April 9th was a chase day for me close to home (within an hour and a half drive of Dodge City). I had a pretty good feeling that at least one severe storm would form along the dryline in Kansas, and thus opted to make this my chase target versus a long, expensive, and draining drive to chase storms in northwestern Iowa. There were numerous tornadoes observed by many storm chasers up in northwest Iowa on April 9th. There were not as many storm chasers in Kansas on the 9th, and as a result, I managed to get some more unique images of storms. Unfortunately, there was only about a 15 to 30 minute time frame where the storm I chased revealed some photogenic scenes, so I tried to take advantage of the opportunity. The storm was a marginal supercell storm that produced up to golfball size hail as it tracked northeast from Greensburg to Stafford, Kansas. I first intercepted the storm when it was in its formative stages south of Greensburg — viewing it from the distant east near Belvidere. The storm was moving rapidly northeast at 40 to 45mph or so, which is not the type of storm chasing I like to do. I knew this coming into the chase, though. It was along the Hwy 54 corridor around the Cullison area when I photographed some brilliant scenes just as the sun was beginning to set. Crepuscular rays were very prominent both downward and upward in direction at points. After the sun set, however, the good photography opportunities diminished, especially considering the main storm to my north was not getting any better in overall structure and whatever structure there was — was being masked by other convective development to its west-southwest. I decided to stick a fork in the remainder of the chase as I headed north toward through northwestern Pratt County. A word to the wise: If you really like the adventure of traveling on thick sand, then drive through the Pratt Sandhills Wildlife Area northwest of Pratt — otherwise, avoid at all costs! Especially when storm chasing.
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"
April 10, 2011
April 7, 2011
As I was out working in the yard after work on Thursday, April 7th, a small storm developed to the southwest of my house with the sound of distant thunder becoming increasingly persistent. This storm rolled south of me, but in its wake a fairly vivid rainbow appeared off to the east-southeast:
Before this occurred, however, I noticed a plume of smoke behind my neighbor’s house to the east. I figured this was due to a small control burn of CRP grass on property close to my house. The control burning conditions were fairly ideal with light winds and very manageable relative humidity. After that first small storm moved away, I noticed that they were beginning to burn off the small field of CRP grass 1-acre lot away from my house to the north. I grabbed my Nikon D200 camera with the 80-400mm lens on it and began shooting away. Shortly thereafter, a few of my neighbors showed up and we all enjoyed a nice little chat as the field was burning away.
Another small storm developed to the northwest around sunset which provided a nice backdrop to the remaining flames and smoke from the burned field. This storm, obviously very small and rather insignificant in nature, did reveal some fairly clean updraft and rear flank structure! This was a nice little surprise for being only a short 50 yard walk from my front yard!
Yet another cluster of weak storms formed after sunset, and I drove up north a few miles to try my hand at some lightning-illuminated structure shots. I did manage a few images of some marginal storm structure from this group of weak, short-lived storms:
All in all, a nice little photo shoot for an evening I was totally not expecting to break out the camera at all!
July 6, 2010
Since it rained on Sunday night in Dodge City, the 4th of July celebration with the city fireworks was postponed to Monday night the 5th. At the last minute, I decided to photograph city fireworks, but decided to give a distant panoramic perspective a try. I drove south-southeast of town and looked in the direction of the remaining astronomical twilight. There is a pretty good perspective of Dodge City from some higher elevation areas south of the Arkansas River a few miles south of town. The two images below are probably my best from the bunch… single frame images that were pano cropped in Lightroom 2.
