A Fun Gig at the Boatwerks

One of the things I enjoy most is playing jazz with friends whose musicianship I respect and whose company I enjoy. Interpersonal dynamics make such a difference. The format does too. My preferred habitat is the small combo, which offers a maximum amount of spontaneity and creative interplay, and allows me to stretch out as a sax soloist. All of what I've just described was the setting today out on the patio at the Boatwerks in Holland, Michigan. The musicians were Paul Sherwood on drums, Wright McCargar on keyboards, and Dave DeVos on bass--guys I've played with quite a bit over the past few years and whose abilities I trust. This gig was my introduction to the Boatwerks, and it was a delightful one. The Boatwerks is situated on the south side of the channel that connects Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan, across from Holland State Park. It is a lovely setting and today's audience was an appreciative one. The only improvement I could have asked for would have been to dial down the temperature and dewpoints by about 10 degrees. Unfortunately the weather doesn't take requests, and me being a sweaty kinda guy, my face quickly began perspiring like a sprinkler system. Kiss any images of being a cool jazz musicianly type good-bye! That was just a minor detraction, though. This was the kind of gig I love to do: three hours in a beautiful location outdoors on the waterfront on a pleasant summer afternoon. I had really been looking forward  to it, and I was pleased with how my chops rose to the occasion. They've been feeling great lately. The practice I've been doing in the keys of F# and Eb seems to be paying dividends all across the board. Between Paul and me, we did a few vocal numbers as well as instrumentals. I love to sing, and while it has taken me time to muster up the confidence to do so, it turns out that I've got a pretty decent voice. It was nice to be able to sing "Days of Wine and Roses" and "My Funny Valentine" and then follow up the lyrics with a sax solo. The Boatwerks is a great place and I hope we'll get an opportunity to play there again soon.

Lightning over Lake Michigan

The storm system that has been in the models for the past week produced a fast-moving squall line that blew from Wisconsin across Lake Michigan. Kurt Hulst and I were there on the shore just north of Holland, Michigan, to catch the action. Kurt is a great lightning photographer. Look for his photos of last night's storm on his blog. As for me, I'm a neophyte when it comes to lightning. Shooting at night, the problem I encounter is focus. Unfortunately, most of my shots were too blurred to crop, and since I was shooting wide angle, cropping is essential. However, a couple shots didn't turn out too badly. The one shown here is the best of the lot. Click on it to enlarge it.

Waterspouts in the Lake Michigan Forecast

The marine forecast for Saturday remarked on the possibility of waterspouts on Lake Michigan. Kurt Hulst and I headed to the lakeshore in the hopes of seeing a few spouts, but we wound up disappointed. We initially targeted Holland, but once we arrived, it became clear that our best shot would be farther north where at least some convection was showing on the radar. So we headed up Lakeshore Drive to Grand Haven and parked in the state park. In a word, we got skunked. Decent vertical development didn't begin to show up until it was time to leave, around 4:00 p.m. Kurt needed to be home by 5:00 for a dinner date with his grandmother, so there was no question of sticking around. That was unfortunate, as some formidable-looking cloud bands were finally starting to roll in, and I'm left to wonder whether there were in fact any reports of waterspouts later in the afternoon. As for Kurt and me, we didn't see a thing, other than some very impressive surf rolling in on a stiff northwest wind. I've never seen a waterspout, and neither has Kurt. Today did nothing to change our unbroken record. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

June 8: Mini-Supercell in Northern Illinois and Severe Squall Line on the Lake Michigan Shoreline

This is really part two of the previous post. After chasing a potent, monster hailer of a supercell north of Saint Joseph, Missouri, I overnighted at a hotel outside of Des Moines, Iowa. When I stepped outside the next morning, the air was much cooler and drier, a stable atmosphere that wouldn't produce so much as a sneeze, let alone a tornado. But I knew that the SPC had outlooked the area to my east across northern Illinois, and for several days I myself had been eyeballing my home state of Michigan, where the NAM-WRF had been consistently indicating the possibility of tornadoes. With a little luck, I hoped to make it back in time to chase whatever convection might pop up along the warm front. As I approached Davenport, I observed  towering cumulus muscling up through the troposphere. However, I didn't pay them any attention--that is, until Bill Oosterbaan called to inform me that the SPC had just issued a mesoscale discussion for the area just east of me. Even as we talked, I noticed a lowering on a cumulus tower a mile or two to my northeast. When it continued to develop, I decided to investigate. Leaving I-80, I parked across from a truck stop at the Atkinson exit to watch. The next cell to my west quickly grabbed my attention. It had a nice rain-free base, and as I watched, scud began to form and ascend in an obvious updraft, coalescing into a small, ragged wall cloud. Grabbing my camera and getting out of my car, I noticed right away that the air was very different from back in Des Moines--considerably warmer and with plenty of moisture. The wall cloud fell apart before I could get a pic, but the overall structure remained interesting.
A mini-supercell approaches Atkinson, Illinois, just north of I-80.

