Vacation Skyviews

Sunday, September 16, 2018


The following posted images are from my recent vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks. Above, a US Highway 212 switchback near Beartooth Pass in southern Montana is seen at 3:19 pm MDT on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Thick clouds at just under an elevation of 11,000 feet churn over the land. Embedded in these clouds were sporadic lightning discharges.


Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts into the fading light of an evening sky at 8:28 pm MDT, Monday, August 20, 2018.


Sunset and Old Faithful eruption at 7:11 pm MDT on Tuesday, August 21, 2018. Image is a 1/100 second exposure at f/18, ISO 125 and 25mm focal length.


The sun shines bleakly through morning clouds at 8:28 am MDT on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. This image looks east from the shore of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. In the foreground is Big Cone Geyser.


The distant Grand Tetons mountain range, shrouded in clouds and fog, is seen from the Mormon Row Historical District at 11:24 am MDT on Wednesday, August 22, 2018.


Looking west at the cloud-cloaked Grand Tetons mountain range at 11:51 am MDT, Wednesday, August 22, 2018 as seen from Antelope Flats Road at US Highway 191 in Wyoming. A commercial aircraft descends to Jackson Hole Airport at upper left of image.


Clouds billow off peaks of the Grand Teton mountain range as seen from Jenny Lake at 7:03 pm MDT, Wednesday, August 22, 2018. A thundershower from about a half-hour earlier was giving way to a striking sunset.


Panorama of the Grand Tetons mountain range and sky from Jenny Lake at 7:54 pm MDT, Wednesday, August 22, 2018. The very vibrant sky, complete with color and an arch of circus clouds, was created from the departure of an earlier thundershower.


Fair weather cumulus clouds roll past the 13,776-foot peak of Grand Teton in Grand Tetons National Park at 11:51 am MDT, Thursday, August 23, 2018. Image was captured from the Lake Solitude trail.


Setting sun over Jackson Lake and the Grand Tetons mountain range at 7:43 pm MDT, Thursday, August 23, 2018. Image was captured from nearby Signal Mountain. Nikon D7200 DSLR camera.

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Smooth Move

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Flood waters from Dry Run Creek moved swiftly under a footbridge located at Boyson Park at 3:50 pm CDT, Wednesday, September 5, 2018. The bridge is located at the border of Cedar Rapids and Marion Iowa, just south of Boyson Road. Persistent heavy rains the previous three weeks contributed to flood conditions in Eastern Iowa. Dry Run Creek was about two days from its crest when this long exposure capture was made--and of course, it was raining. The image is a 20 second exposure at f/22, ISO 100 and 16mm focal length. Nikon D7200 DSLR camera, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX II 11-16mm f/2.8 lens with a 6-stop X2 ND filter. The long exposure smoothed-out the churning creek water in this image.

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Labor Day Twister

Saturday, September 8, 2018


Looking somewhat bland, the above graphic is the Day 1 Convective Outlook posting for the state of Iowa, updated at 11:30 am CDT, Monday, September 3, 2018. Little did I know six hours later I would witness up close one of the most dynamic and beautiful storm structures I've ever encountered--with a tornado--all on Labor Day, no less!



Weather in Iowa the previous two weeks had been one of long track training rain movements, so the little cell that popped up just east of Kellogg, Iowa around 1:40 pm, was paid no attention by most. Even at 4:00 pm (radar image above), the cell which had now increased in size did not differ considerably from the garden variety of rains to the north and east. I had been working on post-processing of recent vacation photographs with the television on in the background at 4:45 pm, when the TV emitted a squawk. Turning to it, a red screen broadcasted a "tornado warning for your area." Not quite believing this, I turned to my radar which initially showed nothing unusual. Then in an instant a red tornado-warned box popped up on the screen, with its most intense area located only about 18 miles to my northwest and moving east. I had not been prepared for this, so I quickly grabbed my "essentials"--handheld radio scanner, handheld ham radio and my Nikon D7200 DSLR camera (I forgot my weather radio). Assessing the storm's track, I decided to go east then north in hopes that the storm would hold its intensity by the time it reached me in the east. Traveling north on Highway 13 north of Marion, Iowa, I monitored Linn County ARES amateur radio traffic on my handheld. Just before 5:00 pm a spotter near Toddville, Iowa was reporting "nothing particularly menacing" visually from the storm, which was now approaching the town of Center Point. From my position northbound on Highway 13, I could see through a gap in the clouds what the Toddville spotter could not: a tall white cumulus tower sporting a vigorous updraft. There had to be significant severe weather under this tower and indeed a tornado had been on the ground 4 miles northwest of the town of Shellsburg around 4:40 pm.


