January 18, 2015 Comet Lovejoy

January 18th, 2015 by William Reid

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Another Comet Lovejoy is gracing our night skies —- that Lovejoy comet discovery guy sure knows how to find ‘em!  Comet Lovejoy, the January 2015 version, has been high in the sky after sunset in the Northern Hemisphere during the evening hours.  At a magnitude of about +5 to +4 for the past few weeks, it is a naked-eye object for viewers far from city lights.  Here in Southern California, the warm, dry weather and mostly clear skies for the past six days and nights have been great for comet observing.

On Tuesday, January 13, I was visiting mom in Palm Desert.  That evening, I drove about 30 miles farther to the east on Interstate 10 to be beneath darker skies to photograph Lovejoy (the comet, not the guy).  I managed to get a few good shots with my Canon camera and 200mm lens, and I was happy!  The comet’s tail was not visible to my eyes, but the camera exposures of 5 to 30 seconds brought out the tail nicely.  With images at 200mm and for that length of time, though, the stars and the comet look streaky or like short lines, due to the earth’s rotation.  I wanted nice comet images with nice sharp stars!  Luckily for me, I purchased a Celestron telescope about 30 years ago, and its equatorial mount and motor can track the stars for me and my camera.

Fast-forward three nights, to January 16.  I had a work shift until 9 p.m., and then Charlie Bustamante and I headed for the dark skies in the mountains of northwestern Ventura County.  We stopped along Highway 33 perhaps five miles east of the Pine Mountain Inn at around 4000 feet elevation.  The skies were nice and dark here, though there was still a prominent urban glow to the east and southeast.  The winter Milky Way was visible, and I found the comet below the Pleiades quickly with the binoculars.  Again, it was pretty easy to see with the naked eye if you knew where to look.  I set up the telescope, plugged in the clock drive to the Xterra’s DC outlet, mounted the camera and 70-200mm lens onto the Celestron, and fine-tuned the focus.  The tracking was miraculously good and 200mm shots came out surprisingly well for the quick-and-dirty setup!  Here are some samples:

 

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With the camera tracking the stars so well, I pointed it at the Pleiades and the Great Nebula in Orion and took one-minute exposures.

 

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In my 200mm shot of the Great Nebula of Orion (Orion’s sword region), I managed to also image the Horsehead Nebula, at the top of the frame.  I cropped the Horsehead Nebula area in the second image above.

Before heading back home, around midnight, I took one last image towards the west with the wide-angle lens.  You can see the little green comet right below the Pleiades.

 

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I include my comet images from Tuesday here so you don’t have to…

 

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and a few more from Tuesday, including the Andromeda Galaxy; the northern sky beyond Interstate 10, and Venus and Mercury shortly after sunset from Palm Desert…

 

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Posted in 2015, Astronomy | No Comments »

2014 Storm Chase Season Summary

December 28th, 2014 by William Reid

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My daily chase summaries for the year 2014 have been completed, and now it is time for a little summary of the chase season.  This page is kind of a one-stop shopping place to peruse some of my better images and storm intercepts for 2014, and to easily surf to the dates and chases which might interest you.

Keep in mind that my chase season on the Plains is just for May and June, so any events that occur outside of those months are not relevant to this summary!  The year 2014 was fairly slow and rather poor for storm chasers on the Great Plains.   Fortunately, a few days salvaged the season with good-sized, long-lived tornadoes.  For me, these were May 7 in northeastern Colorado, June 16 in northeastern Nebraska, and June 18 in eastern South Dakota.  I missed a couple of  decent storm and tornado days on the tour turn-around periods, as usual, but such are the pitfalls and trade-offs of being a storm-chase tour director.  And, as usual, there were a couple of days on which I chased and on which there was a pretty darn-good storm or tornado which I missed.  But, in general, I thought that my decision-making and forecasting in 2014 were pretty good.  There are no days which leave a really sour taste in my mouth!

