Late Night Lightning

Been awhile since I have experienced late night lightning, but I was awake and in luck tonight, Aug 28th, 2016.  We had taken a trip to the Arkansas River valley in southern Colorado to buy Pueblo peppers and visit the state fair where my kids had participated at the State level in 4-H earlier in the week.  After a fun but long day we came home and I started peeling the skins off of our many bushels of peppers; this usually goes well into the night!  Just as I was finishing bushel #1, there were flashes in the sky; at first I thought it was a car going by but to my delight a storm was passing by to our south.

The insects were having a symphony in the front yard and the only man-made noise was a train passing by a 1/2 mile or so away (lots of squeaks and metal on metal scrapes) so I recorded some of the ambience while enjoying it.  Meanwhile the lightning was becoming more frequent, so i jumped in the car and headed for vistas out of the trees.  I ended up driving about 5 miles south of Larkspur and sat on top of a hill overlooking the Spruce Meadows Open Space at Greenland and watched the show.

I enjoy taking pictures of lightning with power lines, and these were carrying a lot of electricity so I figured it would be perfect foreground for lightning shots.  Given it was raining and the lightning was fairly close, I decided to shoot from within the truck.  I have been getting better at holding the camera fairly steady with the iris open, these were 6 second shots at ISO 800, f/11, focus at infinity.  I was using a wide angle lens.

To remove the rain from the windshield I need to have the wipers on; sometimes there are drops in the shot but that goes with the territory; not much I can do about that given it is raining.  Luckily the lightning is so quick and otherwise it is dark (no light) so most of the shots you don’t see the wipers.  Then it is just a waiting game, reviewing the pictures to ensure the field of view is what is expected.  Unfortunately the lightning was infrequent, about 90 seconds apart, so I got a lot of black pictures I had to delete later.

As always, click on the photo for a larger size.

Lightning

Interesting placement of the bolt and the tower, I wish I could say it was planned, but nothing about that shot was planned; all luck…and being in the right place at the right time!

Lots o lightning

Lots going on in this shot, it was very bright!

Anvil Crawler Lightning

One of the last anvil crawler style bolts of the evening, just before midnight; the last one was massive (there was about 5 minutes between it and the previous) and it was so bright and long that I moved the camera (I have to admit I was getting tired and it startled me) and the picture was blurred/jittery.

Upward Streamer Lightning

Close-up of the previous shot (lower right) showing three upward streamers, the right most one got the return strike but was a bit off from the original streamer (or there were 4).

Colorado Lightning

If only we could harness that…looks like it almost tapped us!

b&w lightning photo

Cool black and white shot, south Douglas County Colorado, Aug 28th about 11:30pm.

Watching the 2016 Perseids Meteorite Shower

This year has been a lot of fun watching meteorite showers, and Perseids 2016 did not disappoint.  I was able to watch the skies a week prior to the peak on the east side of the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, then again the night before, during and after the peak of the Perseids (peaked Aug 11, 2016).

The Perseids are created by the dust trail from comet Swift Tuttle as our orbit intersects with its debris each year.  This year was a special “outburst” year thanks to our cosmic friend Jupiter whose gravity altered the course of some debris last year; making way for a more dusty intercept on this year’s orbit for Earth!

In Colorado about a week before the peak, the days were socked in with clouds and some rain, but after midnight the clouds cleared out and provided a wonderful display of the stars and Milky Way over the Collegiate Peaks from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area south of Buena Vista Colorado.  Although I didn’t capture it as it was left of my field of view, I saw a massive fireball which I can only assume was a Perseids meteorite!  Several other meteorites I witnessed that night were likely Perseids.

Milky Way and Mt Princeton

Milky Way over Mt Princeton, with Mt Antero on the left. A small meteorite also captured!

I took this picture with Sony Alpha A7RII with Rokinon 14mm f2.8 prime lens.  Manual focus was set to infinity, f2.8 and exposure was 8 seconds at ISO 12800, obviously on a tripod.  I have found that opening the exposure over 8 seconds leaves a blur/trail with stars that I do not like, so I had to adjust the ISO to absorb more light.  I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom.

