Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anatomy of Two Arizona Storms

If you can imagine it we Tucsonans are longing for the temperature to drop below the century mark into the 90's. Monsoon weather lingers and everyday this week is likely to be 102 degrees or above. Fortunately this produces some fairly spectacular opportunities to photograph the unique storms that arrive in the afternoons here in southwest Arizona. Recently I photographed storms in Tucson Mountain Park adjacent to Saguaro National Park West and atop Kitt Peak the world renowned observatory located on the Tohono O'odham reservation 35 miles west of Tucson.
On August 19th on my way home from work I spotted this storm as I drove up Ajo Way . I decided it was defined enough and the entire system was visible so I grabbed my camera and ran out to the park which is directly behind my house to see if I could get some decent photos. The following four photos are in sequence as the storm moved from the south toward the north as they often do here.

Most rain during monsoon season here in the Sonoran Desert are not wide spread but rather "scattered" and while it was raining quite hard towards the mountains as you can see it was not raining at all in the location where I was standing to take these photos.
A typical monsoon day as I have observed it starts out with early morning scattered clouds that turn pink and red for a very brief time as the sun rises above the horizon in the east. Depending on the amount and placement of the clouds it can be very beautiful if only for a few fleeting moments.

Storms like these along with the more sedate winter rains are responsible for the incredible diversity of plants and animals here in southern Arizona. Some areas get substantial rain while others are completely passed by and people frequently comment on the torrential rains of the previous day that I had no idea even happened because my little corner of the world remained dry this time. These storms in summer are frequently accompanied by thunder, lightning and high winds that are sometimes extremely violent and do major damage to property and this year have torn down many electric poles leaving residents without air conditioning for hours and days in 100+ degree heat.

The next storm of interest was one that I photographed atop Kitt Peak on what I can only describe as a beautiful, sunny day that was a little too hot at 6000 feet above sea level. As this first picture will show there was not a cloud anywhere to be found at 10:30 A.M. as we ascended the mountain seeking relief from the temperature on the desert floor which was approaching 100 degrees.

One thing that I really enjoy here in the desert is the vast openness of the valley where it is not uncommon to be able to see for hundreds of miles from the right vantage point. I also love the vast blue skies.

At 10:45 we began to see the "puffy whites" forming over the valley in front of Baboquivari which is the sacred mountain of the Tohono O'odham tribe.

Kitt Peak rises 6000 feet above sea level and the views are spectacular on most days. As you can see by 11:13 A.M. the clouds were expanding but still not covering the blue,blue sky.

11:19 A.M.The solar telescope is the mot unusual one on the skyline and give you an idea of how close to the clouds you are standing atop Kitt Peak. I love visiting here just for the view but there is plenty to see including the telescopes, many of which allow you inside for a visit. Kitt Peak Observatory also has many programs during the year that you can read about here: .

At 11:45 A.M. we are starting to see the energy building out over the valley as the clouds are adding height and darkening just a little.

By12:19 P.M. the first columns of rain and a few lightning strikes appeared in the greatly expanded as well as darkened cloud mass.

12.21 P.M.
12:27 P.M.

12:30 P.M. It's certainly has grown into a force of nature in a very short time and it was really terrific to be able to see the whole process from the top of Kitt Peak.

12:34 P.M A curtain of water has developed from what a short time ago seemed like an empty sky. Amazing!

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