May 3, 2010
High-based storm & lightning near Grainfield, Kansas
(rest of images at the bottom of this post)
I was not expecting much on this day given dewpoint temperatures in the mid to upper 30s across much of western and central Kansas, however there were going to be storms based simply on the notion that temperatures in the mid levels…500 to 700mb… were still very cold. 500mb temperatures were going to be around -22 to -23C. The problem was that there wasn’t much of a focus for initiation to zero in and target on for chasing. Where was the best storm to photograph going to end up being? The environment looked equal just about everywhere from southwest Kansas into south-central Nebraska. I decided to use the RUC model as my guide as it was showing a corridor of southeast winds with a little bit better moisture… say mid 40s dewpoints… advecting back into west-central Kansas around Ness City perhaps. As it turned out, these winds never really materialized, and winds were quite light everywhere. The first storms developed farther north… north of Hill City, and this is where I was led. I made it to Hill City and eventually Norton, going after some briefly strong storms just into Nebraska near Alma. By the time I reached North I drove east to get into better position of these, but as I was doing this, those storms eventually waned with a bunch of other scattered weak convection developing to my southeast, south and southwest. Where to now? There was no need to be this far northeast when I could be a bit closer to home to photograph essentially the same convection. So I headed back southwest. I followed Hwy 9 west-southwest to Hwy 23 north of Hoxie as this areas was convecting better than any other, so I thought what the heck, I’ll just get closer to this stuff. I went south to Hoxie and eventually Grainfield when the “storm of the day” for me came into view to my southwest.
I wanted to get into a decent position for this cell, so I drove south on an unpaved county road southwest of Grainfield. I stumbled upon my shooting location of choice. A farm field with old corn stalks and an old barn making for a fantastic foreground subject. I used this old barn to my advantage — it certainly made the shoot! I set the D200 up with the lightning trigger and let ‘er go to work while I roamed around with the D3 to get some compositions of this old barn and the storm. I managed to get a few cloud-to-ground images from this storm with the barn off to the right. I think these compositions with the storm, lightning, and old barn work best as 2:1 crops in post-processing, which is what you’ll see in the album of images from this shoot. One of the frames even has me in the shot, which actually kinda works in a way for perspective! I felt pretty satisified with this and decided not to get greedy and begin my way back home. I went south on Hwy 23 to Gove only to find that it was closed south of Gove. I was forced to turn around and head back to I-70, but the next storm that developed in the cluster was producing some decent lightning frequency, so I gave it one more attempt to photograph just northeast of Grainfield this time along Hwy 23. I was at this location for probably 15 or 20 minutes before the lightning activity waned. At that time I decided to finally head on back to Dodge. This was exactly the kind of shoot I was hoping for, but honestly wasn’t expecting. I think one or two of the images from this day are Portfolio-worthy.
Begin: Dodge City, KS (home)
End: Dodge City, KS (home)
Day Nine Mileage: 431 mi.
Trip Mileage: 4085 mi.
13 images from this day’s shoot:
May 2, 2010
Northeast New Mexico/Southeast Colorado Snow Showers.
(rest of images at the bottom of this post)
May 1st, which was day eight of my storm chase/photography trip, was actually quite a fun and interesting day photographing scattered snow showers with ambient surface temperatures in the mid 40s to lower 50s. Given the continued dry environment in the low levels… with dewpoints in the mid to upper 20s… these showers would allow temperatures to wet-bulb down into the mid to upper 30s. The environment was characterized by very cold temperatures in the mid-levels for the second day in a row with 500mb temperatures of -22 to -24 C. All it took was just a few hours of insolation after sunrise to get the initial cumuls to develop over the higher mesas across northeastern New Mexico. Knowing this in advance with the models all showing convective precipitation developing by 18z in this environment, I decided to depart Clayton during the late morning hours for Capulin Volcano to do some sightseeing and photography, knowing very well that I would have some interesting sky to potentially photograph to go along with the landscape. It ended up working out just as I had hoped. I arrived at Capulin around 12:30pm or so, wandering around the rim of Capulin on the 1-mile loop rim trail photographing the varioius showers. These showers were so small, it actually made for better photography, because I could fit the entire shower… and sometimes two… in one ultra-wide angle frame. One of the stronger showers to the west developed a small anvil and even some mammatus. Showers with contrasting white snow shafts against an otherwise fairly blue sky…and warm-colored ground…made for good images. I left Capulin and headed north to Folsom then briefly northeast from there to get under a heavier shower that was along and just south of Hwy 456. I started to hit the moderate wet snow about 3 or 4 miles east of the Hwy 551 junction. It snowed just heavy enough to create a light white blanket on mainly elevated surfaces. I found a small row of hay bales which made a great subject with a light coating of wet snow on top. I then turned around and decided to head west along Hwy 72 across the Johnson Mesa to Raton. I then went north to Trinidad and was hoping to stop by for a quick bite to eat and a beer at the Trinidad Brewing Company, however apparently this place is now closed. Since the brewpub hunt was a bust, I continued my merry way back to the east on Hwy 160 stopping occasionally to photograph more of the showers. One stronger cell developed just north of Kim early in the evening, and I even chased this for a brief time before it died. All in all this was quite a fun day of shooting!