Just after 5:00 pm I decided I was far enough north in relation to the approaching storm, so it was time to turn west, and did so on Central City Road (County Road E16), just south of the town of Central City. The above image was captured at 5:08 pm while westbound on Central City Road, just west of Highway 13. The turbulent nature of the storm, located now about 13 miles distant near the town of Center Point, is visually evident.


About 2 miles farther west, I found a stationary spotting location on Sutton Road just north of the intersection with Central City Road in north central Linn County. This image looks southwest at 5:13 pm. A wall cloud with a very low cloud base has come into view. I could still hear ARES Net traffic on my handheld ham radio, and with the wall cloud in view I attempted to make a report. I would be frustrated by about a dozen attempts in the next half hour to report the severe weather in this manner as apparently no one heard me. I was successful with three cell phone communications to the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities--at 5:13 pm, 5:35 pm and 5:43 pm.


5:13 pm. Similar image. Note the significant updraft in the distant background. I found myself tempting fate by staying outside my vehicle amid the CG lightning in order to get the good shots.


5:26 pm. The storm nears. The dynamic storm structure I had hoped for is not only holding but evolving. The wall cloud was vigorously rotating and was being fed by a fast moving inflow cloud (lower right). The ominous churning tornadic cell was moving east a little to my south, so I found myself as a northern observer--not the optimum situation but still amazing as it would unfold.


5:31 pm. Panorama looking WSW.  A more complete view of the storm cell from this spotting location on Sutton Road at Central City Road, about 2.3 miles west of Central City.


5:33 pm. A closer view of the wall cloud and inflow cloud. At this point stirrings of a lowering can be seen under the very low-based wall cloud.


5:33 pm. Another all-around view from a panoramic perspective.


5:34 pm. A zoomed-in view under the low cloud base, showing a ragged lowering.


5:35 pm. A striking closeup of the storm, with its inflow appendage at right. The center of this tornadic cell was now sliding closer to my south.


5:37 pm. A closeup of the inflow feeder cloud.


5:39 pm. Leading edge of the storm sliding south but about to overrun my position on Sutton Road at Central City Road. Winds were increasing to around 50 mph. At this point, it was obvious the houses and the hill in the background of this image were obscuring my line of sight, so it was time to make the decision to proceed south over the hill on Sutton Road (background), closer to danger but with a better picture of the storm.


5:42 pm. Clear of the hill on Sutton Road, and about .22-mile south of Central City Road. I immediately noticed to my southwest a funnel cloud and fire off this shot from inside my vehicle. Initially I thought this just a funnel, as the condensation cloud does not appear to be on the ground, but later image inspection shows rain circulation on the ground around it indicating that it was probably already a tornado.



5:42 pm. Similar view, with the tornado having advanced a little farther east (toward the left in image). The rain-wrapped ground circulation is evident.


5:42 pm. Similar view. Looking south on Sutton Road. Still inside my vehicle.


5:43 pm. Now outside my vehicle. My first still shot after firing off a short video clip. The funnel is now dipping fully to the ground, making it a full-fledged tornado.


5:43 pm. A no-doubter tornado now. Very powerful rain curtains swirl on the ground around the vortex. The tornado was about a mile to my south.


5:43 pm. Fully condensed funnel. This tornado was a cyclic spinup from the system that produced an earlier longer-lived EF1 tornado northwest of the Alburnett, Iowa (5:29-5:36 pm).


