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Yet another Phoenix dust storm – September 11, 2011

We’ve lost track of the number of large dust storms (or HABOOBS) that have rolled into Phoenix this monsoon season. Some people think it’s more than normal. I kind of think that the big one from July 5th put everyone on alert for these things and now anytime we get one it’s a big deal…and more noticeable. Dust storms are very commonplace out here and we get them every summer.

Granted, we may have had some pretty dry deserts, so the dust could just be a bit more plentiful than normal. Another thing that also may be a difference is that we’ve received a lot more weather moving up from the Tucson area than down from the Mogollon Rim like we usually do…and the Rim usually doesn’t send dust storms.

Either way…we got another one on Sunday night and it looked pretty good creeping over South Mountain.

Soooo…we had some severe storms all over AZ this weekend. Phoenix was forecast to see some of these storms Sunday afternoon/evening. I went to the usual parking garage (it’s so close to home and easy) when I saw some cells on radar moving NE towards town and I was praying a few would develop over Phoenix. I was also hoping that I’d catch these right at sunset and get some amazing colors in the sky coupled with some gorgeous cell structures.

Of course things never go how you want. We got another dust storm. I’m not complaining though, it was a beautiful sky, beautiful clouds and the dust was awesome as it rolled over the mountains into town.

And towards the end…you can still see a bit of a sunset.

A few notes for this timelapse:

1. Pay attention around the 22 second mark…the dust cloud creeping over the mountain is just cool. Looks like a rushing, crashing wave.
2. Hopefully the haters will be quiet now and enjoy a dust storm timelapse that not only keeps running, but doesn’t stop until the dust has passed. *grin*
3. The timelapse is made up of 836 images shot five seconds apart from 5:46pm until 6:55pm (roughly).
4. This was a full manual timelapse. Manual white balance, iso, shutter speed and aperture. I have to say…this ended up being some of the best results I’ve had so far doing this.

Hope you enjoy!

Severe storm with rotation near Picacho Peak

I actually didn’t learn this was a severe storm until a few minutes later, but I could tell it was nasty just by looking at it. Very strong downdraft that appeared to be hail, then the dust could be seen exploding in all directions…and the base of the storm itself looked like a very tiny wall cloud in a way.

Suddenly as I’m timelapsing, I notice a curious area of rotation that looks like a funnel up in the cloud. It could have been one, or not…but I did confirm with meteorologist Royal Norman that this storm indeed had rotation on it.

You can see the back end of the cell rotating…then you can see the the funnel feature appear on the top left area of the video towards the end.

(note, a minor editing mistake on the video after the slow-mo title, gonna fix when I can)

Thunderstorms over the Catalina Mountains

Back on July 30th, my buddy Ken and I spent most of the afternoon and evening around the Tucson area stormchasing. On our way down there we stopped by this little agriculture field growing who knows what and watched the clouds building over the Catalina Mountains.

At first we just took pictures and tried to keep the bugs off our necks, but then I decided to do a timelapse. I think we hung around for another 45 minutes to an hour to capture the 1018 shots that went into this one.

I love the multiple downdrafts of rain you can see in this timmelapse…some of them moving, some new one forming and then dropping, it’s just so beautiful to see these things in fast-motion.

I love Battlestar Galactica in general but the music by Bear McCreary is just fantastic, so he’s always someone I turn to for my timelapses. I’m not including them in the video itself for copyright issues, but if you listen to “Under the Wind” by Bear McCreary from Season 3, you’ll get it 🙂

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, f/16, 1018 images)

The August 18th, 2011 dust storm

With the massive storms that built up south of town, the dusty outflows formed a beautiful, long wall that gained momentum and pushed its way into the greater Phoenix area last night. I decided to head to the south side of town this time and used Queen Creek’s elevated shoulder near I-10 to get a quickie timelapse of it moving in.

I have to say, all the craze over the July 5th haboob/dust storm was awesome, but I’ve really discovered a love for seeing these things in motion. The way the clouds develop over the top of them, the way the wall of dust itself moves…because it’s sometimes hard to see when you are just standing there.

Had a fun time shooting this last night…a guy who’s car broke down up a few hundred feet borrowed my phone and we talked a little bit about what I was doing. Think someone else gained an appreciation for watching these things roll in since he said he had actually never taken the time to observe one before.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, iso 100, 290 exposures)

A thing to note about this timelapse. In the beginning portions, the cloud formation on the center-left is actually dropping rain in what we call a “microburst.” This microbrust was right over the San Tan Valley last night and caused all kinds of damage. I didn’t know I caught it until the local Channel 3 meteorologist Royal Norman noticed it in the timelapse this morning.

