Northern Lights Hunt 7-9th March 2019

On Wednesday 6th March we flew out to Tromso in Norway from Gatwick on a 3 day trip to hunt down the Northern Lights. The flight was fantastic in a little over 3 Hours we landed in a very snowy Tromso. After picking up the Hire Car from Hertz it was a small drive to our hotel in the city and out to Bardot restaurant for a bite to eat. Conditions for Thursday 7th were looking very good both in Norway and Sweden where we were headed with a KP3 to KP4 expected and clear skies forecasted in both locations. Having already commited to Abisko we set off nice and early around 9am for the 280km drive South East towards Sweden via roads E6, E8 And E10. The drive was very picturesque with crystal clear blue skies and snow capped mountains and iced aqua waterfalls along the way. We stopped a few times for pictures and spotted Moose and other wildlife. Turning east near Narvik we picked up the E10 which snaked us through the Mountain pass and the border with Norway and Sweden and then onwards to Bjorkliden where we would have our base for the night. Skies were completely clear and all was looking good.

Amazing Views Along the Route

Our View from the Room near Abisko (Sweden)

We ate early around 5pm and headed out to shoot the Aurora, hoping we would nail what we came out here for on the first evening. The Aurora started slowly but soon got its act together and we had constant Northern Lights for 4 hours, with a couple of very intense bursts for around 5 minutes each time and one Corona Burst overhead. Here are some of the following pictures I took.

I have around 100 others which I will upload eventually but it really was an incredible event and these pictures do not do it justice just being there watching it is the best feeling ever.

We awoke on Friday 8th to snow in the air and forecast of deep cloud cover for the next few days in Sweden so we took the journey back 1 day early to Tromso and retraced our steps from the previous days drive. When we got to the border we could see blue skies to the north so were hopeful for another Aurora this evening but this time near Tromso. Cloud cover was encroaching north from a LP System which had crossed the North Sea a few days earlier so it was a race against time if the skies could remain clear for long enough. I picked a location for tonights shoot about 45km North West of Tromso at a little Village called Skullsfjord and when we got there skies were totally clear overhead and gin clear to the north, one thing that was not looking good was the Aurora forecast which had gone from KP2 to a KP0 and geomagnetic winds dropping below 300km/s. We waited it out for around 3 hours but nothing at all was pictured even on long exposures looking north, cant win em all I suppose and if it was this easy then everybody would be doing this.

Saturday was return flight day so we spent the day driving around the Fjords of the Tromso area and looking around Tromso itself. Some of the locations we found were stunning and will be used for future trips. I will put a few pictures up here to end the blog of Tromso and the surrounding Fjords. All in all an amazing trip that I would urge everyone to have a crack at 1 day.

Wednesday 4th July 2018 – CO (Marginal Risk)

Well……………………..Today was NOT Supposed to be a chase day but then BA went and delayed our flight for 6 hours and the good people at the Car Rentals said we could keep it until 9pm if we liked soooooo…………………..Off me and John Finney set off.

Some really nice Storms were knocking about just east of DIA and within about 20 miles to the North and East so we went to have a look. Heading North from Bennett we came across some nice accumulations of hail at the side of the road, the storm just to our North was grumbling away still and with the sunlight shining through John managed to get some Cg Lightning with his trigger.

One of the Storms a bit further east we noticed had now acheived a Severe Thunderstorm warning and the velocities were showing a tightening couplet, from our vantage point looking east at the Boiling updraughts I was pretty confident this storm had some sort of Landspout Funnel spinning away out the back of the storm, it was certainly rotating from our vantage point.

This was turning into a lovely little bonus day (Thanks Again BA)

Storms finally were really shifting to the North and East so we had to let them go, we did manage some nice setting sun shots before we gave the car back though and finally trudged through to Departures. Colorado gave us one final chase day for 2018!

Picture below of Denver Downtown in front of the Rockies with Moisture in the low levels.