5:43 pm. Slightly zoomed-in view of the tornado. Note the perched bird on the power lines at left, apparently oblivious to the proceedings.


5:43 pm. Condensation funnel lifting from the ground. The strong rain curtain circulation beneath it continues to persist. The condensation funnel was fully on the ground for only about 20-30 seconds. Moments after I captured this image I returned to my vehicle. Having captured the images I needed, I began making a tornado report via cell phone to the National Weather Service. While doing so, I became aware of an EMT at my driver's side window who apparently regarded me as a "yahoo." At first I thought he was going to ask me what I had seen, but instead interrupted my conversation with the NWS dispatcher and told me in a stern voice that, "You need to get out of here immediately because a tornado is in the area." I had been oblivious to the myriad light-flashing EMA truck parked directly behind me. The truck did not budge until I moved, so I packed it up and headed back to Central City Road--which is what I was going to do anyway.


5:48 pm. Pausing at the southeast corner of Sutton Road and Central City Road. My vehicle was now being blasted by driving rain and RFD winds. This image looks east through my open passenger side window and captures the retreating storm, still producing tornadoes as it tracked in that direction.


5:45 pm GOES 15 visible satellite image of the lower half of the state of Iowa, with arrow pointing to the storm cell.


5:49 pm Radarscope image of the tornado-warned cell and my position (blue target icon).


A NOAA radar image from 5:50 pm, with my position shown by the target icon.


Weather.US images corresponding to 5:50 pm. Clockwise from upper left: Base Reflectivity, Storm Tracking, Vertically Integrated Liquid and Echo Tops. Target icons are my position. The classic hook echo images in upper images are evident.


5:57 pm. Looking back toward the northeast while southbound on Highway 13 and heading home.  The still potent storm cell is tracking eastward in the direction of Prairieburg and Monticello, Iowa.
An amazing experience from a totally unexpected severe weather event...and this Labor Day tornadic storm played out virtually in "my own back yard!" (See also my YouTube video of the event: 09032018LinnCoTornado)

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Nighttime in Yellowstone

Thursday, August 30, 2018


A recent family vacation took us to the national parks of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, a seemingly safe haven from light polluted skies at night. As I found out though, several factors conspired against the crystal-clear vistas I had expected. First, the areas where I captured the Milky Way were not "dark-dark" (like the Badlands of last year). Location "A" on the map above is at the north entrance gate to the park and inhibited slightly by the lights of the small town of Gardiner, Montana. Location "B" is at the popular Old Faithful Geyser site, which included several lodges--and window lights. Other negative factors included humidity and the presence of high altitude smoke from nearby wild fires, creating haze.


Fortunately for me, my Nikon D7200 DSLR camera and Tokina f/2.8 11-16mm lens could discern faint light much better than could my eyes. Above is a test shot looking west from near the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance of Yellowstone at the edge of the town of Gardiner, Montana. The foreground is lit brilliantly from shop and store lights to my back. It was very difficult here to even see the Milky Way with the naked eye. This image, captured at 1:32 am MDT on Monday, August 20, 2018,  is a 15-second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 6400 and 11 mm focal length.


Ever wary of wild things that go "bump in the night," this image looks northwest from inside the Roosevelt Arch (US Highway 89) at 1:37 am. Settings are identical to the test image above it. Ambient light from Gardiner is seen at right.


Now at the Old Faithful Geyser the following early morning, and even more cognizant of possible bear or bison unseen presence in the dark. Image looks west and was captured from the geyser's viewing boardwalk at 3:07 am MDT, Tuesday, August 21, 2018. Old Faithful is venting steam, which along with the foreground is illuminated from light emanating from a building behind me. Image is a 15-second exposure at f/3.2, ISO 4000 and 12mm focal length. In the background at left are lights from the Old Faithful Inn.