Star Trails

Star trails from several stills over Mt Princeton.

I thought this was a fun shot, it was a video capture of the stars including Milky Way using the A7RII Star Trails app.  This is a fun little app but I have not explored it deeply yet to discover if there are many creative uses for it other than the obvious.  A couple of satellites are also present streaking across the sky over each 8 second exposure.

Fast forward a little under a week, to the days around the peak of Perseids 2016.  Each of the nights here where I live near Larkspur Colorado it was cloudy and stormy before and after dusk.  But luckily each night all the storms moved off east and the skies cleared up in time for the moon to set and give great dark skies for viewing this “outburst” year.

I set up in my front yard pointing towards the south/western sky which is the largest portal I have through my trees.  I was able to witness many Perseids shooters and caught a couple in my field of view.

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

Stacked Milky Way photos (6 of them) with a Perseids meteorite

In the above photo, I took the 3 shots before and after the meteorite and stacked them in Photoshop.  A brief summary of the process that I’m still only beginning to use

  • Open all the photos as layers in Photoshop
  • Select all layers and then use the alignment feature of the stack
  • Create a Smart Object
  • Use the Smart Object / Stack Mode function and Median setting to combine all the light of the photos into a single picture

This is the first time I played with this workflow and will be exploring it further to fine tune the results, but i’m quite impressed of what Photoshop can do merging the light of several photographs; remember I only like to take up to 8 second exposures of the stars, so this gave me almost a minute worth of light.  I think that too many pictures will confuse the auto-alignment feature of Photoshop, I tried another experiment with 12 photos and the results looked horrible.  I have to play with this more (if you have any suggestions here, would love to hear from you in the comments!)

Perseid Colors

Amazing color on this closeup of a Perseids fireball caught on the eve of the peak.

I caught another amazing meteorite and did a digital crop to show the spectacular colors of Perseids meteorites!  This was the largest shooter I saw the eve prior to the peak.

Then came the peak, which again was forecast to be up to double of other years!  I set my alarm each hour after dark and went outside to witness the show, but it was very cloudy and even had a thunderstorm to our south.  I was getting bummed as by 12:30 we were still socked in with clouds!  At the 1:20 alarm, however, the sky was crystal clear; amazing what can happen in less than an hour here in the Colorado foothills! The sky stayed clear until dawn, when it got cloudy again.  Perfect timing, mother nature!

I typically count meteorites in two categories (that’s all I can keep track of that late in the night); one is total number and the second (I use my hands for this one) is for “large” meteorites.  Large ones are definitely not all fireballs, and is definitely subjective, but I like to remember how many ones I see that make me go “cool” or “wow”.  Here is the play-by-play I posted to facebook for each 30 minutes I was watching…

  • First 30 minutes, 54 shooters, 13 were large and several fireballs. Finally cleared up after a cloudy evening.
  • Next 30. Count now at 83, with 29 being large, the last two were fireballs. This half hour has had more larger ones per capita…
  • Next 30. 122. 39.
  • Next 30. 159. 51.
  • Next 30. 189. 66.
  • Last 30 minutes. 231. 87.

Given that I live in a forest and have a limited window into the night’s sky, I think this is an amazing number, one of the best I’ve seen in the many many showers I’ve watched! I caught about 50 of these on my camera, which is definitely the most I’ve ever caught, but due to the wide angle (14mm, Rokinon f2.8 prime lens) most were really small and overall uninteresting.  I did catch some spectacular fireballs in the field of view; but missed most which is par for the course.

Perseids Meteorite

Perseids shooter, very large (fireball) showing the Milky Way and wonderful colors as it burned up in our atmosphere!

Perseids and Milky Way

Perseids over the Milky Way

Perseids

This was the morning of the peak of Perseids 2016, this large fireball left a vapor trail for many minutes.  Extremely lucky that it stopped at the bottom of my field of view!  I was surprised that I actually caught this one!

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball.

Closeup of a Perseids Fireball!

