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A few years ago, I read an article about photo tours conducted by the magazine Arizon Highways; I never followed up on that though. Now, however, my interest is once again active (from the May3rd Cloud-A-Day), so I followed up wiith the magazine. As it turns out, AH had problems the last couple of years with coordinating their photo tours with the actual appearance of the storms (too many clear skies during the tours). So they have discontinued them, at least for now.
These storms, according AH, typically occur in late summer.
I would appreciate any advice form an AZ resident, or any stormchaser on timing, good photo locations, etc. – in fact, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated – as to how I might approach this. I’m retired so I can get there with a couple of days notice.
Don..I live in Phoenix..August has been The Monsoon Month for the Upper Sonoran Desert that makes up a large part of Arizona. The Monsoon season usually begins by the 2nd week of July and begins fading away by the 2nd week of September. Monsoon season is made possible by a “High Pressure” establishing it self over the 4 Corners area ( Utah, Az, NM and Colorado meet there) That High Pressure eventually acts like a pump, that pumps up moisture laden atmosphere from equatorial regions. That hot moist atmosphere usually comes up from the southwest and travels in a northeasterly direction. So,,where the highest frequency of storms are, can be determined where that High Pressure center is located. There is the guessing game.
But usually, the hills (Mogollon Rim, Harquahala Mtns, White Mtns etc) are busy with very local storms almost every day. Its my observation that the conditions in Phoenix take about 4 to 5 days to build up and have Monsoon storm break into the Valley. High Temps build up the pull of moisture laden air. A storm may cool things down and then the cycle starts over again…But,,somewhere along the Mogollon Rim gets rain , somewhere in the Desert gets rain just about every day. Where becomes evident by 2-3 pm and is usually dumping its havoc anywhere from 4pm to 10 pm or so. But it can also storm all nite or all day., especially if a hurricane establishes itself on the west Mexico coast.
I use to work on the north east edge of the Valley.,,Mesa,Apache Junction. During Monsoon season there was that cyclical build up and dump in plain view. Again,recollection and photo dating over the years are good only as averages. Specifics are problematic and thats why AH gave up. Also ,being in the middle of a 50 yr “Draught” cycle didn’t help them. If the High Pressure moves to the east just 50 miles the Monsoon season for Phoenix area can be thwarted. Same for any North , South or West movement. Its kind of delicate . But there are always certainties. The desert between Tucson and Phoenix will get quite a few “storms or cells.” Between Yuma and Phoenix , (a large area) theres Monsoon activity daily.
I mite ask..do you have a RV, even if its a modified van.? Rent one is always an option. The ability to move around is key to witnessing the storms. Its just,,theres not a lot of civilization out there where the storms are gathering. You have to bring everything with you.
The other thing is..how is your health? It has to be considered. 110f and 35% humidity is burdensome. Its very uncomfortable. Its a strain on a system that may already be under strains from other causes. It may cool off to only 105f but the humidity is always there and it takes some getting use to. The “low” for the day, rite before sun up..can be in the 90s…
But..as you probably know and are motivated by..the drama can be spectacular. The daily build up of cumulonimbus along the Mogollon Rim is quite the show . Lightning shows spanning vast panoramas of desert and canyons are humbling..and not just particular to Arizona. See P.Martini’s many photos in the gallery, taken in Utah’s canyon lands. May I suggest a “tour” of Arizona, Utah,Colorado and New Mexico. Lots of National Parks can serve as great foundations to cloudscapes. There is a “tour” called the Grand Tour I think..Start like in Tucson or Phoenix, go thru Sedona to the Grand Canyon, then up to the Zion/Bryce of Utah and up into Utahs canyon lands , over to Colorado’s southern Rockies, drop down into Monument Valley,even Page and Lake Powell and further, Canyon De Chelley,over to New Mexico and return to Tucson or Phoenix . Might be quite the Hoot to do during Monsoon Season!
Michael – Sorry for taking so long to respond to you, especially since you wrote back so quickly.
