Photographic Adventures 2018

Last year was a photographically rewarding and diverse year for me, as have been each of the previous few. I’ll share a few sample images here, with links to places where you can find many more, at higher resolution, often accompanied by captions or stories that reveal the experiences behind the imagery.

Lava flow burning wood below the Kalapana Escarpment, Kilauea Flow 61g

The photographic year really began in late December 2017 with a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii that overlapped into January 2018. [When an expedition crosses calendar years, I place it in the ending one for this purpose.] We never had visited that state, and decided to spend the entire 2+ weeks exploring the Big Island, the largest island of the U.S. by land area, but sparse in population and commonly wild in character. We stayed the first half of the trip on the dry Kona side, by the beach just south of Kailua-Kona, and the second half in a rural, rain-forest rental home near the town of Volcano, with easy access to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hilo coast.

Early-twilight moon over the Kona Coast

At the time, Kilauea volcano’s Puu Oo crater, east of the national park, was extruding lava in a flow named 61g that poured over the nearby Kalapana Excarpment in glowing rivulets. [This flow since has been extinguished in the great “toilet flush” of both high craters by the spring/summer 2018 Leilani Estates eruption!] Our second night in Kona, I had the opportunity to cross the island in the pre-dawn hours and intercept the glowing lava, on hike with my Honolulu-based meteorologist friend Owen Sheih. For me, the typically unbearable thought of rising at 2 a.m. and driving 90 miles to hike 10-15 more was made enticing and tolerable by the fortuitous juxtaposition of: 1) having come off a convenient set of night shifts back home with 2) arrival in the Hawaii Time Zone, such that the sleep rotation fit a 2 a.m. wake-up to a tee.

Glowing hot cracks in the ground appear to lead into hell itself

We and several other guests were guided safely and expertly by John Tarson and his team at EpicLava, crunching unevenly uphill over sharp and potentially dangerous rock with big cracks and exhausting, repetitive ridges and troughs of hardened lava. At the end of the hike up, dawn revealed a stark, harsh landscape of mostly bare black rock, oozing with intensely hot flows hither and yon. The strong radiational heat was a welcomed experience at the right distances amidst the wintertime, nocturnally cooled boundary layer. Hiking the few miles back down into the morning sunshine was harder than uphill, thanks to unexpected and recurring cramping in my left foot and big toe that forced frequent stops, but it all was well worth the money, time, and effort.

“Lava-ly” landscape of the Kalapana—wear sturdy boots, watch every step!

The hike was just the start. What an amazing trip this was! Our explorations took us to multiple parks, wild seashores on all sides, waterfalls, a seashore with waterfalls, wildlife, the Hawaii Botanical Garden and several national parks, including Hawaii Volcanoes. The legendary Kona sunsets did not disappoint, and were made even more stunning by layers of volcanic smog (vog) wrapping westward around the island and temporarily stagnating in the lee-side slack-flow zone.

“Voggy” sunset, Kona Coast

Kilauea’s summit crater at night was amazing, well worth a few visits, especially given that the crater since has dried of fresh lava, its walls slumped unceremoniously into a vast, unsightly bowl of gray, cracked ash-mud. Who knows how long its now-vanished lava lake will take to refill to any visually perceptible level, much less splash and glow as it did when we were there?

Summit crater of Kilauea, lofting steam into low clouds at night

The eastern wet side of the Big Island sports countless waterfalls, and a florally bounteous, mild, moist wintertime rain forest at higher altitudes that can get downright cool (40s to 50s F) at night. Part of that rain forest near sea level encompasses the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, which I highly recommend, and where I took numerous photos of assorted flower and plants that I mostly still haven’t processed yet! The Waipio Valley and its beach were a highlight of the trip, and made me glad I rented a high-clearance Jeep to rumble down and up the 15% grade to access it. Numerous beautiful waterfalls cascade to the sea off the coast northwest of Hilo, including one in the gardens and several others we visited. Some are easily accessible by parking lots; others involve hikes of varying degrees of difficulty.

“Water beams” at the base of Akaka Falls

One of our final destinations there was Mauna Kea, including its 13,803-ft summit, then capped by patches and bands of snow from a middle/upper-level trough’s passage two weeks earlier, and more lastingly capped by several astronomical observatories. Counting its underwater slope down to its foot on the deep mid-Pacific abyss, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain, and would be several thousand feet higher were it not for the island’s tremendous weight pushing down the oceanic crust below.

