a storm chaser…that I wont soon forget the feeling of seeing it for the first time.

My buddy Andy and I had landed in Denver earlier than morning and drove towards the CO/KS/OK border meetups. I made the first mistake of going northeast instead of south when we got into Kansas and we ended up stuck in rain and hail for what felt like a very long time.

We finally knew we had no choice but to go back towards the storm and then go south to get out of the rain. We knew what we were doing but being out there with a rotating storm coming at you…well, it’s nerve-wracking for those of us from Arizona where storms don’t necessarily try to kill you.

Finally…we broke free of the rain and to our west…the supercell above was just sitting there over Texas. And yeah, we had no clue but in our race to get out of the rain we ended up in Texas. We’d find that out a bit later. I was driving so I couldn’t look too much, but I could see it anyways and was determined to find a good view. I saw a dirt road and took it, heading up a hill and then down the other side where we had a perfect downslope in front of us to see this storm.

I tried to maintain steadiness as I set up my cameras. No one else may understand this…but as a storm chaser, this was the thing I’d been chasing for four years. It was overwhelming. I was shaking. I knew that I needed to be methodical in taking my time setting up the timelapse. I couldn’t screw it up. Focus. Manual white balance. Clean memory card. All ready. And so I started the timelapse. And then I used the other camera on a tripod to take stills like the one above.

And after the timelapse was rolling and I had gotten shots with the other camera AND had tweeted out an iPhone photo saying “We did it”…I sat back and looked at the thing. And tears filled my eyes. I ran over to Andy and gave him a huge hug.

One of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever beheld. And pictures don’t do it justice. I wish I could go back and live in that memory over and over.

If you missed the timelapse, you can view it here

An Arizona supercell

An Arizona supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/8, 1/160th // buy print)

Wow. What a day yesterday. A rare one that will remember for a very, very long time. I drove through some of the most severe conditions I ever have before in this state. Rain blowing sideways, gusts of 50-60mph…almost zero visibility because of the heavy rain…it was crazy.

Cells began to develop around the Tucson area and west of it around 1-2pm, moving towards Phoenix, so I piled the kiddies in the car and we made our way down. Unfortunately on this day I wasn’t streaming live video because one of my cables was broken. What an epic fail!

Regardless…when we got down to the Red Rock community, I started seeing little shelf clouds on a few of the cells. To my west was an insane line of storms, but to my south was a massive storm exploding over the north side of Tucson. We went west a little but got blocked by water on the dirt road (which was a HUGE blessing in disguise), and we were forced to turn around.

I got back to this farm land and decided to start timelapsing the little shelf cloud I saw…and while I was doing that, the thing evolved and turned into one of the most epic storms I’ve EVER seen in Arizona. I would compare it to either the giant haboob of 2011 or earlier this year when I caught the hail core down near Douglas.

The timelapse, when completed, will give you an idea of all the movement…the dust, the rain, the shelf cloud that explodes from out of the storm, the lightning…it was crazy. This image above was actually made possible by my Nero Trigger, which up til now hasn’t been awesome…but WOW, I’m thankful for it today. If you are wondering why I had the ISO cranked up to 400 instead of trying for the least noise possible…I really wanted the lightning to stand out if captured by the trigger.

I don’t know if you can call this a supercell or not…but there was weak rotation on the storm and…well…just look at it. This is the closest thing to a supercell I’ve ever shot in Arizona!

In the hunt for more structure like this, I ended up going west on I-8 instead of north on I-10…which caused me to miss a fairly large haboob that rolled into Phoenix…but no worries, everyone in town had it covered!

I have 1-2 more shots from this storm, including a VERY close strike and the timelapse…stay tuned.

Lightning near Booker, Texas

The Leading Edge
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40 f/4 l, 17mm, f/6.3, iso 500, 1 second // buy print)

Chasing storms in Arizona as compared to the plains is just so different. What I love about the plains is how you can chase a storm for long time…it evolves, moves, recycles and can cover a lot of ground. In Arizona…the build up, die and rebuild somewhere else from outflows. You aren’t actually “chasing” individual storms as much as you are trying to stay ahead of the next convection.

When we finally got on the Booker supercell (timelapse here), it was 6:07 pm. This was taken an hour later and it’s the same storm…just losing energy and gusting out. But it was such a blast to just stay ahead of it and keep shooting the different stages it went through. Even this one, towards the end, was absolutely beautiful.

I’m already dying for next spring haha…I’m definitely hooked again and can’t wait to get out there.

 

Bubbles

Bubbles
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/5.0, 1/40th sec // buy print)

Our third day of storm chasing ended up being the biggest challenge of them all. We ended up being nailed by a haboob/whale’s mouth near Tucumcari, and then spent the next 3 hours or so trying to get south of the storm to no avail. We ended up in Texas and were constantly on the east-southeast side and the inflow was so strong and so dusty, we couldn’t see the road at times, much less the sky.

But on a few occasions the dust cleared and we had this beautiful view of heavy mammatus clouds hanging over us. In Arizona, we get these from time to time, but they don’t look like this…a vast and expansive ceiling of bubbles stretching on for miles.

And the lightning that flashed above seemed to weave its way through the bubbles like a snake. This was taken somewhere near Friona and Hereford in Texas.

