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

My Brutally Honest Position on Climate

I want to make a brief and categorical statement on climate in response to bullshit rumors about me that trickle back.

I have no substantive dispute with peer-reviewed research on the thermal trends observed so far. As such: In no way, shape or form am I a “climate denier”.  The overall global climate has warmed in recent decades and probably will continue to do so in the next several decades. Period.  There you go.  Rumors debunked. 

That said, I quite deliberately take no specific positions on future scenarios (due to uncertainties inherent to atmospheric numerical modeling), nor advocacies as to what specific to do about it, if anything.  I stand mostly in the sidelines of that screaming match, on purpose.  Yes, I sometimes read papers and articles by an array of scientists, out of scientific curiosity, and laugh or snooze at some of the absurdities thrown out from time to time by both non-scientist pundits, and a small cadre of scientists who engage in sociopolitical extremism and conflicts of interest related to their own research.

Otherwise I’m not wasting time with it anymore here, after this post.  I have better things to do, namely live my life the best I know, and forecast and research what I deal with: localized weather (specifically tornadoes and other severe storms).  As such, I say little about climate on social media because I have little meaningful to say.

I only will speak to one generality, as a sociopolitical conservative and libertarian:  Overall, for all the societal troubles we do have morally and ethically (more later), poverty is lower, crime is lower, and base mean income levels higher worldwide than ever. Why is this?

Look no further than free-market solutions, science and technology (and the medical and logistical advancements that have arisen therewith). Without burdensome governmental regulation, the free market, scientific ingenuity and technological advances, as with every other major societal challenge, will allow us to adapt to whatever happens with the climate. This is an optimistic view based on the benefits already reaped from technology.  Any failure to adapt will be related to the extent that tech is handcuffed by regulation in its ability to respond to whatever climate may do. [We are, after all, a tropical species.]

In an earthly, material way, I am confident free-market technology and innovation will “save us” to the extent we need saving.  Outside earthly material concerns, the ethical, spiritual and moral decline (including the cancer of socialism and the mass abdication of Judeo-Christian Biblical morals) is far more likely to be our downfall as a civilization!  Not the climate, to which humanity can adapt quite well if we let focused sci-tech (especially but not exclusively private sector) on it, and not just fling taxpayer money about willy-nilly.  Throwing money at problems doesn’t solve them.  Nor does forcible wealth redistribution at governmental gunpoint.  Instead, focused ingenuity and innovation do.

As for energy, I favor a gradated, economically neutral to gainful, “all of the above” approach toward less-polluting sources. Those who are advocating total cessation of fossil-fuel use are welcomed to do so:  put their money where their mouth is and stop using them right now, today, otherwise it’s pure sanctimony and hypocrisy. I give those who advocate an end to fossil fuels, yet still use gasoline or jet fuel in any form for their own personal transport, no credibility in the argument whatsoever.

And that is my position, as someone who is absolutely, positively, unquestionably, and indisputably not a “climate denier”. Warming is underway.  Let tech have at it.  Otherwise…

I simply have more important things to concern myself with in life, and don’t see good reason to prioritize nor get radical about it, aside from my trust in science and technology to offer economically viable adaptive strategies.  Most of the arguments I see flying back and forth on this issue, from all sides, are banal, repetitive, unoriginal, and uninteresting.  Let’s get real:  this issue bores me.  After this post and a previous (more detailed) offering of advice to all concerned, I’m done with it.

See, I am a fiercely independent thinker and follow nobody’s herd mentality.  If you don’t like my brutally honest ambivalence about how to specifically respond to climate, as I often say: your problem, not mine. Deal with it.

One final quip:  isn’t it curious that the only home in my neighborhood with either solar PV panels and solar water belongs to a socially conservative, fiscally conservative, governmentally libertarian Christian couple:  my wife and I.  Looks like I put my money where others’ mouths are, even if they don’t.  Damnedest thing, huh?  Go stick the “denier” garbage where the sun don’t shine.

Some Favorite Quotes

Several years ago, when I signed on to Facebook—a relationship that is tenuous, given their proclivities toward anti-liberty positions and actions—I posted a list of favorite quotes that have stood the test of time and life-change in me.  These quotes, while far from all-inclusive (I have many others too), encapsulate my worldview quite well.  Given the potential ephemerality of both Facebook and my presence therein, and their obvious recent burying of users’ favorite quotes from ready viewing, I reproduce them here, for posterity. 

[As I have noted here before, I do not accept “friend” requests from people I do not know, unless they come highly recommended by someone I trust.]

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Jesus Christ

“Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Legislator.” — CS Lewis

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” — Johannes Kepler

“The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” — Galileo

“There cannot be an essential conflict between being a scientist and having faith in God.” — John Lennox

“Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” — Ronald Reagan

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” — George Washington

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” — John Adams

I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.” — Florence Nightingale

“When you say there’s too much evil in this world you assume there’s good. When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there’s no moral Law Giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil.” — Ravi Zacharias

“Screw ambiguity. Perversion and corruption masquerade as ambiguity. I don’t like ambiguity. I don’t trust ambiguity.” — John Wayne

Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus. ” — Margaret Thatcher

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right. ” — Abraham Lincoln

“Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.” — Gen. George S. Patton

“Because of the neglect of history in our educational system, most people have no idea how many of the great American fortunes were created by people who were born and raised in worse poverty than the average welfare-recipient today.
— Thomas Sowell

I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress.” — Ronald Reagan

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” — Abraham Lincoln

The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” – Sun Tzu

Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft. ” — Theodore Roosevelt

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. ” — Abraham Lincoln

It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first. ” — Ronald Reagan

“Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike. ” — Theodore Roosevelt

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