With thanks to John Finney for some outstanding Photography once again during the 2018 Season.

Friday 10th August 2018 – Az (Marginal Risk)

And so the last day of our Monsoon Season was here and we were going for an unprecedented 12 chase days from 12 for Storms trying to Outdo the 2011 Season. After scrutinising the Models for hours it was becoming clear that only Spotty Storm would happen during the day so I told our crew that we would not be heading out until 530pm today and it was a day at Leisure. NAM was the most Bullish along with the UOA WRF with HRRR being very meagre with storms tonight. I went with a blend of the 3 Models and chose South Mountain as the target with the Option to get off there and move North or South if needs be. We had to be through the gate by 7pm or you miss the boat, the Rangers have relaxed the getting off the Mountain as well so if we struck it lucky like 2011 down near Mount Lemmon it could be an amazing Send Off.

We got to the Gila Valley Lookout which affords North, East and South views before Sunset and waited, 4G Signal up there is Superb being so close to the Antennas so we waited and waited and waited, we had taken some food and drink up there so we watched the sunset and started to see the first meaningful blips start to appear on radar and the first distant Cg was seen around 745pm at a range of 78 miles to the East. The Storms were sliding SSW so we needed the Outflow from these initial storms to kick things off further North and North West which they duly did.

The First Storm to Impact the Eastern Valley within 10 miles of us started to put out some really nice Bolts ahead of the rain and the first 2 were captured by Stuart Wilson Below. Highway 60 is seen heading straight East which was a good guide for Direction.

This Storm started to move more to the WSW and actually got to within 3 miles of us literally we had ringside seats and the Cg’s were still raining down. These again from guest Stuart Wilson looking ESE just South of Tempe and moving into the Maricopa Valley near Queen Creek.

And one of the Best Shots of the Night and Trip below from Stuart

All while this was going on the Storm that was to our North East had gained a Severe Warning and thi was was barreling straight at us so we only had a limited time left on the Top of a Mountain overlooking Phoenix, 2 reasons we needed to get down were dangerous Lightning and also we started to spot Power Flashes and a really Strong Haboob heading straight for us which looked like it was over the Scottsdale Direction. I managed to get some really nice shots of Lightning in front of the Haboob as well.

As you can see above the Haboob was racing towards us and not wanting to be on a steep mountain road with drop offs in zero visibility we made our way down and headed NE punching through the Storm, blinding Cg lightning crashing around the car and flooded roads greeted us back on the Desert Floor. After heading back to Mcdowell Road I headed to a favoured viewpoint looking West towards the Buildings of Downtown Phoenix and seeing as we were on the back end of the Storm the Rain was light enough for us to shoot in the dry with some amazing Anvil Crawler Cg Bolts raining down the west side of the storm which was now to our East. I am very happy with the way these came out as well below.

And Finally the last shot of the 2018 Monsoon Season was just to my North, I had noticed a few Tower Lightning shots occuring where the Lightning starts from a Radio Mast and then crawls upwards and across the Sky, whilst I never got 1 of those this one was really nice and a fitting end to our trip.

Thank you for Following and we really look forward to bringing you more Monsoon Action in 2019. This Season ranks as number 1 on my list from the 7 Times I have been chasing in Arizona.

Thursday 9th August 2018 – Az (Slight Risk)

Slight Risk, yep only the 2nd of the Summer Monsoon season here in Arizona, it is pretty much the equivalent of a Moderate in Tornado Alley so usually with such an uptick the risk will under perform. Flagstaff was the first town to be hit with sporadic Golfball Hail which is almost unheard of in Arizona. We pretty much followed out path from the previous day, chasing around the Wickenburg area and watching storms go severe from the outflow to the North, only this time these storms did not seem to want to put of any Cg Lightning with mostly Intercloud Lightning. It was really frustrating, the only lightning producers seemed to be storms that initiated really quickly off outflow and you had to be in the right place at the right time for those. We did manage some pictures today but none I would class as that good. After watching the Storm North of Phoenix drift towards us for half an hour we wondered if the lightning was on the other side of the storm so core punched it along the Carefree Highway. Wrong lol. Did get some nice structure before we core punched though with a field of Cactus in front of us.