Faintly on the horizon in this photo you may get the idea of blowing dust. It was going from left to right and being pulled into the storm like it was being sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner. I’d never seen anything like it. Just getting this shot took me holding the tripod down as well as being low to the road. Intense winds.

A few more images yet to come from our trip!

Storm of the Apocalypse

Storm of the Apocalypse
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 640, 1/50th, f/8 // buy print)

No one is more amazed than I am at the way my timelapse of the Booker supercell took off. For me personally it was a huge moment to capture a storm like this. So I was crazy proud. But I had no idea it would be something that soooo many people would find utterly awesome and want to share it everywhere. Even over a week later it’s continuing to be shared on various blogs and websites, and still going strong. As of writing this it has almost equaled the number of Vimeo plays as the July 5th, 2011 Haboob video of mine that also went viral.

It’s been an insane ride once again. Thank you all for the love.

So of course I will be posting various views of the storm over the next few weeks since we observed it over the course of 30 minutes and WOW do storms like this change quickly. It’s simply unbelievable to watch how it evolved over the course of 24 minutes or so.

I love this one in particular. I chose to create a print out of this capture mainly because of how it looks like a tornado or something has appeared on the right side. I had a meteorologist email me and he believes this was actually a tornadic storm and while we couldn’t see a clear funnel, a tornado  touched the ground at some point.

Either way…it was mesmerizing and amazing to watch. The orange sky behind it was creating this spooky backlight. What I also loved…was not only did the clouds and rain and dirt all look hellish…the ground itself was a field of plowed (or cut down) corn stalks…it looked almost like a landscape from the end of the world.

More images to come from this storm…can’t wait to share them all!

A supercell near Booker, Texas

The Booker Supercell
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, iso 640, 1/50th, f/5.6 // buy print)

There are no words really to describe the moment we saw this storm. We (My buddy Andy Hoeland and I) had been driving through rain and hail, always on the wrong side when we finally make a gamble to just push south through the storm and get on the far side if we could. When we finally left the rain behind and had a clear look to our west…our jaws dropped. We stopped on top of a hill, got out of the car, set up the cameras and started recording this monster.

Seeing something like this has been a longtime goal of mine. This was my fourth year chasing in the plains and I’ve never come CLOSE to this kind of structure. Pictures don’t do it justice. This was with a 14mm lens. It seems like it’s far away and safe, but in reality it was crazy close and we were ready to bail at any moment.

When I finally had all the cameras going and sat back to just take it all in…tears filled my eyes. I yelled with joy at the top of my lungs, I gave Andy a big hug, thanking him for picking this spot almost a week before as our target location. We heard other chasers nearby hooting and hollering as well. It was a magnificent moment.

This image is actually about 20 minutes or so after our first stop. We never could stay long in one place because the rain was just to our right and bearing down. This was when the supercell started really spinning at the base and pulled up dirt from below.

I will never…in all my life…forget this day.

Different views of this thing, a timelapse and a lot more to come from our trip!

 

The birth of a monsoon dust storm

Awhile ago I posted the above photo of an awesome looking monsoon thunderstorm headed towards us. This was shot only a half-mile from my house and once it hit, we had over an inch of rain in less than an hour.

One of the big bonuses of observing this particular scene was having a front seat, wide angle view of the birth of a dust storm. Now, this wasn’t going to become one of those massive haboobs you may have heard about that happen in Arizona, but it was fun to watch anyways.

What you will see below is likely the result of the strong microburst occurring right over the mountain where you see all the rain falling. These happen a lot during monsoon season where the downburst of rain and wind is so strong, it ends up exploding in all directions, which tends to cause lots of damage with falling trees, roof tiles, etc. If they happen over the desert, you end up with big time dust storms.

The series below (minus the last two photos) are all HDRs from three brackets each. They are very unpolished, I just ran them through the Photomatix batch process to do this, I didn’t spend any time cleaning them up. You can probably tell the differences between the one above and these below (Geez, I hope so anyways!).

To show you how fast this happens, this first photo below was taken at 2:26:02 pm.

You can see the dust starting to kick up here on the right horizon.

The dust on the right is starting to extend higher up, while on the left you can see new stuff getting going.

Now it’s really starting to go crazy.

At this point, you can clearly see the dust coming at me. I was standing here waiting to run at the last minute, wanting to capture as many shots as I could before my camera would end up hating me.

2:29:32 pm

This is where I packed up and took off running towards my car about 200 feet away. Took just over three minutes.

2:29:55 pm

Got to my car and snapped a couple of photos back, you can see it just behind me now, probably some of the dust already hitting me.

2:30:38

Less than a minute later, we’d in the middle of it.

It was exhilarating for me because while I’ve lived here my entire life, I usually see the dust storms roll into town long after they’ve formed out in the middle of the deserts. I’ve never before seen one actually start right before my eyes. Such a cool thing to finally witness.

Hopefully you guys enjoyed that!

An old church on the Gila River Indian reservation

Rarely do I allow random people to pose in any of my HDR landscape photos, but this is my wife, it was on a date night that started off with storm chasing and she looked pretty dang cute sitting in front of a battered looking old church. Sadly I have no idea the name of this place, but it’s located on the Gila River Indian Reservation a few miles south of where we live. There was a bunch of dust headed our way, so we jumped out, took a few pictures and then zoomed back off.

The church itself was interesting…outwardly it didn’t appear like anyone would be using the place, but the two AC units were actually running so who knows?