A mini-supercell approaches Atkinson, Illinois, just north of I-80.

More brief, non-rotating wall clouds formed and dissipated one by one, so I figured I'd head north of town and observe. With surface winds veering and the overall flow unidirectional, I had no expectation of seeing tornadoes, but the mini-supercell made for some fun and interesting viewing.

Ragged, non-rotating wall cloud.

Ragged, non-rotating wall cloud.

Distant wall cloud and back side of main updraft tower.

Distant wall cloud and glimpse of updraft tower.

I was tempted to follow the storm, but decided it was a red herring. If at all possible, I wanted to make it back to Michigan in enough time to chase the setup there, and that left me no time to play around on the western Illinois backroads. So I headed back to I-80 and busted east.

The first Michigan supercell fired up earlier than I'd hoped, and I bit my lip as I followed its progress on GR3 and watched it hit Lansing. If only I had driven east last night for two more hours, or left in the morning two hours earlier... But the previous day's chase had left me exhausted. And you know, one of the downsides of being a Michigan-based storm chaser is, you just don't have very high expectations when it comes to your home state. I mean, it's Michigan. Home of convective table scraps, squall lines, and embedded supercells that don't produce squat.

As it was, I watched several more storms fire up and develop rotation along the warm front that stretched across mid-Michigan. I was making decent progress and still had hopes of catching up with some of the southernmost cells. But by the time I crossed the state line, the action all had shifted well to the east, and it became clear that I wasn't going to see any of it.

Instead, taking fellow chaser Mike Kovalchick's suggestion, I headed toward the lakeshore at Allegan Beach to intercept a short but potent squall line. I'm glad I did. The backdrop of Lake Michigan and its dunescapes lends a breathtaking drama to incoming storms. The following photos depict the progress of the arcus cloud moving in across the waters. What these images can't convey is the full, awe-inspiring sweep of cloud, big lake, and shoreline; of the solemn foreboding of some great event about to unleash itself upon a landscape cloaked in storm shadow; of the shelf cloud moving silently overhead like the furrowed eyebrow of a dark, scowling giant; and of sand spray blowing and trees thrashing in the wind as the gust front arrived.

I'll let the photos tell their story as best they can, and leave the rest to your imagination.

An arcus cloud advances toward the Lake Michigan shoreline at Allegan Beach.

An arcus cloud advances toward the Lake Michigan shoreline at Allegan Beach.

View to the north.

View to the north.

Looking south...the storm closes in.

Looking south...the storm closes in.

Looking north...closer still.

Looking north...closer still.

Almost overhead.

Almost overhead.

One last shot to the north, then it's time to make a dash for the car.

One last shot to the north, then it's time to make a dash for the car.

Lake Michigan Ice Formations

Ice Formations Along the Coastline

Ice Formations Along the Coastline

These past few days have been busy ones, but yesterday I took time to head out to Lake Michigan with my friend and fellow storm chaser Kurt Hulst to photograph the ice formations. They're spectacular. If you've never heard of them, let alone seen them, I can assure you that you're missing something. Ice forms all along the Great Lakes shores, but I have a hunch that the formations along the west coast of Lake Michigan are particularly scenic for the same reason that the sand dunes are: they're a product of the prevailing winds that blow across the lake, whipping waves and spray across vast stretches to create, layer by layer, fantastic frozen sculptures of  ice, sand, and snow. A more austere landscape you can't hope to find this side of the Arctic Circle--otherworldly, almost alien in its frigid beauty. I'm not going to write much about the ice formations here because I want to save my creative juices for my next installment on the WaterlandLiving blog this Friday. But I am going to share a few images to give you a taste of one of the upsides of winter in Michigan. And be sure to check out Kurt's site, too; he's a great photographer, and I'm sure he'll have some very cool (pun totally intended) shots of his own on display.
Lighthouse

Lighthouse

Lighthouse, Holland State Park

Lighthouse, Holland State Park

Kurt Out On the Ice

Kurt Out On the Ice

Crack in the Ice

Crack in the Ice

Lake Ice

Lake Ice