THANKS for all the good info. Seems I need to add Phoenix, Flagstaff, Four Cornors to the weather spots I rountinely monitor.
Regarding other things : I don’t have an RV, I had percieved that I would need to rent a 4Wheel drive, potentially base myself out of Wickenburg or Payson (at least, that what I was thinking). I was not quite expecting to need to take an RV. That thinking is something I will need to revisit. Based on some of your comments, I might try and presuade someone )other than my wife) to go with me – safety in numbers, that sort of thing.
I live in Dallas, so am used to hot summer weather, clear skies, and at 85F (at night) to 105F daytime; not sure what humidity Dallas recieves, but we’re not near any water bodies (other than a man-made lake or two). Several years ago (pre-CAS) we visited some friends in Phoenix in late August/early September; we drove to Grand Canyon. With a bit of acclimation here in Dallas, I think I’m ready for the temperatures you speak of.
A trip through some of the cañons and parks during August or so is now definitely on my ‘bucket list’
On a completely different note. I have several lenses ranging from 20mm to 400mm. I have a very sturdy tripod, a device (forgot what it’s called, exactly) that can keep the camera open for up to 30 minutes, all kinds of polarizers and other filters. I typically shoot f/11. Any particular comments or suggestions here?
Again (can’t repeat it enough) : THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!
Don..I have always preferred a telephoto Zoom lens for shooting clouds..What I find interesting enough to photograph usually doesn’t last long enough to change lens. I like my 28 to 300 zoom lens a lot. I have a 17 to 40 that is 2nd favorite. But in either case, once the lens is on the camera body, its a long time before it comes off. I shoot with no filters except what I pre-program into the camera’s operating system. I have “choices” pre programmed into the menu listings..contrast, saturation, sharpness, etc are varied for each listing (landscape, portrait, auto, standard,faithful,neutral, monochrome etc.) So as conditions change I can quickly change to a menu listing that is better suited to record the condition.
I also prefer to shoot with the light metering in “spot” mode. Generally this gives me the ability to capture details in the highlites..because where i focus ( also where the spot light metering is taking place) is the brightest or a brite portion of the photograph, where the eye should go to or end up as it scans across the photo. So focus, light metering for exposure, and creative eye direction is all within one capture moment , again, helping the quick taking of an elusive moment. Generally spot metering on the britest portion will tend to give underexposed dark areas and depending on pre programed choices, some what flat original images. I like that so I can bring up the contrast, saturation etc to my liking as I process the photos. Im not a strict adherent to the the Photograph being made in the camera school. Digital has made processing a lot of fun.
For lightning photographs..I take movies and then take a lone photo or two or three from the movie segments for still photographs. They have tetrabyte memory cards now so movies are no longer a storage problem. Have a few or more batteries.Re-charging them is a discipline. I like to count off seconds between strikes, establishing an average time between strikes. Then start recording a movie a few seconds before the next average bolt strikes. If your lucky enough to record a storm where bolts are almost constant just let the movie go!
Because of the distances, I need all the F stop ( depth of field) I can get. I start at f11 and prefer to go as far as I can while maintaining at least 1/30th of a second exposure time minimum. Any slower than that takes a tripod or a breath control exercise and some meditation. I sometimes move the asa up to keep a usable exposure time, especially on sunsets. But again, timing is important so keeping the amount of adjustments to a minimum is critical to capturing the best of what you see. Every cloud seems to have curve , that begins with it being created or coming in to view, then formed to maturation or the best its going to be and then deteriorates in ragged broken up mist..Theres only so much time so I like to be spending as much as that taking photos rather than making adjustments, changing lens, etc. Have as much pre-programmed so the only thing taking valuable time is making a choice.If you take a lot of pictures of one cloud or phenomena..be sure to make each photo different,,exposure, composition, etc. That way you will always get at least one great shot per session.
Like Texas, its Big Sky out here. You are already ahead of a lot of folks in appreciating the natural canvas that is the Southwest.
Michael – like I say, I can’t repeat it enough.