Fireball vapor trail

Vapor trail immediately after the prior fireball, this lasted several minutes and was distorted as the upper atmosphere winds moved it irregularly.

The night after the peak I was exhausted, so I missed setting the alarm reminding me to get up in the early morning hours.  I did go out about 4:30 and saw a burst of about 15 in 15 minutes, 2 of which were “large” on my subjective scale…which surprised me on the morning after the peak!  My cell phone app states that the shower’s window is July 17th through August 24th, so there are surely many more nights to experience this year!

July storms

Been out chasing and spotting storms a couple of times in June.  I also got a call from the NWS about a storm passing through Larkspur, but of course we were away from home in Englewood and I could only spot from afar…

This first storm system was June 13th.  I was all over this day, playing the southern part of the Palmer Divide and then heading to Northeast Colorado calling it off around Yuma.

Yoder wind farm and wall cloud

This storm had a huge wall cloud that was dragging the ground, but I couldn’t see any rotation. There was plenty of rotation with these windmills, though, near Yoder.

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The storm changed quite a bit near Calhan, a nice little scud cloud swirled up and then disappeared into the storm.

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The two cells collided and became tornado warned near Fort Morgan.

Brush Inflow

As the two cell collided in Morgan County, this was the initial inflow component to the storm. It had been tornado warned for about 30 minutes at this time.

Brush Colorado Tornado Warned Storm

The storm I followed off the Palmer Divide collided with another storm in Morgan County. Thus there were two inflow sections to this storm for a while, this was the second, over Brush while the storm was tornado warned.

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Severe warned storm near Akron.

Akron Inflow

Right under the inflow scud, I love this part of the storm as the clouds are low and quickly moving as they form and then get sucked up into the storm

Cloud painting near Yuma.

Great cloud textures with this storm near Yuma.

Upward Streamer Lightning

Caught some lightning near Last Chance; this one was cool as there was a tower and some upward streamers and cloud to cloud lightning. I can’t believe they didn’t connect; they did the next time!

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On June 19th a set of storms formed on the Palmer Divide.  There were two storms where I lived.  The first was a bit north and was great viewing from the back porch.  Most bolts were in the cloud, every now and then a spike would be seen and I was able to capture several of them.  The last storm that formed west of me was putting down very little lightning and didn’t show much on radar.  The lightning was good cloud-to-cloud anvil crawlers though.  I timed them, they were between 4.5 and 5 minutes apart, on average.  I was able to capture one, and it was the last one of the storm which dissipated overhead!

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A spike coming directly towards the camera.

Larkspur lightining

One of the few remaining bolts from this short-lived cell.

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Larkspur anvil crawler.

The last lightning from this storm as it sparked overhead!

As this storm died, I jumped in the car and headed back out to check out the previous storm from one of my favorite lookouts in eastern Douglas County, about 15 minutes away. The storm became severe warned for half-dollar sized hail, but in spotting it I only saw nickel sized hail.  Watched the storm until after midnight as it entered Elbert County and then headed home.

Fireflies and lightning

East Douglas County, you can’t see them, but the field was filled with fireflies!

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Eastern Larkspur Barn

A cool barn I pass just east of Larkspur. It is pretty this time of year!

Another storm came to me on June 28th.  This one had some neat lowerings that were right overhead.

Larkspur storm

Looking straight up in the front yard.

Larkspur Storm

Same formation but from the back porch.

larkspur storm clouds

Loved the colors and motion of this storm!

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This storm put down some lightning and light rain at Devils Head, but didn’t end up doing much other than looking spectacular as it flowed across the Palmer Divide.  Taken from Jackson Creek road, overlooking Castle Rock.

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Fourth of July Pictures

It has been a busy summer so far, lots of family activities and work projects have called for long hours.  On the fourth of July we headed to my folks house near Red Feather Lakes Colorado for some needed R&R; and for my daughter and mom to finish a 4-H project, her very ambitious quilt!  I took the camera and was able to catch timelapse video and some interesting pictures.  The video is forthcoming, but here are some of my favorite stills.  As always, images can be clicked for a larger perspective!