Begin: Clayton, NM
End: Dodge City, KS (home)
Day Eight Mileage: 461 mi.
Trip Mileage: 3654 mi.
No storm day, drive to Clayton, NM photographing scattered showers with landscape of Western Oklahoma Panhandle.
(rest of images at the bottom of this post)
I slept in until noon and got a new tire put on my Jeep first thing. Cumulus were developing from northeast to southeast, and after I got back home around 1:30pm, I quickly packed things up again, looked at a couple of analysis maps, including the short-fuse composite and 1km visible image, and decided to head east toward Pratt and get closer to the agitated cumulus. Problem was that the convergence zone was shifting rapidly east to Wichita… and the original focused area of cumulus near Coldwater and Pratt waned with renewed cumulus developing well to the east in the Hutchinson to Newton areas. I abandoned this jaunt about 30 minutes into the drive after realizing this would be a fool’s errand.
So I started looking at things and decided that I was going to do some hiking in the Caprock Canyons or Palo Duro Canyon the following day since it appeared the next chasing opportunity would be Sunday the 2nd. I had to head back to Dodge and pick up my hiking shoes though, because in the rush to leave, I forgot to pack my hiking shoes. I looked at the models one last time and thought that sightseeing/hiking and photographing some of the showers around Capulin Volcano the next day (Saturday 5/1) would be the most interesting thing to me… so that’s what I decided to do. After I picked up my shoes I set off south toward the western Oklahoma Panhandle. Showers had developed in the cold air aloft, around -22 to -24C at 500mb, which were producing some nice virga shafts when I reached the Oklahoma Panhandle. My route took me to Guymon then west to Boise City. One of the more interesting things photographed was a decaying shower that was elongated east to west in a peculiar wave structure, kind of like Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, but the wavelengths were quite long and didn’t “break” like K-H waves usually do. It was interesting nonetheless, whatever nomenclature you wish to attach to it! From Boise City I continued west to the New Mexico line northeast of Clayton and photographed fairly colorful virga/rain/show showers to the distant north from a location between Clayton and Kenton. I tried to use some foreground subjects to my advantage to enhance the images, like usual. I also used the circular polarizer for most of my images as well. Overall, the sunset colors were sub-par given the sun going behind clouds as it was setting after 8:00pm (CDT).
Begin: Dodge City, KS (home)
End: Clayton, NM
Day Seven Mileage: 346 mi.
Trip Mileage: 3193 mi.
