Memorial Day 2012: A West Michigan Lightning Extravaganza

I have yet to take some truly razor-sharp images of lightning, but each time I go out, I learn a little more about how to improve my lightning photography. Last night afforded me a great opportunity. Storms forming ahead of a cold front moved across Lake Michigan and began to increase in coverage as the night progressed, and I roamed with them across West Michigan from the shoreline at Whitehall and Muskegon State Park to inland northeast of Lake Odessa. My expedition was marred by the fact that I left the adapter plate for my tripod at home. I compensated by setting my camera on top of my dashboard and shooting through the windshield, an arrangement that works okay but which considerably limited what I was able to do at the lakeshore. Using the hood of my car to steady myself, I managed to capture a few shots of a beautiful, moody sunset, with the red semicircle of the the sun gazing sullenly through rain curtains of the advancing storms. However, parking by the side of a busy road where everybody had the same idea--to pull over and watch the storms roll in over the waters--just didn't work very well. After too many time-lapse images marred by tail lights (see photo in gallery below) I decided to hightail it and try my luck inland. It was a good choice. The storms multiplied as I headed back toward Caledonia, and with lightning detonating to my north and closing in from the west, I decided to continue eastward till I found an ideal location--a place far from city lights and with a good view in all directions. I never expected to drive as far as northeast of Lake Odessa, but I'm glad I did. Note to self: STOP USING THE ULTRA-WIDE-ANGLE SETTING WHEN SHOOTING LIGHTNING. Zooming out all the way to 18 mm is just too far, and cropping the shots doesn't work well. The crispness goes downhill. For all that, the images below aren't all that bad, and a few turned out really well. After Sunday's busted chase in Nebraska, it was nice to enjoy a few mugfulls of convective homebrew right here in West Michigan. I finally arrived home at the scandalous hour of 4:15 a.m., far later than I ever anticipated. I was tired but pleased. This Memorial Day lightning display did not disappoint.

Photos from the April 14, 2012, Kansas Tornado Outbreak

May has been an astonishingly idle month for chasing storms, at least from the standpoint of a Michigan-based chaser who can't afford to travel a thousand miles to tornado alley on every whim and wish of a slight-risk day. So tonight I finally got around to capturing a few still images from my video of the April 14, 2012, tornadoes in Kansas. Please excuse the graininess. These are, after all, video grabs, and the original footage was shot right around and after sunset. So ... not high quality, but great memories of an exciting and rewarding chase day. You can read my written account of it here.

A Stormy Evening in Stanton

Last weekend my best male friend, Dewey (aka Duane, aka The Scurvy Rascal), and I headed up to a hunting camp in the backwoods of Kalkaska, Michigan, for a weekend retreat. It was a time of refreshing for both of us: a time of reconnecting and confirming our friendship after a season, for each of us, of being hammered on by life; a time of drinking good craft beer and Scotch whiskey, and eating steaks cooked over an open fire; a time of hunting, and shooting clays, and blasting away with assorted pistols, including my favorite, a model 1911 .45; and a time of prayer, and reading the Bible, and talking about our passion for God, our beloved women, and life in general. A good, good time. I drove up to Dewey's home in Stanton Thursday evening. My laptop came with me, but I had suspended my data account with Verizon, and for some reason I was unable to access Duane's router. With storms in the forecast, naturally I wanted to know what the radar had to show. So Dewey pulled up KGRR on his laptop, and Bingo! A nice line was moving toward Stanton and looked to arrive within a half-hour. What the heck. I hopped in my car and took off, intent on finding a picturesque sweep of open landscape where I could watch the storm move in. As you can tell from the images on this page, I found one. The storm was not nearly as formidable as it looks. It provided a nice bit of wind and a brief downpour; mostly, though, it was beautiful and offered a treat for the eyes. The setting sun filtered in low behind the cloud base, shining its rose-colored light through a curtain of rain and illuminating the backsides of gray, steamy towers. But why am I talking like this? Here, see for yourself. The photos are in sequence; click on them to enlarge them, and enjoy the view.

Distant Storm: Impressions of the Michigan Summer Sky

With the humidity scoured out of the air by a cold front that had passed overnight, and with high pressure dominating the area, yesterday was hot but pleasant. Patches of fair-weather cumulus grazed overhead like sheep in a high, blue pasture, but they disappeared as the afternoon progressed. By evening, the sky was a flawless blue, except to the north and northeast, where a few isolated turrets were trying to push through the cap. Thinking they wouldn't succeed, I paid them little attention. So I was surprised when one of them muscled up into a nice little multicell thunderstorm near Mount Pleasant. I was in Portland at the time, and with the storm almost directly to my north and me having nothing better to do, I decided to get a better look. It was a weak cell with a high base and a mushy anvil, but it was also the only storm going. And there is something about a solitary cumulonimbus drifting through the broad blue heavens that captivates me. Even a garden-variety, multicell summer storm is a sublime thing when mounted in the gracious frame of azure sky and green Michigan landscape, with miles and miles of farmland and forest stretching outward from one's feet into forever. Naturally I snapped a few photos. Then I let the storm go. It was too far away, and it wasn't anything worth chasing. But it was lovely to watch, and a beautiful accent to a pleasant late-July evening.