Their house had three outside lights and each day there were a variety of moths hanging out on the side of the house.  I’ve never seen thing large of a variety in one spot before.

Signoid Prominent Moth (Clostera albosigma)

Signoid Prominent Moth (Clostera albosigma)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

Big Poplar Sphinx Moth (Pachysphinx modesta)

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St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

Fly on Columbine

Fly on Columbine. Colorado’s state flower and state pest! 🙂

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

Morning Glory Plume moth (Emmelina monodactyla)

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St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

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Boogie and the Big Poplar Sphinx Moth

Boogie and the Big Poplar Sphinx Moth

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

St. Lawrence Tiger Moth (Platarctia parthenos)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

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Green Fly

Green Fly

Small-eyed Sphinx Moth (Paonias myops)

Small-eyed Sphinx Moth (Paonias myops)

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 Angulose Prominent Moth

Angulose Prominent Moth

White Furcula Moth (Furcula borealis)

White Furcula Moth (Furcula borealis)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi)

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Didn’t rain too much, but this storm put off a great rainbow!

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Tooks some photos of the quilting process.  Many will go on Daphne’s presentation and in her record book.

Daphne's first quilt on Grandma's quilting machine

Daphne’s first quilt on Grandma’s quilting machine

Mom's Pin cushion

Mom’s Pin cushion

Mom's fabric all sorted

Mom’s fabric all sorted

My son, my dad, and I took a drive up to Deadman Fire Watch Tower / lookout.

Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Rawah Wilderness

Rawah Wilderness from Dead Man fire watch tower

Crystal Lakes and Northern Colorado Front Range

Crystal Lakes and Northern Colorado Front Range from Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Deadman fire watch tower

Old Deadman wooden tower base

Old Deadman wooden tower base

Lush green floor in the forest

Lush green floor in the forest

Interesting forest panorama

Interesting forest panorama

Larimer County meadow looking at the Rawah Wilderness

Larimer County meadow looking at the Rawah Wilderness

Deadman Creek valley

Deadman Creek valley

Reflect & Refract

Reflect & Refract

North Fork Cache de Poudre River

North Fork Cache de Poudre RiverJul

Late May Storm

There have been several great stormy days here in Colorado in early May; but my schedule has prevented me from chasing on those good days.  I’ve been itching to get out; and luckily we had a good day before we left for our family vacation!

Got several lucky shots of lightning

My son and I got an opportunity to head out on May 26th.  We targeted Limon and decided we’d then go where the storms popped up as the forecast was difficult.  The storms fired along the Colorado front range early in the day; and put down some hail, but those storms were moving due north and had already formed a line; so we punched through and continued to our target.  Once in Limon, we saw some development to the south and headed that way to check them out.

The weather was strange, it was pretty chilly (about 52 degrees) and nothing was going up discreet.  We stopped at the first storm and noted a wall cloud feature on a storm, so we watched it.  It did have a little rotation; but just as it was looking good the inflow got cut off and the storm turned into a massive rainy mess.  So we left it and headed Southeast towards the front end of the cells.

Early wall cloud, temp was about 50 degrees.

Early wall cloud, temp was about 51 degrees.

A small amount of rotation.

A small amount of rotation as this wall cloud continued

We were able to see a small, short lived funnel near Wild Horse and as we were heading south towards some great looking structure near Kit Carson the storm overtook us.  There was a tornado spotted from this cell but traffic was pretty hairy and we ended up abandoning that storm and heading north.  We saw some great lightning, Hunter actually saw a positive bolt from the top of a tower which is great; I’ve never seen one of those.  By the time we got north of I-70, the front edge of the storms were all out by the Kansas border, and we decided to not pursue those into Kansas and instead just watch the remaining daytime lightning south of Yuma and then head home.

A funnel was forming; I rushed back to the car to ensure Hunter could see it; but by then it had dissipated. It went about 1/2 way to the ground, but was just a small finger.

