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!

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

Castle View JV Track

When asked for volunteers for this year’s Castle View JV Track season; I wanted to try out my new camera and learn how to take sports pictures so I did it; I was going to be at all the meets already.  I have never taken track pictures before and was excited for the challenge.  In summary, I found that taking pictures up close and personal is the style I like.

For archival purposes, here are the pictures that made it to the coach’s blog.  Going back and looking at them I feel I did get better technique and quality as the year progressed, so I’m happy with the experience and look forward to doing more in the future!

Northern Taurids Meteroites

This is the first time I’ve seen several Taurids due to the moon’s phase, and I was able to catch a couple. The Taurids occur as we pass through the debris path left by comet Encke. Last night I was observing mainly the Northern Taurids. The clouds weren’t too bad but a couple of times it did cloud over during the night. I didn’t see any of the big fireballs (like my partner Erin and her friend did a couple nights ago) but I may have captured one on the camera. The fireballs occur because this debris trail has many pebble sized meteors, rather than the typical grain sized dust that we see shooting stars form from. The shooters I saw were very slow moving, though, which was really cool! No tails on the ones I saw this morning.

Next up, Leonids peak next week, November 17th and 18th!!! Always one of the best showers of the year, and the moon will be just in a crescent so it should be worth staying up for! :stars:

Canon Digital EOS Rebel T2i. EF-S 10-22mm @ 10mm. F3.5. 8 seconds. 3200 ISO. I started off with 1600 but after seeing several shooters I realized I needed to absorb more light-the noise due to high ISO setting isn’t too bad.
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Photographing the Blood Red Super Moon

Man I just love the sound of that (the Blood Moon), kinda gothic and fitting around fall as Halloween approaches! During this orbit, the full eclipse was at a nice time where most folks could enjoy it; which is awesome because everyone should enjoy these celestial events, IMHO! My kids finally got to see it due to the early time. Here is the blood red super moon!

Entering eclipse

Assuming no cloud cover and available where I live, I always watch these eclipse events and usually pull the camera out and photograph them. In the recent past events I noted having trouble dialing in the setting for photographing the event, especially getting the blood red part in focus and alternatively the bright partial moon in focus. My goal this time, other than enjoying the entire event, was to dial in the settings and process so next time I can focus on some more creative elements of photography and not so much of the technical stuff.

Entering eclipse

Moon entering eclipse

Because I tend to forget stuff that I don’t use often, I figured I’d document my findings which would at least serve me for future events. As a bonus, hopefully this is helpful to others that want to photograph these type of events and maybe haven’t known how to do it. Finally, I’m hoping that someone with much more experience and skills than I could also chime in and provide some suggestions for my next attempt!

Exiting full eclipse

As the moon was starting to come out of full eclipse

A couple of quick tips I use whenever doing low-light photography:

Tripod. I most always use a tripod in low light. I configure such that I don’t have to bend over or position myself around the legs, simple ergonomics! I put the “V” on the legs spread so I’m in the middle of it (hmmm…); and extend the height so I don’t have to bend over or stand on my tip-toes. You need the tripod as you can’t hold the camera still enough to capture the low light and stay in focus.

Supermoon - long exposure

Blurry due to too long of exposure

Focus. This is still one of the harder parts for me because focusing all the way out with the camera lens is never going to give sharp focus. Focus depends on the temperature and other environmental factors. I tend to use auto-focus if I have a light source far away, and then I turn off auto-focus and fine tune from there using my eye in the viewfinder, and then taking pictures and reviewing the zoomed digital screen. Many times I don’t have a big enough bright source so it is just trial and error.

Image Stabilization. Turn that bad-boy off. There is a slight vibration when in use that will give you less focus. Image Stabilization isn’t needed for tripod work so it always gets turned off.

Remote trigger. This is a wired remote that allows me to trigger the shutter (and lock it, if doing time lapse) without touching the camera or tripod setup. I recommend these so you don’t have to touch the camera when taking the picture at all; which more often than not causes some blur in my photos. This has a really small adapter so do this in the light (cell phone flashlight apps are good for this).

Super moon total eclipse

Total blood moon eclipse

Now to the camera’s configuration. With low-light situations, especially a lunar eclipse which lacks light by definition, you want to capture as much light as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible. A problem is we’re on a moving object (yes, the earth is rotating) and so open exposure will result in blurred photos if open too long. My rule of thumb for stars (when shooting meteorites) is 8 seconds max. When shooting severe weather (clouds and such) in low light it is about 4 seconds max. For the moon in crisp focus since there is tremendous detail, I’m shooting for the smallest exposure possible. Below is a picture when the exposure is too long, notice the stars starting to trail and the moon being blurry.

I always shoot in Manual Mode. Note that this mode isn’t available only just DSLRs, my daughter’s trusty (and inexpensive) point and shoot Canon also has a manual mode and tripod mount and can take great low-light photos! There are three standard adjustments that all are interrelated that I work with (note these are my layman definitions, for more scientific and precise information, you should check out other sources):

a) Shutter speed governs how long is the shutter open and letting light in.
b) Aperture or f-stop is how big does the shutter open up, letting in more (or less) light while the shutter is open.
c) ISO is how fast the “film speed” is, which in DSLR terms how quickly the light is absorbed onto the photograph.
d) This is not configurable, but the lens speed is how much light your lens can let through quickly, or how expensive is your glass. Rule of thumb, the more expensive, the quicker!