As has been the case for the majority of chase seasons for the past ten years, the Southern Plains chase season was relatively slow.  The Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, west Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas did not have many good tornado chase days.  Chasers with chase vacations in May had to endure a couple of long down periods due to cold fronts which swept the low-level moisture out.  I found myself most often on the High Plains during May and June, especially in and around the Nebraska Panhandle.  About a dozen of my chase days were in or very close to the Nebraska Panhandle.  There were a few nice supercell days in eastern Colorado and west Texas.  There were several chase days in eastern New Mexico and eastern Wyoming.  I missed a big chase day in southeastern Nebraska on May 11th, but the storm of the day was HP and not particularly photogenic.  I missed a day with great supercell structure near Roswell, NM (June 7).

Most noteworthy might be the states in which I did NOT chase during all of May and June!  I did not set foot in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, or Louisiana.  I was in Iowa and Minnesota for only one chase.  And, I only saw two storms while in Oklahoma — both junky storms near in the Panhandle along the border of Colorado and Kansas.  I saw a distant landspout-type tornado near Smith Center, KS, on June 14.  But, this season, Kansas was generally just another big state to drive through in order to get to a better target area.

If it sounds like chase season 2014 was rather lame, then I would not disagree!  If you like tornadoes, then check out my entries for May 7, June 16 and June 18. (When it rains, it pours —- our tour group observed more than one tornado in progress at the same time with the same storm on each of those days!)  We saw EF4 tornadoes in Nebraska and South Dakota, including the killer tornado at Pilger, NE.  On May 21 it looked like we might have a major tornado in an urban area —- Aurora, Colorado.  But, the strongly rotating wall cloud above the city produced little more than brief funnel clouds and perhaps a brief and weak tornado.  That certainly was good news for the locals!

There were not a lot of really good lightning photography opportunities.  The exceptions were May 20 near Burlington, CO, and June 21 near Ogallala, NE.  There were a few really nice surprise days where we may have been the only chasers on a great storm.   Two of these days were during Tour 2 in western Nebraska and southeastern Wyoming (May 2 and May 6).  Another one of these was on May 22, north of Amarillo, as we were just south of a threatening storm base with plenty of dusty inflow.

Thanks to Martin Lisius at Tempest Tours headquarters in Arlington, Texas, for allowing me to work my dream job every spring!  A big thanks to my great friends who help me run the tours successfully.  And, thanks to all of my new and old friends who sign up to sit in the white vans and allow me to share my storm chasing and photography passion with them.

 

May 1  Monument Rocks, Kansas

This down day was spent in western Kansas.

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May 2  Nebraska Panhandle Hailer

A high-based storm near Dalton, NE, was quite photogenic.

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May 3 to 5, waiting for moisture on the High Plains

Little weather to chase as we roam the empty parts of the Central High Plains…

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May 6, Spaceship updraft in Wyoming!

A beautiful LP supercell was a visual treat east of Cheyenne, Wy.

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May 7  Tornadoes in Washington County, Colorado

Good tornado days were few in May and June, but this was one of them, in my favorite chase county!

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 May 10  Supercells in Southeastern Kansas

A number of storms rotated hard a few counties east of Wichita, Kansas, on this day.

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May 11 to May 17  Quiet Time on the Plains

Cold air invaded the Plains and we had to wait a week for good air to return.

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May 18  Nebraska Panhandle Storms

We had a distant look at a very nice LP in Wyoming, and then played catch-up with a supercell near Alliance, Nebraska.

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May 19  Southern Nebraska Panhandle Supercell

After some waffling on a batch of perky cumulus near North Platte, we made it back west to a pretty updraft near Sunol.

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May 20  Eastern Colorado Supercell

This storm was gorgeous from the east side, the south side, and the west side!

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May 21  Aurora, Colorado Tornadic Supercell

We had a large and menacing and rotating wall cloud coming at us in Aurora!

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May 22  Texas Panhandle Dusty Funnel

A storm near Etter and Cactus got really serious for about ten minutes.

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May 24 Carlsbad, New Mexico HP Supercell

A healthy storm developed near sunset upon our arrival after a really long drive from OKC.

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May 25  Eddy and Lea counties Supercell, New Mexico

Another pretty supercell spun hard for us east of Carlsbad.

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May 26  West Texas Supercells

A couple of big Texas beasts kept us busy from about Seminole to Big Spring to Garden City.