Here a funnel was forming, but I didn’t get a shot of it as it was 1/2 way to the ground as I was rushing back to the car to ensure Hunter saw it!  It lasted for just a minute or two; but the coulds were all active in this area.

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Interesting structure as the storm overtook us

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Aroya historic school house!

The Aroya historic school house was in use until the early 1960s.

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The greens are beautiful this time of year!

South of Yuma we caught up to the last lightning of the evening.  We parked next to a grain bin and under these power lines; ended up getting some great day lightning photos; I was holding the camera by hand and was surprised this technique actually worked as it wasn’t dark yet!

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eta-Aquarids

This year’s eta-Aquarids meteorite shower was one I’ve been waiting for as it was close to a new moon; with the moon rise just before dawn.  This should be ideal conditions for watching a meteorite shower.

eta-Aquarids are produced from the debris left from Haley’s Comet.  These are very fast shooters and have been said to be large and leave long trails; sometimes lasting for minutes.  I’ve only seen a couple of meteorites that have left trails for longer than a couple seconds, so I’ve been looking forward to this particular shower.

eta-Aquarids Crescent Moon

Crescent moon on the eve of the eta-Aquarids rising above Larkspur Butte

The peak is Cinco de Mayo, so I went out and viewed them the morning of and the night after this date.  The shower has a large window of time so hitting the peak on this day is sometimes off.  It was somewhat hazy the morning of but I was able to see a few small shooters.  Obviously it wasn’t the peak; or if so I was unlucky.  I did do a timelapse and caught one on film.

eta-Aquarids meteorite

eta-Aquarids meteorite with some color from light pollution and haze

I’m trying out a new lens, a Rokinon 14mm fixed f/2.8 lens which is often praised for astrophotography work. It is manual focus but so far I’m not having a focus problem like I have had with other lens. I took these at ISO 1600 for 15 seconds and am so far excited about the results. So far (it’s in the middle of the second night), there is a thin cloud cover at about 30k; you can sometime see through (barely) the clouds but the sky is mostly covered; making viewing difficult. I have seen several shooters but they have been relatively small and faint with the clouds; probably faint without the cloud cover too.

Aquarids Milky Way over Larkspur

Milky Way over Larkspur with Aquarids Satellite

On the morning of May 6th, there was substantial cloud cover.  I went out about 11:30 and I could see the clouds coming from the South.  They overtook the stars about 12:30; I looked again about 3:30 and it was still cloudy; but at 7:30 it was clear.  These pictures illustrate that even living in a rural area the light from neighboring towns 15 minutes away is quite substantial.  The could cover was relatively light, however, and for a while you could see the stars through the clouds; through open exposure on the camera anyway.

Light pollution

Light pollution from Castle Rock reflecting off the clouds really stands out when there is cloud cover

Light Pollution - Aquarids

Light pollution reflecting off the clouds from Monument

April 26 2016 Thunderstorm

Limon wind farm

Thunderstorm over the Limon Colorado wind farm.

With a strong low pressure system active over the region, there were forecast isolated thunderstorms in NE Colorado; with a Moderate Risk posted through Central Kansas and Oklahoma.  If there were any storms coming off of the Palmer Divide I decide I would chase them; but the system didn’t appear active enough in Colorado to chase too far from home.

Leaving work in East Aurora I noted there was a storm forming on the Palmer Divide, around Kiowa.  Looking at the velocity couplet of the Doppler radar I decided this storm was worth checking out.  I decided to take the long way home from work and head east.

A call home provided me with the information that along the Rampart Range it was snowing, and the temperature leaving work was 47 degrees; not optimal for thunderstorms; but the storm forming outside of Kiowa had rotation and many lightning strikes.  Odd things happen in the spring in Colorado!

I decided to get in front of the storm in the hopes of getting a time-lapse of it coming at me; there were low level clouds to the west of the storm so that seemed like the only view available.  So I went to Last Chance and then south into the Limon wind farm.  I was able to get in good position and directly in front of the storm.  It was 50 degrees and mostly cloudy in front of the storm, but the storm was still producing a good amount of lightning as it approached; and obviously hail as seen with the white curtains.  As the storm went overhead, it started to hail about marble size and covered the ground with about an inch deep.  As the storm passed over, with the change of temperature, the hail and rain turned to snow.  This was the first time I have been able to see lightning while it was snowing; I’ve heard snow thunder before, but not seen lightning.  The air temperature after the storm was 36 degrees.