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2018 Edition of the Perseids Did Not Exactly Wow Me

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


On paper the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower promised to be a good show on its peak night of August 12-13 in the Cedar Rapids Iowa metro area. Clear skies were forecast and the moon would not interfere during the early morning hours before dawn. As it turned out though, drifting smoke from the large wildfires out west created a milky-hazy effect aloft, humidity on this night was near 100% and of course there was the ever-present light pollution factor. Be that as it may, I set up around 3:20 am CDT in Lowe Park just north of Marion, looking northeast. Illuminated at right is the park's amphitheater. The image above is a capture from 3:31 am, when my brightest meteor streak occurred. It is a composite photograph containing another meteor streak (left) added from 3:41 am. My Nikon D7200 DSLR (with Tokina 11-16mm lens) settings were: 13 second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 640 and 14mm focal length. The attached remote cord was locked so my camera took continuous shots. After 3:41 am the sky went into pure drought mode. I never saw another photographable bright meteor again before I finally packed it up and went home around 4:20 am.


Continuous camera shooting allowed me to create a star trails image in StarStax2, seen above. The image is a stack of 249 images with a time duration from 3:23-4:17 am. Air temperature was a comfortable 64 degrees and bugging from insects was nearly non-existant.

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Minuteman on Bunker Hill Road

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


There were a line of storms rolling toward Independence, Iowa on the afternoon/evening of Saturday, August 5, 2018, to which I initially gave an unimpressed glance. At 5:08 pm, however, the area near Independence went severe-warned. Because of the timing and close proximity of this storm to home, I was only able to grab my spotting essentials in a "minute's notice." No mag mounted antennae, no anemometer, no Go Pro camera--there was not enough time. Gear consisted only of my Nikon D7200 DSLR camera, tripod, handheld weather radio and handheld ham radio. I hastily headed east through Marion, then north on Highway 13 in an effort to intercept the storm. The radar image above from 5:24 pm CDT shows my mobile position (target icon) and the approaching severe-warned storm to my northwest.


5:27 pm. Looking northwest while northbound on Highway 13 just north of Marion, Iowa. The western edge of the storm can be seen at left (just right of the barn), while its most intense area--about 16 miles distant--is at right.


5:28 pm. About 1.4 miles south of County Home Road. Note the cloud striations classic to this type of severe weather just above the northern horizon. The most intense area of this storm (left) was located near the town of Walker in northwest Linn County.


5:29 pm. Similar image, now just south of County Home Road.


This radar screen capture corresponds to the photograph above it. My northbound location is shown as the target icon, the black arrow points to the most intense area of the storm, and the white arrows show storm direction.


5:32 pm. Now stationary on Prairie Chapel Road at Highway 13, one mile north of County Home Road. Image looks WNW. Storm is north of me and moving east.


5:32 pm. Panorama image stretching from northwest (left) to northeast (right). Most intense part of storm was located about 16 miles distant (left-center in image).


5:33 pm. My vehicle facing north toward the storm on Prairie Chapel Road, just east of Highway 13.


5:40 pm. Relocated now to my northernmost and final spotting position on Bunker Hill Road at Rowley Road, less than a mile southwest of Central City in northeast Linn County. At this moment the severe warning for the storm was lifted.


Radar image corresponding to 5:40 pm, when the severe warning was lifted. My stationary position is
shown by the target icon.


5:42 pm. The storm's severe warning was gone, but volatile cloud formations remained impressive in the area. This cloud formation was to my northeast.


5:48 pm. Looking north from Rowley Road at Bunker Hill Road. Though somewhat resembling a wall cloud, this intense area of the storm was very outflow dominant and would roll over me in just minutes with winds probably approaching 60 mph. This scenario caused me to rethink my position--which was directly under a utility pole--so I relocated to a short distance away!


5:50 pm. The western edge of the (5:48 pm) storm image contained large scud, and appeared as if it were almost touching the ground as it moved swiftly along. The clouds were moving from right-to-left in this image, which looks west from Bunker Hill Road, above .6-mile east of Highway 13.


5:59 pm. Homeward bound now and traveling south on Highway 13 at County Home Road. One quick capture eastward (above) shows the rustic water tower located there with turbulent clouds behind it.

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