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August 17, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Surges of monsoonal moisture have been making their way up here to Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming over the past few weeks. This activity hasn't generated significant widespread rainfall (unfortunately) but oh, the skies. Leading into and throughout last weekend they were magnificent, especially in the vicinity of the mountains. 

If you're wondering how the monsoon is different from other patterns, it occurs once a year, originates in the desert southwest, and moves generally from the south to the north (rather than west-to-east). Warm, moisture-laden, unstable air from the Gulf of California and Gulf of Mexico combines and is pushed northward by pressure gradients. While the bulk of monsoonal storms in the United States occur in the Four Corners region, sometimes high- and low-pressure systems are positioned in such a way that a super-highway is created which enables the energy to travel all the way up to this neck of the woods.

The storms are fueled by daytime heating and typically build during the afternoon. 

One of the signatures of monsoonal activity is towering cumulonimbus clouds. Things begin rather quietly with the formation of a few cumulus clouds. Soon more appear. They expand. Rapidly.

Up, up, up they climb, transforming into cumulonimbus giants which can reach as high as 60,000 feet.

When the monsoon hits town I grab the camera.

These impressive skies can be tough to photograph: the cloud formations build quickly - and often move quickly, too. Once they become super-sized, creating a strong composition becomes a bit of a puzzle. Get too close and you lose the sense of enormity. Go too wide and the photograph can easily become unbalanced. Try to outdrive massive cloudscapes to reposition yourself and they may have already shifted too much.

That said, I like the challenge. 

During last week's especially showy surge of monsoonal activity I spent quite a bit of time prowling around the Teton Valley looking for photographic possibilities.

I'd hoped to incorporate the Tetons into at least one composition but given the orientation and movement of the storms, better opportunities were adjacent to the mountains. The two images featuring grain elevators were both made near Ashton, Idaho. In the first photograph you can see a storm in its earlier stages of development while the second depicts enormous cumulonimbus clouds. 

One evening interesting skies were right outside my front door as the setting sun added a dash of excellent light and color to the incoming storm. It was well past the development phase and thundering steadily; rain was fast approaching. Though much of the sky was flattening, quite a few otherworldly shapes and unusual color combinations remained and created a nice little window during which I could shoot abstracts. My favorite image from that session, though, (below) transcends "monsoon" and is instead all about magical light and shadows and how they've formed a connection between these objects. 

Perhaps because Chicago's song Dialogue Parts 1 & 2 (which I hadn't heard in years) popped up - twice - on satellite radio that day while driving back from the Teton Valley, I saw in this scene a dialogue between the two clouds.

While chasing monsoonal activity in the Valley I made a reference shot (below); this illustrates how massive these things can be. It also illustrates how it can be a fool's errand to try to incorporate the whole enchilada into your composition. Depending on where you're positioned and what you've got to work with below to anchor the shot, the cumulonimbus formations can be far too large for that. 

The structures belong to a farm, and that's the northern end of the Teton Range. Though the mountains are rendered quite small it's a function of the wide angle. They're not very far away: I was just outside the town of Tetonia so only about 20 miles from Grand Teton.

Local News

Gas prices have dropped in Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming but you'll still pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.70-$4.85 per gallon for low grade and as much as $5.29 for diesel.

The Moose Fire in the central mountains near Salmon, Idaho (human caused) continues to burn and is the largest in the state at more than 78,000 acres. It is currently 34% contained. Air quality in this area has fluctuated since it began burning in mid-July. The monsoonal flow which has been moving into the region on-and-off since the first of the month has helped to knock back the haze.  


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