April 29, 2010
3 Supercells in the Nebraska Sand Hills — including memorable late-night moonlit supercell near Stapleton, NE
I was hoping for just some decent storm structure for maybe an hour or so around sunset on this particular chase day… trying to keep my expectations to a minimum. What resulted was one of the best storm photography moments I’ve had since shooting DSLR in 2005. I observed three supercells, two of which I photographed extensively during their mature phases. My chase day actually began in Thedford with a target of Ogallala in mind. I arrived in Ogallala with upstream dewpoints in the 45-46 degree territory at Imperial and McCook. I figured it would take about a 48 dewpoint to get a large area of ~ 1000 J/kg of CAPE. That eventually did happen, and my main area of interest was along and just north of I-80 where the highest dewpoints appeared to be advecting toward strongest low level convergence. This all seemed to be taking place just north of Ogallala. I drifted west from Ogallala to Big Springs where I observed a bunch of virga showers from southwest to northwest. I followed this junk east… sticking with it… because I’ve seen severe storms eventually be born out of this agitated high-based shower activity. I got to North Platte, and by this point it was going on 6:00pm, with still nothing much to write home about. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and was thinking this was going to end in a bust. Small updrafts to the northwest struggled mightily. That being said, there was still good south-southeast wind with 47 to 48 dewpoints feeding into this area of weak convection. Knowing that the upper level jet was just beginning to impinge on this area, I knew I couldn’t just simply give up at 6:20pm in the evening. Never do that unless it is totally obvious there will be NO STORMS at all! In the back of my mind, I was imagining that a) April jet stream, b) good low level inflow, c) dewpoints in the upper 40s, d) good low level convergence/frontogenesis… and thinking that this could possibly yield a surprise.
An elongated cluster of storms was increasing in strength south of Thedford, and I followed this northeast from North Platte to Stapleton where I headed east on Hwy 92 to Arnold. The lead storm to the northeast was initially the strongest, so I set after it first. Eventually, it died between 7:00 and 7:20pm or so. Then cell “Z1″ started to form at the southwest end of this cluster.
I was in great position for this. At Arnold I went north on a county road and got some of my first structure shots of this newly developing supercell. It was gaining on me fast, and since I wasn’t a fan of all the low clouds obscuring my structure view, I backtracked to the south to Arnold to get a little farther away from the cell again. I did manage to get a few images of the cumulonimbus tower above some of the low level inflow tails. Sunset was near as I made my way to Anselmo. I took more county roads north and east of Anselmo where I photographed an ominous lowering/wall cloud feature to the north, however the contrast was kind of poor. I did manage to capture a distant cloud-to-ground lightning flash with the lowering off to the left as the storm was beginning its demise. By 9:00pm, the storm was racing off to the northeast, north of Taylor and I let it go. At this point, I was satisfied that I got myself a supercell on such a marginal day and I was ready to call it a day and head to Kearney for the night.
But my chase had really only just begun.
I drove about 5 miles or so southeast of Anselmo on Hwy 2 when the next supercell formed to my northwest…northeast of Thedford. The distant structure on the horizon was too good to pass up. Problem was, I was so far away from this storm that I had to use a zoom lens on my D200, since I don’t have a fast, full-fame zoom lens on my D3 (I just have 14-24mm f/2.8 for my D3). I took a couple wide angle shots with the D3, but the storm was too far away that it didn’t really fill the frame at all. With the D200, I still use the 18-70mm lens which is only a f/4.5 at the focal length I was wanting to shoot at. The D200 does not perform well at ISO speeds greater than 640 either, so that is always my limit. Given that, I couldn’t do 6 second or less exposures to freeze the storm with what little astronomical twilight was left. I did get a few images, but I pretty much cut my losses and resumed my drive to Kearney… or so I thought. I then decided I wanted to look at the new NAM model for tomorrow’s chase forecast, which had just come in, so I pulled off the road to do a little model interrogation with IDV. A quick glance at the radar revealed yet another storm off in the distant west at around 9:45pm. Given my frustration with not being able to photograph that second storm like I was hoping, I felt like I had to redeem myself and get closer to this next approaching storm, since the lightning activity was increasing. The full moon had just risen, too, so I was thinking that this could get quite interesting, photographically.
