Monsoon Bow Echo | Cordes Lakes to Tonopah, Arizona | 13 August 2021

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The evening of August 13th looked like a good one to ride a line of storms off the mountains and down into the deserts of central Arizona. I headed south from Flagstaff around 6:30PM as storms were firing along the Mogollon Rim to the southeast. They were beautiful in the setting sun, but I was already behind schedule and didn’t have time to get photographs. I eventually arrived at the Sunset Point rest stop on Interstate 17 north of Black Canyon City. By this time, deep twilight revealed internal lightning strobing in the anvil and cloud tops. Low level stratocumulus was hindering the view a bit, but I hung out and started a time lapse.

As the line of storms grew closer, increased inflow started to take care of the intervening clouds and a shelf at the base of the storms took shape. Lightning was constant, but CG strikes weren’t part of the action. Still, the strengthening line was looking impressive, so I stayed with it up on the plateau instead of repositioning & scouting early for the downhill desert phase.

Cell phone video posted during the chase.

As it drew closer, reflectivity showed a pronounced rear inflow notch developing. I knew it was going to be a rough ride down the hill if I didn’t get moving soon, but really wanted to see what it looked like as it got closer.

 Wow, impressive rear jet on that thing!
Impressive rear inflow jet.

It did not disappoint. Between the orange illumination of the Phoenix sky glow and blueish-purple lightning blazing from within, the storm was otherworldly as it loomed closer.

Moments after that photo, the wind really started kicking up. I tossed everything in the car and surfed an aggressive gust front down to the desert floor. From there, I tried to gain ground on it to the east toward Wickenburg to see if I could catch any decent structure or lightning strikes. But the whole complex was moving too fast to get far enough ahead on available routes. I wanted to hang back and try for perhaps a better chance at lightning behind the line, but needed to get clear of desert washes that were likely to flood and strand me if I hung out in an isolated spot too long. I got down near Interstate 10 about 25 miles west of Tonopah and managed to capture some anvil crawlers. They were okay, but not the CG strikes I was hoping for.

Overall, it was fun to surf my second Arizona bow echo. In hindsight, I could’ve headed home after the Sunset Point encounter and been very happy. But you can’t always tell whether later parts of the show will be worth the extra miles.

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