Because I have too many hobbies I’m limited to what I can spend, so a fast (expensive) lens is not an option for me at this time, so I get a slow lens and have to work with the other configurable factors. A faster lens will let more light in by default allowing more optimal camera configurations.

Back to my goal, I need to let in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time, so I typically go with the lowest f-stop setting my lens allows and I adjust the exposure and ISO.

Because I want to let the earth move as little as possible while the shutter is open, my goal is as fast shutter speed as possible.

Because I want crisp and sharp pictures, I need to balance with the lowest ISO setting possible (higher ISO absorbs more light which is great, but also absorbs noise “pixelating” your picture). Here is a pretty noisy photo taking with a very high ISO (3200), you can see the graininess in the moon. Are those dots around the moon stars or noise? I believe stars but noise looks basically the same!

Fully Eclipsed Super Moon

Supermoon fully eclipsed, a little grainy due to higher ISO

There are really two phases to the moon eclipse, when it is partially eclipsed with the sun’s reflected light and our shadow on the surface; and when it is fully eclipsed and very dim. As the moon is entering/exiting the eclipsed state, I often want to get the blood red part in focus but also the bright reflective part in focus too.

red moon

Starting to come out of full eclipse, slower shutter speed

half eclipsed

About half way eclipsed

I was able to dial it in last night such that I could make one adjustment and capture both of my goals as it was entering/exiting the eclipsed phase. I am using a Canon EOS T2i with Canon 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 lens. My f-stop was 5.6 at 300mm and my ISO was mainly 800 or 1600. I would switch between 1/4 second for the blood red perspective and 1/1000 second (or even faster as it got less eclipsed) for the bright perspective. Simply switching the shutter speed back and forth I was able to capture both perspectives of the eclipse!

light bulb moon

Reminds me of a light bulb, faster shutter speed gathering both red and lit eclipsed moon

almost done with eclipse

Nearly done with the eclipse

What a fun night, and wonderful celestial event! Next up, October 8, 2015 the Draconids meteorite shower, and then October 21-22 is the Orionids! Can’t wait!

Best of davealex.com Lightning

I love lightning!

Image taken SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

Image taken SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

I love to look at the photos–this is a shortcut to my favorite posts so I don’t have to search.  As always, you can click on any image on this site for a much larger version.

A Selection of Photographs

I was going through some photos that needed processed and found some that I really liked, so I thought I’d share them.

Lake George Fluorite with a red heart (needs an acid bath)

Lake George Fluorite with a red heart (needs an acid bath)

Fun bicolor smokey quartz

Fun bicolor smokey quartz

Mount Evans, downhill of Deadman's Curve above

Mount Evans, downhill of Deadman’s Curve above

Deer in the yard in Larkspur

Deer in the yard in Larkspur

Smokey Quartz - Bi-color double terminated crystal

Smokey Quartz – Bi-color double terminated crystal

 

Saccocoma tenella from the upper jurassic

Saccocoma tenella from the upper Jurassic

Elk herd near LarkspurElk herd near Larkspur

Larkspur Bobcat

My only bobcat sighting in the neighborhood

Garden of the gods owls

Garden of the gods owls

 

Grand Lake flowers and bee

Grand Lake flowers and bee

Grand Lake flowers

Grand Lake flowers

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose – Looks like a horse

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Grand Lake Moose

Mount Antero Phenakite double terminated crystal with Aquamarine

Mount Antero Phenakite double terminated crystal with Aquamarine

Mount Antero Phenakite double terminated crystal

Mount Antero Phenakite double terminated crystal

Lake George Fluorite with a red heart (needs an acid bath)

Lake George Fluorite with a red heart (needs an acid bath)

Colorado Amethyst

Colorado Amethyst

 

Colorado Lightning Composites

Lightning taken SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

2 Lightning stills merged: SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

These are some of the timelapse photos I took of lightning on Singing Hills Drive southeast of Parker on July 13, 2011.  I have stacked two images in each of these composites in Photoshop to show multiple CG bolts and stepped leaders per photograph.  The lightning was very intense and close and luckily I was in a clear slot in the clouds avoiding rain and getting a good 25 minutes of solid lightning; one about every 30 seconds or so.

Two Lightning stills merged SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

Two Lightning stills merged SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

In Photoshop, I loaded the RAW images and then chose >Scripts >Loads Files into Stack.  From here I was able to choose the “Add Open Files” option and also checked the “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images” option checkbox.  From the image that it created, all I needed to do is change the layering option to “Lighten” for each of the images.  I started with 4 or 5 images and chose the best two that fit together in each of these shots.

Two Lightning stills merged SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

Two Lightning stills merged SE of Parker Colorado, July 13, 2011

Would love to hear some of your Photoshop or photography techniques!  Leave comments if you can share anything cool that you do!  I appreciate it!

