Each year, in conjunction with our sister website, www.southwestphotographytours.com, we spend 2 weeks in Arizona conducting our popular Desert Thunder Tours. We keep these as small one van tours, with 6 guests. The Arizona monsoon season peaks in July and August, with southern Arizona receiving the brunt of the thunderstorm activity. We had a very successful monsoon season in 2017, with storms on 75% of the days! We travel anywhere we believe the most intense, and pretty, storms will occur. We spent time in southeast, southern and central Arizona, and even in southwest New Mexico. We photographed storms over Saguaro National Park, Kitt Peak, the desert floors, Sedona, Cathedral Rock, the Chiricahuas, the Superstition Mountains and many others. Some of the most spectacular lightning in the country occurs here each season! Below are many photos of the events we captured while on tour this season. We hope you enjoy the photos and we hope to see you with us on tour in the years ahead!
After our adventure in North Dakota on July 11th we knew we had to head well into Canada. A strong upper level low with great flow aloft, good moisture and instability, and lift along a dry line /Canadian Rockies foothills, would keep us in this region for several days. However, July 13th was by far the best set up in the area! We spent several nights in Red Deer, Alberta and chased west and north of there each day, capturing everything from supercells and tornadoes, great lightning, large hail, clusters of storms, and even a superb Aurora Borealis display on night!
July 13th looked like the peak of action and it certainly was. We targeted a boundary and foothills intersection west of Drayton Valley and we were on the storm as it developed west of there by mid afternoon. We watched the storm cycle several times until it finally intercepted better moisture and instability and took off. It rapidly intensified and started rotating. Soon the roar of the winds with the RFD of the supercell could be heard, followed by the winds from the tornado it produced. It started as a multivortex and morphed into a cone before it completely wrapped in rain. It was rated EF1, the strongest tornado in Alberta in 2017. The storm had fantastic structure, and throw in the canola fields of Canada and it was stunning! A great day and 4 day period for us in Alberta. Beautiful countryside there! Enjoy the pics and the Aurora as well!
July 11th took as to eastern North Dakota. An advancing dryline, strong moisture return and extreme instability would set the stage for numerous supercells, some tornadic. We started the day just west of Grand Forks, ND as convergence caused cumulus towers to explode. It didn’t take long for severe and tornado warnings to be issued! We played with the first to do so northwest of town. It had decent structure and very large hail. A large wall cloud formed and spun strongly. An occasional shear funnel would occur, but nothing imminent to touch down. Soon, a supercell formed on the southern end of the line and quickly became severe. It developed a strong area of rotation and a hook on radar. we quickly dropped south to intercept the storm, driving through blinding rain and hail golfball sized. As we cleared the core, a large circular updraft came into view and it was obvious it was spinning strongly. A mulitvortex tornado occurred back in the core that we couldn’t see. It stayed on the ground for over 20 miles as it approached the Minnesota border.
We stayed with the storm all the way to northeast of Fargo is the structure was jaw dropping! At one point, the rain cleared enough to get a brief glimpse of the large tornado! (pic below) Eventually it weakened as upshear convection would form and interfere with the supercell. The lightning was extreme, intense and very close numerous times. Several times we had to get back into the vans for our safety and to keep our guests safe. Finally near sunset, we let the storm cluster go and headed west for what would be several days of chasing in Canada!