We headed south and west towards Buckeye where another new cell had formed and was spitting out visible Cgs, today was not for the want of trying as it was getting really late now. We did manage some cg’s with this storm before it went Inter Cloud again. And some of these were very atmospheric with a dust storm in shot and boiling updraughts as well.

And Stuart managed to pull off a lovely shot shown below

After this another round of Storm kicked off in the East Valley of Phoenix pretty much over our Hotel so we ventured back for around Midnight and watched this roll through, once again loads of wind and Intercloud Lightning and quite a few power flashes but no visible Cg’s.

Last day coming up on Friday but what a Fantastic Trip it has been

Wednesday 8th August 2018 – Az (Marginal Risk)

Today would see the start of the ramp up in Monsoon Activity due to Hurricane John 600 miles off the Baja Peninsula and the High Pressure Ridge being perfectly placed allowing for 15-25kt ENE Flow bringing in much better dynamic for stronger storms. Todays Risk was areawide over most of Arizona so I opted for a change from the Tucson to Wilcox area and went North and West of Phoenix. We had lunch in Wickenburg and watched towers exploding to our North and North East. We ventured up Highway 89 through Peeples Valley to a favoured viewing spot overlooking the Prescott Valley and watched an area of strong storms advancing towards us. Stuart pulled off some really nice daytime shots seen below

The structure was pretty decent as well for Arizona with a Whales Mouth visible.

We relocated once the storm pushed an Outflow South West and settled on just West of Wickenburg towards the Town of Aguila and tucked in behind storms initiating to our South East, South and West. Some stunning colours from the setting sun firstly and then the Lightning started to really crank up.

I then managed to pull off this shot, A 1 second Exposure at F22 and ISO 100

And more Lightning below

We then had more cells going up even closer and shot some Lightning at much closer range

And the closest of the Night below

We finished quite early and had dinner back in Phoenix by 1030pm. A really enjoyable chase day and tomorrow looks even better for a Severe Risk with the SPC going for a Slight Risk.


Tuesday 7th August 2018 – Az (Marginal Risk)

Last day of starting in Benson before we returned to Phoenix for the last 3 days of the Tour, had a leisurely day awaiting Storms to mature around the Tucson area around 4pm onwards. The first strong storm was hard to get too as it was stuck on top of Mount Lemmon and most of the Lightning was around the North East side where there are limited road options.

We could also see a strong storm to our South near Corona Du Tucson so went to a favoured viewpoint which looks South and East namely A Mountain. The Storm once again was having a hard time putting out bolts but looked nice in the valley to the South. Stuart Wilson grabbed a great Daytime Cg Shot though Below with his Lightning Trigger

As this was occuring a Convergence Zone was sitting pretty much above us and the one mistake I made yesterday was to not follow this west towards 3 Points, the storm took off and some amazing Lightning Opportunities were missed with this storm. We now had a decision to make to go South East towards Vail or North towards an area of storms east of Casa Grande. Lazyness probably got the better of me as the storms closer to Phoenix were on our way home so we set off northbound. It soon became apparant that blowing dust was going to be a massive problem with these storms. This was turning out to be a frustrating chase day. But we endured and kept plugging away, carrying on North towards Phoenix where more storms were initiating along Outflow Boundaries. We still could not see the bolts though as they were buried in the dust, until we crucially got North of the Storm near Fountain Hills and had a view from the side that did not contain dust. The next set of pictures are from Fountain Hills looking South towards Apache Junction.

We finally headed back to literally 1 mile from our Hotel with a great view South towards South Mountain and the University and picked off the last bolts of the Day.