Microbursts are basically quick downdrafts of rain and wind, sometimes the wind can hit the ground at speeds from 50-100mph and then explode in all directions. Lots of localized damage from storms like this. Below is a sort of “enhanced” still frame of the microburst.

Timelapse: Monsoon storm rolls into Phoenix

A couple of days ago we had a fairly epic looking storm roll into Phoenix right at sunset. The clouds were just amazing. There was a dust storm. You can see lightning on the left horizon towards the end of this video. The setting sun creating beautiful red tones was awesome. I’ve been torn lately between photographing things like this and doing timelapes, because I really, REALLY love seeing cloud movement afterwards. One of my favorite things in the world are timelapes of storm and cloud motion. Something we just can’t see too well with the naked eye looks so incredible sped up a bit.

That being said, I’m still learning. This particular one was an experiment in using Aperture Priority. I wanted to lock the aperture and ISO, but let the shutter speed vary. Well, turns out while my controller is running, AV mode doesn’t seem to change the SS unless I stopped the controller and started it again. Doh!

I’m figuring all this out as I go. I kind of like it this way. Making mistakes, figuring out why something didn’t work right. Reading up on new things and not being afraid to try them out. Makes me a lot more intelligent about it all instead of just having all the answers right up front.

My goal in all of this was just to have fun and put together a cool video at the end of the storm season with a bunch of monsoon storm clips so people can see how they look out here.

I hope you enjoy this one…despite some of the varying exposures you’ll get. The music is the theme to the recent Battlestar Galactica TV series because I’ve been dying to find a way to use it. The composer of that series, Bear McCreary, is one of my favs. He’s awesome.

Another Phoenix Haboob – July 18th, 2011

Another big dust storm/haboob just nailed downtown Phoenix. Nothing as epic as the first one, but it was still pretty cool.

I caught it on timelapse again from the same parking garage. I had wanted to bolt further south, but I had run out of time with rush hour traffic, so I just went to the quickest vantage point and turned the camera on. There was a little dust storm first, then the second, larger one rolls in towards the end.

A few things of note for this one.

1. I killed my last remote timer control, so I purchased a Satechi TR-A Timer Remote Control Shutter for Canon and it was HANDS DOWN better than the junk I had before. Never buy the cheap, sub $20 version. Ugh. The connector for the 5D Mark II was just awful.

2. I hang around until the dust hits this time! Got so much crap last time…of course, the dust was pretty thin, and I knew this *grin*

3. I so badly wanted to pan right, but I held my ground.

4. This was an all-manual timelapse this go-round. The harsh light and shadows made this pretty tough to do that way, think I may have been better off in a total auto mode for something like this, but I think it turned out okay.

I love the cars at rush hour just flooding the freeway. You can’t see it, but a plane flies from right to left and almost disappears inside the wall of dust. I saw one wing rise up kind of fast for a second, must have been a fun ride!

Enjoy!

July 18th Downtown Phoenix Haboob - iPhone

The sunset before the haboob

So last week when I was asked about the big haboob timelapse, I usually started off with saying “I was in the backyard doing another timelapse…”

This is that one.

I had been out stormchasing 4-5 nights already and was pretty beat. I figured I’d stay home that night and let the storms come to me, perhaps shoot some lightning from my balcony or the parking garage down the street. When I saw the clouds building out west, I thought to myself “Hey, I can just do a timelapse and then hang out inside, relaxing, watching TV, whatever.”

Of course, a bit later, a text message sent to me with a picture of the dust storm over the San Tans forced me to leave and shoot that.

However…I was really torn. I actually was around a 60/40 between going and staying. The orange/red glow towards the end was so beautiful, I wanted to keep it going.

But my favorite part of this is the thunderstorm that builds on the right horizon and then releases rain like someone dumped it out with a giant bucket. I also dig the soundtrack a lot. My buddy Brian Matiash will want to take credit for it because he told me to use something from Inception sometime, so that’s part of why I used it. But I also already have the album on my iPhone and was just searching for a minute-long song.

This track fits just perfectly with the way the sky unfolds.

The wind picks up a bit towards the end and my ex-tripod head let the camera move around somewhat. That problem has now been remedied!

Waking up from a dream

Arizona Monsoon Lightning Sedona

 

(click to see larger with a nice, dark border. Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 85mm 1.8, f/5.6, ISO 200, 30 sec)

I rarely post a blog without a picture and even though this one is meant to be a recap of sorts of the events of last week, I had to include an image of a lightning strike I captured Sunday night. Actually, as I’m writing this in the wee hours of Monday morning, the strike happened less than an hour ago.