On the drive home there was some great cloud structure and some fog from the weather that produced all the snow along the mountains; which provided some surreal views.  As I got home there was 3 inches of snow that had fallen.  Again, crazy early spring storms on the high plains!

Snow virga

Virga clouds SE of Kiowa, likely snow

Castle Rock sunset

West side of Castle Rock at sunset, almost looks like sunset at the beach!

Pikes Peak

Raspberry Butte in the foregrounds Pikes Peak peeking out of the clouds

April 25 2016 First Thunderstorm of the Spring

We’ve been having an active spring with some large multi-day snow storms.  There were forecasted storms for the afternoon into the evening and the early evening was dry, yet cold.  It didn’t seem like thunderstorm weather.  But about 7:30pm, a storm formed near the Air Force Academy moving northeast.

As the storm entered castle rock it started to produce lightning and hail.  A true thunderstorm!  I tried to hang out on the periphery of the storm to get out of the rain and have more to see; but the shape and direction of the storm didn’t have a dry option.

Castle Rock hail

Nickel sized hail on the SW side of town

In the hopes to get out of the rain/hail I jetted north with the target of the Castle Pines area, I have a couple of nice vantage points in that area that were hopefully west of the storm and providing some cool views of the lightning.  As I was driving through Castle Rock the hail got quite big, I’d estimate quarter size, but it was rather soft and mushy.  The National Weather Service issues a Severe Thunderstorm warning for the area due to this; I wanted to size the hail and provide a report; but I was not in a good position to stop.

After the storm passed over I was able to get some lightning shots; but due to it still raining I couldn’t use a tripod, but the lighting was too close for me to get out of the car.  I watched the storm as it moved over Aurora and then another cell formed to the south and east, heading east of Parker.  Lots of great in-cloud lightning illuminated the storm and sheets of rain.  Although not a supercell or a huge storm, it was fun to watch the first thunderstorm of the year here on the western Palmer Divide!

Castle Pines Lightning

Cool lightning both over Castle Pines

Tangled Lightning

Cloud to cloud lightning protruding out of the back end of the storm, likely looking directly into a bolt appearing as tangled electricity.

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Parker Lightning

Lightning over south Parker

Parker Lightning

Lightning over Parker

Autumn Larkspur Lightning

As a large trough comes digging into Colorado bringing much cooler fall weather, we were treated with some autumn thunderstorms and lightning.  I was able to capture some of these bolts during the heavy rain inside my car.  All were taken with the camera hand-held, so focus on a couple is a bit blurry; but overall pretty good given the proximity, the amount of rain, and the varied distances.

These first few were directly overhead so I was only able to capture parts; not the whole bolt.

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tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4490As the storm slowly moved north, I was able to readjust the vehicle and focus; a couple were a little closer than I was expecting so the focus was a bit out, but overall not too bad especially for hand-holding the camera.  Focus is difficult with lightning every time!tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4492 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4513 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4527 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4535

Early October Lightning

It was great to see some early October lightning, although it has been bone dry for the last two months.  A small cell was putting down some lightning southwest of here (west of the Air Force Academy) but I was home with the kids while Erin was out.  That storm died by the time it cleared the Rampart Range, but another storm formed directly east of us that started to look good, so I grabbed the camera and drove out to a place I could watch the show.

There was only a bolt every 3-5 minutes, probably a total of 10 bolts total which I missed about half of getting to my vantage point, but they were all on my side of the storm and had very intense stepped leaders.  All were cloud to ground making some nice photo opportunities. As soon as the storm formed, it dissipated, so you had to be in the right place at the right time for this one!

All pictures taken from Bear Dance Road and Tomah Road between Larkspur and Castle Rock looking North.  Click for larger images.

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