The lone ranger.
This thunderstorm, captured by Mike Olbinski, had the sky all to itself south of Aguila, Ariz., earlier this week. Taking a break from the usual eye-popping photos of severe thunderstorms, beastly shelf clouds and immense tropical cyclones visible from space, this photo of a tiny storm stole my heart. It offered a glimpse into the simple beauty of weather, rather than the violent side of Mother Nature.
During mid-August, the desert southwest is in full-swing of the summer monsoon. It represents the wet season for the Four Corners, characterized by a shift in wind direction which brings warm and moist air up from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.
Usually triggered by daytime heating and enhanced by upslope flow over the mountains, these daily thunderstorms provide relief from the summer heat, soak the parched deserts with much-needed rainfall, and provide some of the most photogenic thunderstorms nature has to offer.
Storms sparked by the summer monsoon are photogenic for several reasons. The dry desert air mass inherent to the region creates high-based thunderstorms with little haze. The storm structure is crisp and sharp, and can be seen for miles. The desert landscape itself offers incredible backdrops to the storms, juxtaposing the blues and purples of the thunderstorms against the green saguaro cactuses and red clay mountains of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Summer monsoon thunderstorms are not prolific tornado producers. Instead, they are more likely to cause flash flooding and strong winds in the form of dry microbursts and haboobs than they are to produce other types of severe weather, such as hail and tornadoes.
But don’t let this little storm fool you. Although it may not be the size of a Plains supercell, a typical thunderstorm like this one releases more energy through condensation than the energy released during the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima in 1945.
Small, but mighty!
For more on Mike Oblinski’s incredible photography, check out his astonishing montage of storm (and tornado!) time-lapses from his storm chase adventures this past spring:
Weather is awesome. #cwgpicoftheweek