I abandoned the idea of driving all the way to Kearney and though of North Platte instead, since a) it was closer and b) I was 90% sure I would be chasing in KS tomorrow. I drove east toward the approaching storm, which was now really looking good on radar, as well as visually with the lightning. The moon was also just about to appear over some clouds it had been hiding under. What proceeded after that… from about 10:15 to 10:45pm… was something truly spectacular. I found an adjacent farm road to Hwy 92 and pulled off with a great view of this supercell. Tall cloud-to-ground staccato flashes then began to occur. I couldn’t believe it! The tripod went up and I started firing away. I was closer to this storm, versus the 2nd storm about an hour earlier, so I could use the D3 with the 14-24mm lens and fill the frame with ultra-wide compositions. The results were nothing short of amazing. It was perfect. Everything about it. The supercell structure — clean with no other clouds blocking the view — some soft front light from a bright full moon. Standing in a farm field with NO powerlines, NO artificial lights as a distraction. No other chasers (except Dann Cianca farther west on SpotterNetwork). This sucker was over the sandhills! Wow!! And I had the right equipment to get the best images possible in this kind of light. I was able to successfully shoot 5 second exposure frames…. the whole time. Every single frame from this storm was 5 seconds. 5 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 800. ISO 800 on the D3 is extremely clean, and I would have felt comfortable shooting even higher, but there was no need to. The full moonlight was enough light with this fast equipment. Of course, lightning in the storm itself provided additional illumination. This was a dream come true! I have always wanted to shoot supercell thunderstorm structure illuminated by full moonlight. Oh yeah, and some of the cloud-to-ground flashes were quite spectacular too, coming out of this storm. I finally let the storm go around 11:00pm or so and made my way to North Platte for the night.
Begin: Thedford, NE
End: North Platte, NE
Day Five Mileage: 457 mi.
Trip Mileage: 2227 mi.
17 images from this shoot:
April 28, 2010
Landscape photography in the Nebraska Sand Hills.
I left Dodge City around 7:30am with the idea of some landscape photography around the sand hills of Nebraska later on in the afternoon and evening. After a brief visit to the North Platte NWS forecast office and lunch, I made my way to Thedford. After checking into the motel and about a 20-minute catnap, I began my little tour of southern Cherry County. While Cherry County is loathed by storm chasers given the vast expanse of nothingness and a dearth for roads, it is quite scenic. Rolling hills and ancient dunes of grass covered sand make up this landscape. It is a very expansive ranching country and there are several very scenic unpaved and one-lane paved county roads. I decided on a route that took me north from Seneca then west through ranchland to state highway 97. I then proceeded back to the southeast on Brownlee road then back southeast on Seneca road completing a nearly 65-mile loop. There were several large ponds of water with an assortment of waterfowl and other birds present. I was surprised to find a couple of swans in one of the ponds. I am not sure if they were Trumpeter or Tundra swans though, since they are so similar in appearance. Countless windmills and cattle, of course, given the ranching land use, which made for good elements in a number of my images. Scattered cirrus clouds also completed the composition on a number of images versus just an ordinary bland blue sky.
I was also scouting out some potential moonrise locations to shoot from. I wanted to get a good telephoto (~400mm focal length) image of the moon rising with sand hills and/or a lone windmill in the distance for perspective. What was troublesome, however, was that on the eastern horizon, the cirrus was thicker, and I wasn’t sure if that was going to ruin my moonrise opportunity or not. Moonrise was 8:12pm, and the moon was about 97% full, rising just a little bit before the sun setting. Sunset colors in the sky were not to be had, since the sun was setting behind thick cirrus to the west as well. I was fairly bummed about that, and given my pessimism, I just totally abandoned the idea of a decent moonrise, and just resumed my trek back south to Seneca and highway 2. Well, lo and behold, looking off to the east-southeast at about 8:20 was the big moon off the horizon. Crap! I was fortunate to be in a good spot, though, and I quickly pulled off and set up the tripod to get a few images of the moon with the sand hills (vertical compositions). I then went on my merry way about another mile or so when I spotted a distant windmill which was almost perfectly located with the moon about 25 minutes after moonrise. This was the first time I’ve ever set the tripod up on top of my jeep, because I needed to get a little more elevated since the top of the windmill was only barely clearing the horizon line. It was just enough of an increase in height, shooting from atop my jeep, to get this shot of the moon and the windmill.. another vertical composition. All in all, I was rather pleased with this 4 and a half hour shoot across southern Cherry County!