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May 27  San Saba, Texas, Supercell

A chase in the hills between San Angelo and Austin yielded another Texas supercell

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May 29 and 30  High Plains storms

Fun chases in remote countrysides

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June 1  Meade County, Kansas, Supercell

An impressive storm in southwestern Kansas sported a wall cloud for a little while.

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 June 3 and 4  Western Nebraska storms

Western Nebraska was a frequent target area for the tour group in 2014.

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June 5  Haswell, Colorado, Supercell

A big, lone, dust-gulping supercell had its way with the empty Plains of southeastern Colorado.

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June 6  Stormy Sunset Skies north of Guymon, Oklahoma

We were close to getting to the Trinidad tornado…and close to something near Lamar…but no cigar.

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 June 7  Matador, Texas, Supercell

A nice, big and isolated updraft trekked from about Floydada to Matador and Dumont.

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June 8  Sunset Squall Through Endee and Glenrio, New Mexico

Fantastic light and color accompanied this non-severe storm along the TX/NM border.

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June 10  Devils Tower, Wyoming, Supercell

A decent storm approached Devils Tower but weakened when we neared.

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June 13  Chadron, Nebraska, Supercell

A nicely-sculpted updraft in the Panhandle looked great late in the day.

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June 14  Smith County, Kansas, Supercell 

A distant landspout, a nearby supercell, extremely strong outflow and tornado sirens blaring, all crammed into one active chase day in northwestern Kansas!

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June 15  Schoolhouse Love

Too late for class but not too late for pictures, near Amherst, Nebraska, on a reposition day.

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June 16  Stanton and Pilger, Nebraska, Tornadoes

The atmosphere was quite content to make tornadoes in northeastern Nebraska on this chase day.

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June 17  Butte County, SD Supercell

A massive supercell in extreme western South Dakota was reluctant to budge eastward towards a road!

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June 18  Woonsocket, South Dakota, Tornadoes

Multiple tornadoes were spawned by a few strongly rotating updrafts in eastern South Dakota.

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June 21  Big CGs and Big Mac

Very photogenic lightning and sunset colors graced our CCDs north of Ogallala, Nebraska.

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June 22  Goodland, Kansas, area storms

Guess what?  There were storms in Kansas today!

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June 23  Anton, Colorado, area storms

Anton survived these marginally strong storm cells.

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June 24  Left-movers on the Colorado High Plains

Left-split updrafts seemed to dominate today and during much of this chase tour.

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June 25  WY/NE/SD Triple-point Storms

We are talking the triple-point of the states, not a surface weather-map triple point.

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June 26  Nebraska Panhandle Storms

A decent lightning show developed from Chimney Rock to Ogallala this evening.

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June 27  Atwood, Kansas, storm

An updraft looked supercellular briefly, and then congealed with other cells.

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June 28  Utah Milky Way

What was that “cloudy-looking stuff” above me along I-70?!

 

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Posted in 2014, Chase Season Summary | No Comments »

August 27, 2014 Malibu coast and night sky

August 27th, 2014 by William Reid

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I took more than 500 images along the coast on my Wednesday outing.  And, no, I don’t do those silly automatic “clickclickclcickclickclickclick-in-four-tenths-of-a-second” shots and count all of those.  These are normal, one-at-a-time shots.  So, instead of stuffing a zillion awesome images into one post, I am breaking the August 27 bonanza of images into two posts.  The other SB post for this day is the “surfer” edition, and this one is more of the “artsy” late-day edition — the sunset at El Matador Beach.  You might be wondering where the sun is in these sunset shots.  Well, it is behind the Santa Monica Mountains.  In summer at Malibu, the sun does not set over the Pacific Ocean.  Don’t come to Malibu in the summer to watch the sun set over the water unless you want to be bitterly disappointed.

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As a bonus and at no extra expense to you, I am sharing an additional six pictures!  I stopped on a high road turnout above the coastline as darkness descended.  The Milky Way was quite nice to the south, and Point Dume and Palos Verdes were photogenic to the southeast.

 

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Posted in 2014, Astronomy, Beach, Nighttime photography | No Comments »

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