We’re on vacation in Sedona, back on Tuesday early morning, late last night I saw a storm popping up on radar, I could see flashes from our condo, so I blasted west on 89A and had a field day.

Where to Begin?

Because of the events of last week, not only was my website slammed with traffic and unusable for me, I was also so busy that I had no time to even think about what was happening. I almost see the website being down as a blessing in disguise, because now I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it all meant to me.

But if you know me well enough, you’ll remember that I love to write, I love to blog, so not being able to do so has been killing me. So let’s get down to business.

For those that don’t know, my video of the Phoenix Haboob/Dust Storm from last Tuesday night went viral in a matter of hours (along with my cohort Scott Wood’s video). From that moment until the weekend, my life became some kind of weird surreal dream that almost feels like never happened to me.

I don’t want to write lengthy dissertation here, but I do want to kind of recount what happened, answer some questions and generally share my feelings on all of it.

The Storm

As with most things that go viral, it’s all about being in the right place, at the right time and getting lucky. I was already shooting a sunset timelapse downtown when someone sent me a Twitpic of the duststorm hitting the East Valley. I’ve been wanting to capture a dust storm or lightning over downtown Phoenix from my favorite spot on 7th ST. and I-10, so I packed everything up and drove down there.

It was after I setup that I realized this dust storm was something different. I didn’t have enough tools to capture it correctly. I wanted a wider lens. A second HD video camera. Another camera with a fisheye. I knew what I was seeing was absolutely amazing.

I even thought to myself…”This might even make it on The Weather Channel if I do it right.

I’d like to clear up one thing though, for those that care. I’ve gotten a teeny bit of slack out there from people in the comments on blogs, etc., about not capturing the dust actually HITTING me, but instead bailing a few seconds early. In reality, the dust cloud was a lot closer to me off camera to the left than it was in front. After I took the last shot, it was literally five seconds before I was enveloped in complete darkness.

Here is an Instagram shot I took from the inside of the car right after it hit:

If I had stayed in that cloud of dust, opening and closing my shutter, it might have wrecked my Canon 5D Mark II. That’s the reason I bailed early. I use the camera for weddings, portraits, events…and it’s not that cheap to replace it *grin*

The Aftermath

I went home afterwards and put together the timelapse. Scott had already posted his before mine and had already gone viral on his own. The @BreakingNews Twitter account that has 2.7 million followers and RT-ed his video. Wow. Then Gizmodo picked it up. Went nuts.

I got mine up a bit after he did. I posted on Vimeo and embedded it in a blog which turned out awesome (and bad). A SEO lesson to everyone out there…if a major event happens, the most obvious title in the world is going to work best. I called the post “Phoenix Haboob of July 5th, 2011.” Guess what everyone was searching for that night? I had Google search results in a matter of minutes. In fact, before midnight I had around 1,000 unique visitors looking for ANYTHING about the dust storm.

Then Gizmodo picked it up. I had posted the video on Vimeo and suddenly it was getting thousands of hits. A friend of mine in Seattle sent me a DM on Twitter saying he saw my name and video on his local news. Wow.

A good guy named Keith over at the Phoenix National Weather Service told me to get my video in the hands of the networks because I should be making money off of it. He helped search for things for me on where to post it. So as I watched Scott’s on TWC, gritting my teeth, I submitted the video to CNN, TWC and emailed some contacts at MSNBC. It was 3am when I finally laid down on the couch to catch some sleep.

I decided not to sleep in the bedroom because I thought if the phone rang, I didn’t want to wake up the wife.

Sure enough, CNN called at 5:15am.

July 6th

I honestly don’t know if I will ever have a moment quite like that again. Just over two hours of sleep. My phone never rings that early. I did the thing we all do when woken up with a phone and tried to pretend I was wide awake. I failed miserably.

But it was CNN. CN freaking N. Calling me. I honestly couldn’t believe it. All I did was submit it to their iReport website. I had been pretty doubtful they’d even notice it.

They did though. And that phone call was amazing. A guy interviewed me quickly about it and said it would be on in about an hour.

Then MSNBC.com called. An hour later my video was on their frontpage next to Casey Anthony.

From there things just got wild. A Skype interview with Today.com’s Dara Brown. Then The Weather Channel called to also setup two Skype interviews. Then Channel 3 had me and Scott come down to do an interview.  People were calling about getting permission to use it. NBC and the CBS nightly news.  John King, sitting in for Anderson Cooper, said my name on CNN.

At the same time, because the video being embedded everywhere had my contact information at the end, my email was out of control. New Twitter followers, Facebook friends, comments on my blog, on my fan page.