This next picture was across the street on September 2, 2012.  These were hitting everywhere around me so I had to put the tripod on the porch, put it on auto-pilot, and head inside.  I was able to get three in a row that made this amazing stacked series.  Looks like an outline of a woman–mother nature–Gaia to me.

September 2, 2012 Larkspur Colorado - 3 Lightning stills stacked

September 2, 2012 Larkspur Colorado – 3 Lightning stills stacked

Enjoy!

July 13, 2011 Parker Lightning Show

UPDATE: July 2012. I did some updates to WordPress and some older posts using an obsolete gallery program seems to not be working; so I am reposting these pictures, which are some of my favorites, a bit larger in resolution this time.  Seems appropriate day to repost nature’s fireworks since most 4th of July fireworks displays near here have been cancelled…

We were in a Severe Thunderstorm watch this afternoon but as I was chasing all the storms were dead before they got 30 miles east of the foothills, but there was heavy rain, slow moving storms and I knew after dark it would be a great lightning show. I triangulated a great place between a couple of storms and then drove to find a good overlook to the northern storm which was pumping out some great lightning. I had to finally leave once the bolts were a little too close for comfort, but I had a great 30-45 minute session without rain!

The bolts were pretty close so I was shooting on a tripod while safely in the car. The intensity of the bolts were incredible, so it took a little time to a) get the focus set and b) get the aperture setting adjusted–typically I just hit the lowest f-stop; these were all around f5, ISO 400, 42mm. I let it run at 10 second exposures and about every couple of minutes got a bolt!

The bolts were consistently across the valley (I should do a stack in Photoshop…hmmm) but once the storm on my west crept up I started getting rain and the bolts were coming my way so I decided to call it a night.

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Chase: June 7, 2012. Palmer Divide – Calhan Tornado

After yesterday’s strange and incredible lightning and hail storms today was shaping up to be another severe day.  The NWS ended up putting a Tornado Watch box over the NE corner of the state at 11:00 am; it was muggy due to the moisture from yesterday and more coming that was trapped in the Front Range area due to fronts, and an upper air disturbance was passing over giving some extra lift.  Shear and helicity all looked good for supercells and potential tornadoes.

I left about 2:00 and headed east on Hwy86 as my target was Kiowa, or more like Agate/Byers area.  I wanted to sit on the north side of the divide and chase whatever fired from there.  As soon as I was past Kiowa a promising cell started to form right around Byers.  On my way there two other cells started to form to the SW–although these didn’t show up on radar they were looking really nice; but I went for the maturing cell and stopped on Hwy 36 about 10 miles east of Byers.

NOTE:  Click on any picture for an enlarged and higher resolution version (they look better larger). 

Supercell of the day as I was approaching from Kiowa.

As I was watching the storm east of Byers, this hit me.

The cell was back building and went tornado warned near Byers.  I was expecting the cell to take off and I was in good position for that; but it ended up moving south.  I then jetted toward Deer Trail and eventually to Agate and south towards Hwy 86.  I figured I could get to Simla or even Ramah if the storm continued due South where the road network gets better.

Between Deer Trail and Agate the large flat rain free base produced rotation and a funnel cloud.  It also produced some amazing texture in the anvil/downdraft of the storm!

Great texture in the coulds with another cell to the south!

Funnel cloud formed SW of Agate

On my way south past Agate, the front end of the storm looked very suspicious and as I was driving it looked like a tornado could be occuring.  There was a tornado reported but I didn’t know this until afterwards; but I did take this shot of the scud.

Inflow/Outflow SW of Agate; I believe I saw a tornado around this time.

I traveled south to Hwy 86 (near where I started) and then west to the road to Simla.  I wanted to get to the road to Ramah, but there was no way without entering the core.  I traveled south until Simla and got some amazing, and I mean amazing, structure shots.  At this time there was a tornado down but I did not see anything from my vantage point.

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This was a monster…and the structure was incredible!

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Backhalf of this supercell; it was huge!

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Looking Southeast…

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This supercell was tornado warned at this time.

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Incredible structure. Could that have been the tornado the sirens were blaring for?

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Storm structure remains incredible as the storm heads towards Calhan.

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Repositioned to stay ahead of the supercell!

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Awesome structure, still!

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Tail cloud plus incredible vault! Love the blue veins!

I then headed SW of Simla and chased until near dark.  I saw a funnel which ended up being a the Calhan Tornado.  I was able to chase about a mile east of the core for a while until I decided I needed to book it south to beat the core going west on 94 into Colorado Springs.  I ended up a little slow (due to the fast developing cell on the west side of this beast) and got into some golf ball sized hail.  The cell that formed over NE Colorado Springs also put down some half dollar sized hail.

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Calhan tornado behind the rain!

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Calhan tornado June 7 2012

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Just after the tornado – I got back in front of the storm

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Great structure in this supercell all day!

 

Overall, great day.  Saw two tornadoes, a ghostly mothership, and had a fantastic chase!