Begin: Dodge City, KS
End: Thedford, NE
Day Four Mileage: 481 mi.
Trip Mileage: 1770 mi.
21 images from this day’s shoot:
April 26, 2010
Palo Duro Canyon at night under near-full moonlight
There isn’t a whole lot to talk about concerning the second day of my chase/photography vacation. I made a last minute decision to abandon the idea to stay south (Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Pass for Day 2 and chasing Central/South Texas Day 3). Trends in the models were less and less favorable for an isolated supercell in an area I feel comfortable chasing. This ultimately turned out to be a good decision, because at the time I am typing this summary, storms developed south of Waco and by sunset were east of I-35 between Austin and Houston.
Instead, on Day 2 I decided to drive out toward the Palo Duro Canyon/Caprock Canyons area. I was initially somewhat intrigued at the possibility of an isolated storm in a pathetic 500 J/kg CAPE environment, and I leisurely drove across the far southern Texas Panhandle watching cumulus struggle to develop into towering cumulus in the lower to mid 30s dewpoints…despite quite chilly temperatures aloft. I reached Caprock Canyons state park, but it was about 6:00pm by that time. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, though, as I was feeling pretty fatigued from the long drive from Roswell. At around 7:00pm, watching the last of the cumulus dissipate, I decided to take the scenic Highway 207 drive north. About 20 miles north of Silverton, I stopped for a little bit to photograph some of the flooded farm fields from a recent heavy rain event. I was thinking initially of just driving straight to Dodge City. I then changed my mind and decided that, since there was a near-full moon, I would do some late night photography of the Palo Duro Canyon… so I drove over to Amarillo for a late dinner and got a motel room for the night. I slept from about 10:00pm to 1:00am and then set out to the Palo Duro Canyon via Wayside. I spent about an hour and a half photographing some of the same farm fields with water as well as the Palo Duro Canyon at a picnic area and roadside pull off on the south side of the canyon along Highway 207.
Begin: Roswell, NM
End: Amarillo, TX
Day Two Mileage: 389 mi.
Trip Mileage: 1007 mi.
14 images from this day’s shoot:
February 25, 2010
Winter shooting and camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was another one of my 3-day weekends off work the weekend of February 5-7, and I wanted to get a winter shoot in somewhere in northern New Mexico and/or southern Colorado since I was scheduled to be in Clayton, NM for a photography talk on Thursday, February 4th. It turned out that my scheduled talk in Clayton was put on hold due to a snowstorm, however the storm was expected to clear in time for the remainder of the weekend to be rather nice. A couple weeks prior, I invited my good friend Michelle Douglass, who lives in Aurora, CO, to join me on this short little trip. We decided to make a camping trip out of it, and since I had never done any cold weather camping before, I figured this would be a pretty cool (no pun intended) experience, since we both obviously love nature/outdoors and whatnot. I met up with Michelle around mid-afternoon Friday 5th and we were essentially the only people in the park outside of perhaps a couple other hikers. After setting up camp we did a late afternoon/evening shoot on the Medano creek bed as well as some landscape scenes from just a mile or so south of the park entrance. The following morning we awoke to a morning low of about 12°F. I was a little more prepared than she was for the cold, and the camping was Michelle’s idea At any rate, it was fun, and we had some decent light for sunrise, although it could have been a little better. After breaking camp, we hiked up the big 600 ft. dune, known as High Dune, near the main dune walk-in entrance area. I enjoyed the lenticular cloud formations on the peaks of the Sangre de Cristos to the northeast of the dunes. It was a very enjoyable couple of days with Michelle at the dunes! After the hike, we had lunch at an Italian/pizza place in Fort Garland and then parted ways. An album of images is below, enjoy!