Snow & lower clouds from Mauna Kea summit

For bigger versions of these and more imagery and stories from the Big Island, please see keyword-tagged page lists linked here in SkyPix and here in Image of the Week. Some images and stories will overlap from each source, but browsing both will give you the fullest picture, since I don’t yet have a dedicated page to scenes from only this trip. It was so photographically productive and amazing that years may pass before I finish them all! So keep checking back to both sites for new additions.

Morning-twilight lunar eclipse over Norman, 31 Jan 18

After returning, the usual lull between winter photography and spring fishing/storm-intercept season broke one morning with an uncommon moonset-timed lunar eclipse, seen above from the rooftop observatory of the National Weather Center, and enjoyed by a few meteorologists and students who were up that early (or in my case, late).

Spectacular supercell near Erick, OK, 29 May 18

In May, I went on a few chases, including a jaw-dropping supercell in western Oklahoma (above) that evolved into a picturesque sparker in the twilight. We even saw a short-lived but pretty supercell south of Norman in August. Our tornado year was sparse, with brief, low-contrast spinups on a couple of chases, but we still filled cards with imagery from across the High Plains in June.

Sparks firing through the twilight near Sentinel, OK

The highlight was a spectacular white tornado northeast of Denver in June, after the main part of their chase vacation, while we were staying with Elke’s sister and her husband. The rest of that trip was a fun exploration of the Bighorn Basin and Mountain region, Devils Tower, and the central to northern High Plains. That sojourn featured several photogenic supercells, lightning-decorated stormy scenes, a sunset-lit “whale’s mouth” cloud, more encounters with abandoned structures, and wondrous sunsets from South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle.  We even saw a pollen storm in the Bighorns after the weather storms were done for the day. Please see my page of top-10 storm-intercept shots of the year, and for more, SkyPix searches for May and June 2018.

Tornado & mesocyclone wide angle, Prospect Valley, CO, 19 Jun 18

In late September to mid October, we took a road trip to Colorado, spending a couple of nights in the gorgeous Cuchara area before heading through South Fork and into the San Juans.  We spent nearly a week at a high-country house outside Ridgway, exploring the area (including Box Canyon Falls, rapids, great fall colors, stormy skies, and sunsets!), and also spending one rainy day just hanging out up there, relaxing.  Even though it was a cloudy and sometimes rainy day, Owl Creek Pass was a particular highlight of our trip, with its marvelous colors (the aspen road below) and mountain scenery.

Road-canyon of full-peak aspens below Owl Creek Pass

Next on the trek was a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and staying a few nights near Gunnison for fishing (including the Gunnison River and Taylor Park Lake), and of course, more fall-foliage enjoyment.  We then went back to Elke’s sister’s place, enjoying and photographing early-season snowy scenes and fall colors along the way. That was followed in short order by my trip to Stowe, VT, for the AMS Severe Local Storms Conference, where I presented a couple of papers on satellite tornadoes and tornadoes in Hurricane Harvey. The conference ate up most of the daylight; however, I did get out for just a little efficiently targeted photography during a couple breaks, including waterfalls, lingering fall colors, and other interesting outdoor scenes

Fall at Moss Glen Falls near Stowe, VT

Of course, as always, I shot photos of opportunity around Norman and at Battlestar Norman, including several wonderful sunsets. Two of my favorite spots are the NWC roof, especially for the deep-zoom technique I’ve enjoyed employing, to carve out postage-stamp views just above the horizon (bottom), and a pond with the “Sunrise Tree” near my house (below).

One of a growing collection of wonderful cool-season “Sunrise Tree” scenes

The lightning photography opportunities were rather curiously scant in 2018, both around home and on chase trips, but also like tornadoes, that tends to be streaky and driven as much by luck as skill. Regardless, it was a very good photographic year, one that forced me to grow as a shooter through adaptation of skills and techniques to new places and situations. I hope for more of the same in 2019 in both the familiar (storms) and new (who knows?) arenas. Thanks for appreciating our marvelous lands, waters and skies, and for following along.

“Friday Night Light” deep zoom from NWC roof, 19 Oct 18


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