The website crashed multiple times. The traffic was overwhelming to my little host’s server. We created a single page and moved the website to another host as a temp fix.

I don’t even know how to describe that day. Barely any sleep and I forgot to eat until around 2pm. I was in a perpetual state of nervous energy/excitement all day. I’m a guy with a hefty fear of public speaking, and suddenly I had to do live interviews on TWC.

Every single moment of that day was a blessing to me and something I’ll never be able to forget. Although, in some ways, it was such a blur I’m surprised I remember anything at all.

What Stands Out?

As the week went on, the video spread everywhere, all over the world. People were telling me they saw it in Germany and all their friends over there were talking about. New Zealand. Australia. Japan. And as I said, it was on all these major networks, blogs and TV stations.

But to be completely honest, it was a lot of the little things that stood out to me as being the most impactful.

A teacher in the Philippines emailed me to let me know she had shown it to her class of children and they had watched it with mouths wide open. Wow. I got choked up reading that for some reason.

And my friend Josh said he out eating dinner at a sushi bar and some random girl sitting next to him was watching the video on her phone. That was the one story that made me understand just how many people were actually seeing this thing.

Of course, one little tidbit that wasn’t exactly small, was former Vice President Al Gore’s office emailing me with interest in the video for his presentations. He’d seen it and loved it. That’s insane.

There were a lot of cool opportunities presented last week and so the story isn’t over yet.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the beginning of this post, all of this feels like it happened to someone else. It already seems like it was just a weird blip that took place. News happens fast and within a few days, it’s not a story anymore. I was eager to get back to normal blogging and posting of photos.

But I am eternally thankful to everyone who supported me, who encouraged me to get the video out there, who called, emailed or showed up at my door with a napkin to jokingly ask for an autograph. There were so many of you who had such amazingly kind words to say to me about the video or about my work in general. A lot of new fans discovering stuff we have in common when it comes to photography. New followers on Twitter. New friends on Facebook.

I appreciate and am grateful to all the local networks, websites, blogs and news stations that showed the video and spread the word. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Thank you.

Thanks to Scott and also Blaine Coury (see his own timelapse here) for their support and friendship throughout this. And to Keith for giving me a kick-start.

But mainly to my wife Jina. I was essentially a non-participant in daily duties last week and into the weekend and she’s been amazing throughout the whole thing.  I know I gush about her a lot, but without her, this video would never have happened in the first place…and she knows it…and I know it.

And of all the places my video has appeared, nothing was better than Jina writing about me on the Hey Little Birdie blog she helps run.

If anyone has any questions about anything that happened, you can email me or ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it!

Again, thank you all!

 

The Phoenix Haboob of July 5th, 2011

People have asked how to buy prints of the haboob. You can do so right here: Black & White or Color. If you would like to license the video or images, please contact me via the contact form.

There are really not many words to describe this dust storm, or what we call it here (and they also do in places like the Sahara Desert)…a haboob.

This was a haboob of a lifetime. I’ve lived in Phoenix for my entire 35 years of existence and have never seen anything like this before. It was incredible. I stood on the top of a 4-story parking garage just off 7th street and McDowell and couldn’t believe it. Some dude raced up next to me a bit too late with a video camera. People were snapping photos and posting them EVERYWHERE like madmen, me included.

This is a timelapse of the haboob. I wish I could have lasted five more seconds, but the dust was so thick, daytime turned into night instantaneously.

Below are two images from the haboob, one in color and one in B&W!

A Phoenix sunset timelapse

The other evening we had this amazing sunset in Phoenix, a day before we’d actually get some monsoon storms roll into town. At the time, without us having any kind of rain or a sunset or even clouds in what feels like a month, the sight of these dazzling rays was like an omen for the start of storm season.

I was at home, not time to run out and try to capture the sunset in the way I would like, so I rushed around trying to setup the camera and tripod for a timelapse. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but I did manage to get the tail end of it and then I just left the camera on until after dark.

This was the result of 1300 images taken 5 seconds apart with my camera on “P” mode, a mode it’s never on unless it’s a timelapse *grin* This allows the camera to deal with the change in light, which you can’t do in manual mode. I know there are expensive tools out there to make this work better, but I don’t got the money for them.

What I do need is some better software so I can get rid of the flickering. But other than that, I’m kind of happy with this. I wish there had been more clouds at the end, but I do like seeing the stars come into view and the planes flying over the city.

My hope is to take timelapses all monsoon season long and piece them together into a big movie at the end. So this is kind of practice for me.

Hope you enjoy!

And below is the Instagram photo I took of the sunset.