Below : Great Shot From Stuart Wilson looking South

9 Days now on the trot of active weather in this Monsoon Season and hopefully 3 more to come.

Monday 6th August 2018 – Az – (Gen T-Storm Risk)

After relocating we started today from Benson and visited Tombstone for lunch and also went on a scouting mission for more amazing viewpoints. We watched some convection forming but it was quite weak with only a few bolts of Lightning seen. We then made our way up towards Wilcox and a line of strong storms moving into Arizona from New Mexico. Around Sunset these storms started to die out but as is usual with these types of storms their outflow and dust pushed an Outflow Boundary further West so we waited and it wasnt long before storms formed around the Dragoon Mountains. I positioned us so we were literally surrounded by storms from all sides.

The western most storm had the sun setting underneath it creating an amazing sunset over the Dragoons.

We then headed further west to get into position as the Cg’s were on the Increase and stopped near St John to look back east, some really nice Lightning was pinging all around us in all directions.

Rain then hit our location so we headed further South towards Tombstone and more Lightning this time from a location we found earlier in the day.

It was hard to keep dry this evening with lots of strong outflows pushing rain every direction, we then headed back North to our Base in Benson to grab some food but I noticed more storms forming and more great lightning occuring over the Dragoons to the East again so we went back for round 3 around 1030pm.

And Finally this one that came out of the Anvil and landed a few miles from the car shot by Nicholas Lee below

All in all another truly amazing days Monsoon chasing and I really cant think of a more active year. Our last 4 days look really good still.

Sunday 5th August 2018 – Az (Gen T-Storm Risk)

Groundhog day and another risk South and East of Tucson. Got down to the Wilcox are for sunset and a line of storms to our west over Safford and St John and watched some nice structure with Mammatus in the setting sun.

As darkness fell it was time for some Cg shots before it got totally dark and we got quite a few.

My attention was now drawn to a North East to South West line further south over towards Douglass and we headed south from Benson to a favoured high point and watched about an hour of clear air Cg’s over the Mountains. All the following shots were taken by Stuart Wilson and show the frequency of the Lightning this evening.

Another productive day for the Monsoon Workshop and more to come this week. It has been a great Monsoon season so far

Saturday 4th August 2018 – Az (Gen T-Storm Risk)

Today would see the Monsoon really go down a notch due to unfavourable westerly winds and High Pressure Placement pretty much overhead. The only chances of storms would be over the Mountains south and east of Tucson and even then the storms would be very patchy and not last long. We ambled down to get South of Tucson for around 6pm and watched very shallow cumulus and looking at the radar data not a single Lightning Strike in the state of Arizona. Would we break our 5/5 days of Lightning and Storms today. I pushed us further South to Sonoita and could see some lightning activity picking up into Mexico about 50 miles to our south and also some nice developments near Tombstone. We headed west to Whetstone and a very small monsoon storm erupted about 10 miles from us just as Sunset had begun.

As we found a vantage point and with a dirty red rainbow hanging out the side of the storm it puts out a triple strike Cg before we could even get our tripods set-up – Aaaaaaaaagh

The Storm was only about 10 minutes into its lifespan so I knew it should put out a few more bolts and sure enough I managed to capture one before the storm died out as darkness fell.

After this we headed back west and shot the Milky Way for a bit before all storm action died off.

Friday 3rd August 2018 – Az (Gen T-Storm Risk)

Today would be the start of a downward trend in Thunderstorm Chances as the Monsoon goes into a Break Mode, but if you are willing to travel you can still find Storms over the Mountains. We took the scenic route east from Phoenix towards Globe and then Safford and arrived down near Benson around 7pm.  A few non severe storms were in the process of giving their last gasps of breath but one South of Benson had enough cores to sustain itself when it was just East of Whetstone. I got us to a nice viewing area with the Storm to our South East and we captured around 45 minutes of really nice Cg bolts as the storm meandered towards the Border. Another really good chase day with some great photography once again.

Pictures below from Stuart Wilson (Guest on the Tour)