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The End

The End
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, canon 35mm f/1.4, f/4, iso 400, 1/500th, handheld 9-image stitched pano // buy print)

The summer monsoon in Arizona came to an end this past weekend when a major transition event in the form of a intense trough moved through the state and caused flooding and tons of damage. We storm-chasers live for these events, which don’t seem to happen but every 4-5 years. There was a tornado risk as well, which is obviously unusual for our state.

As timing would have it…I was actually shooting a wedding on this day. I thought about chasing in the morning, but the storms were too far away to risk not getting back in town in time. So I watched what all my buddies were doing from my office as long as I could, then packed up and went to shoot a wedding that I was pretty excited about. As luck would have it…I was up by Pinnacle Peak where the bride was getting ready when the storm started to move into the West Valley. It was time to leave to go to the venue and as I headed south, the most incredible shelf cloud I’ve ever seen in Arizona was rolling over town.

I waited until I had the best possible view I could from the 101 freeway, pulled over and snapped this quick 9-image pano.

I didn’t care about composition or where I was, or the fact that Best Busy is right there in the photo. I only wanted an image of this scene to have forever.

Simply amazing.

Near Sheffield, Texas

Near Sheffield
(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark iii, rokinon 14mm f/2.8, f/8, iso 100, 1/30th // buy print)

This past Wednesday through Sunday I chased storms across the southern plains with two amazing guys…Andy Hoeland and Matt Granz. This was by far my longest trip out there, so the amount of images and timelapses I shot were kind of astounding. I ended up at home with over 450gb worth of images. I’m barely done organizing them, but had to edit a few photos to post this week.

I’ll be coming out with a timelapse film from my two plains trips this spring…and I cannot lie, I got a lot of good stuff. Including this shot. This was actually a frame from a timelapse captured southwest of Sheffield, Texas this past Saturday.

Normally fences and stuff don’t excite me in a photo, but this one was kinda picturesque I have to say and I think it added to the composition.

Lots, lots and lots more to come in the coming weeks and months.

Squiggly

Closer than it appears
(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 400, f/8.0, 1/160th // buy print)

This was the best storm I saw all of 2013 in Arizona. At the very least it was in the top 2. The low shelf cloud that appeared out of the rain was an amazing surprise, but there was also blowing dust and crazy lightning strikes. You can see the other shots from this cell right here.

I captured this one using a Nero Lightning Trigger…although I wouldn’t recommend one. I was actually surprised I got this because I had a lot of bad luck with it, loose cables and eventually it just stopped working. I recently picked up a Lightning Trigger IV and am looking forward to that this spring and summer.

The fun part of this strike is that it’s VERY close. A lot closer than it looks. 17mm lens on a full frame sensor…and it almost takes up the entire field of view. Not only that, but in the picture below, you can see the orange spot where the lightning strike hits the tree line…and that tree line was about 1/4 mile away from me if that.

A fairly unusual looking bolt as well…almost looks like a squiggly line, not the jagged strikes you usually see.

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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!

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.

An isolated storm over Mesa

Last night we had some impressive, isolated towers go nuts in about 3-4 spots around Phoenix…mostly in the east Valley. I stepped outside my backyard and saw them going up and so we drove east to see if we could get some lightning.

Here’s a shot of the cell over east Mesa that dropped a ton of rain and caused some wind damage. I took over 600 shots and it never landed a bolt on the ground, everything was just in-cloud. A bummer…but then again…look at this thing right at sunset. Gorgeous colors.

One of my favorite moments in storm chasing is to stumble upon these solo storms. I find them absolutely majestic.

An old house in Colorado

The House - Colorado Thunderstorm Mammatus

(click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm 2.8, iso 400, 1/320 f? // buy print)

Here’s another image from our brief trip to the central plains for a little bit of spring stormchasing.  An amazing display of mammatus was headed our way and I was on the lookout for something special to capture in the foreground. Sure enough, we stumbled upon this old house just beckoning us to include it in our compositions.

I’ve never seen mammatus clouds like that before, so it was kind of a thrill to get them on camera finally.

I used the Rokinon 14mm on  his one, which not only is manual focus, but also has a manual aperture ring, so I have no clue what I shot this at. It was handheld, so probably wider than f/8.

A fun trip, I still have a few more images to share at some point!

The hand of God

The Hand of God - Oklahoma Panhandle Thunderstorm

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, canon 17-40mm f/4 l, 17mm, iso 100, f/8.0, 1/400th // buy print)

When we saw this thing explode along the dry line in the Oklahoma panhandle…it was a sight to behold. It’s weird how stormchasing works. You setup in some location, the skies are clear and you wait. Your forecasting buddies have told you that a dry line will be moving eastward, hitting moisture and instability, and somewhere west of Woodward, OK…storms should start firing off in the next hour.

And then boom, clouds go nuts.

I am constantly amazed at how hard it is to predict weather even with all our technology, but at the same time, I marvel at how much we do know.

This storm ended up being the cell that produced that massive anvil in a photo I posted last week. The scene above was about 15-20 minutes before that.

The way the anvil starts spreading at the top right of the cloud reminding me of a giant hand reaching out. And with an angelic light behind it from the sun…who else could it be but God?

A giant anvil in Oklahoma

(please click to view larger on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm 2.8, iso 125, 1/400th, f/8 // buy print)

This was a storm that had a ton of promise when it first exploded out of nothingness…we watched the entire thing happen in front of us. But it just kind of sat in one spot, looked pretty for a bit, but eventually got busted by a weather term known as a “cap”…a lid on the atmosphere that prevents storms from getting any higher and thus more severe.

A tough image to process from a single exposure…lots of harsh light from behind the cloud. I’ve been using nothing but luminosity masks and levels adjustments in Photoshop lately for all my landscape/storm processing, plus RAW adjustments in Lightroom. Still learning…I love the results compared to ways I’ve done it in the past.

A Colorado gust front

(please click to view on black // canon 5d mark ii, rokinon 14mm 2.8, iso400, 1/250th // buy print)

Gust fronts are pretty cool to see. What you see in the photo above is akin to a tidal wave that has passed over you, heading for somewhere else. That hard edge is the front and all the creepy clouds behind it are in its wake.

These are also known as outflow boundaries, which is what we see A TON of here in Arizona during the summers. Except ours usually include a giant wall of dust to go with it. Out on the Colorado plains, there was some dust, but mostly you just had crazy strong winds and a wicked sky.

My wife Jina loved this image and picked up on something I didn’t…the juxtaposition of the green wheat and the dead field on the other side of the road.  I was there, so it didn’t stand out to me as much as the clouds did. I find it hilarious what I can miss in my own images…God bless my wife.

Not too long ago I picked up a cheap-o Rokinon 14mm manual focus lens to use for timelapsing while stormchasing this summer. With an extra body now for weddings, I’d like to be able to timelapse and take normal photos with two wide angle lenses at the same time. Shouldn’t have sold the old Tamron 17-35, but I did when I bought the Canon 17-40.

Anyways, since this lens is not only manual focus, but also a manual aperture, I don’t remember what f-stop I was at for this! But regardless, I love the lens…so crazy wide, it’s going to be a lot of fun.