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Monsoon 2017: The Beginning

Tucson, Arizona | #monsoon2017 #azwx | July 15th, 2017

Monsoon came late this year but dang, it started strong! This is part 1 of a 3 series showcasing my timelapse journey around Arizona during Monsoon season.  "The Beginning" is a collective of timelapse scenes captured Saturday July 8th – July 10th around Tucson, Arizona. 15+ hours of storm chasing, 500+ miles, and 200 GB+ of rendered 4K content was used to create this film in the last 3 days. Please enjoy the 4K video with your sound on from the talented Isaac Hananiah. Be sure to watch until the end where all my favorite clips are. I hope you enjoy the film. If you’d like to read more about the story, please read my  blog below for more information and behind the scene photos. Likes, comments, and shares are always appreciated. Prints and Licensing available, please email me for more info.

Locations: Tucson, Sahuarita, Sonoita, Green Valley, Arizona City, Picacho Peak

Gear: Canon 6DMK 1, Sony A7S2, Canon 16-35LII F/2.8, Canon 70-200 F/4, Tamron 15-30 F/2.8 - Vanguard Tripods and PNY Memory Cards.

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July 8 - 10th, 2017:

We packed up the car with gear, snacks, and lots of water before heading to our first destination for the day.. Although, we were just going off radar so there wasn’t an exact location, we were just following the storm and the storm took us down to Green Valley and Sahuarita, Arizona. Because of some awesome cloud structures forming, we made a stop at Mission San Xavier which turned out to be absolutely breathtaking- one of my favorite photos I have ever taken of this Tucson staple. After getting there the sky almost immediately turned dark and I knew we would be in for a good show today.

I had my co pilot navigating while I looked at radar models; finding the next roads that seemed to veer off the highways near the storm where I thought I could get a good shot. I would have no idea by the end of the night my storm chasing would take us clear past border patrol en route to Mexico. The sky was changing right above us as we chased a storm down a long dirt road I faintly remember driving down some years ago. I pulled off as soon as I found a clearing far enough to be out of harm’s way and close enough to get the lightning shots I was hoping for. After the storm crossed over us I knew it was time to move again and packed up my gear and followed the storm further south yet again to a turn off near Kitt Peak Observatory. If you aren’t familiar, we had to waive to border patrol to get there. Yikes. I had a pretty hungry car at this point. After getting the shots I wanted it was time to head back and turn in for the night.

Gear: Sony A7S2, Tamron 15-30 F/2.8, 4 second exposures, ISO 800, with 1 second between each photo. Music "Be Easy by Ghost Loft"

The next day turned out to be an even better day for storm chasing. First stop was Sentinal Peak, commonly referred to as A mountain. This was a great location to watch the beginning of the monsoon form over the iconic skyline of downtown Tucson. I ran into a couple familiar faces up there including John Sirlin who is very knowledgeable when it comes to weather and has camera skills, too. This day we had a third addition to our storm chasing group, a pup named Maeb! After a little over an hour of shooting and having the dog mostly confined to the car because of the heat and surroundings (yes the car was on with AC blasted,) I checked the radar and made the decision to follow the storm up North where I saw some cells converging which usually calls for a severe thunderstorm warning.

We headed straight out to Oracle and found a location where we had a good sight of the storm and our pup Maeby could hop out in the grass. I could see the rain shaft dropping in the distance right over some Yucca and knew I wanted to shoot it. As soon as we pulled up to our spot we noticed some cattle near the fence. Maeby confidently ran to barb fence, crawled underneath it, and started chasing the cattle around. I wish I caught the whole thing on video but only recorded the last few seconds of her running around thinking she was a cow. This was her first time seeing cattle and to watch her confidently heard them around was absolutely hilarious. After we get her back we capture the severe thunderstorm that was happening over mammoth.

Once it fizzling out, we tried to get over to Santa Rosa where another severe thunderstorm was happening. Because of the road system, we couldn’t get over there in time but did manage to capture the outflow boundary which caused a huge haboob. We pulled over at the Arizona City exit as soon as we could, put on my dirt goggles, and started shooting away. I try to update social media to help warn people of potential dangerous situations so I pulled up the twitter app and did a live broadcast of the haboob as it was in full effect. We got there in time to have the entire haboob start in front of us and cross over us. 

At this point we were chasing light and decided to stop at Picacho on the way home for a colorful sunset. The area was dusty which made for a great sunset. After that we finally called it a day and headed home because I knew the next day (Monday) was forecasted to be even better than today.

Day 3 is where the most fun was. I called my friend Greg McCown (another great weather / landscape photographer) early afternoon and asked what his plans were for chasing and if he wanted to meet up? Chasing with a friend is always more fun than chasing alone and Greg and I have a great history of getting epic storms together. So he told me that Dave Levin (the guy who recorded our last KOLD interview with Kevin Jeanes) wanted to tag along and do another special on us. So we all at the Walmart on Houghton and jumped in Greg’s car. Since I was co-pilot my duties are to study radar, go over the options, and navigate us while Greg drove us there safely while Dave was in the backseat filming it all. Our first stop took us down to Sonoita for some amazing cloud structure over the rolling hills. It was a glorious sight and an exciting first storm of the day. We eventually got rained out and it pushed us to Sahuarita. This is where the story gets interesting. As all 3 of us walked out into the desert, set up our cameras, and started shooting the shit...Greg notices a rattlesnake curled up just feet away from Dave. It wasn’t rattling and it camoflauged so perfectly, we must have walked right by it! It eventually took off rattling into a nearby hole in the ground but man, that scared the crap out of us. We are usually careful when we set up but this really makes you double think your actions. Time to get me some snake gaiters! After that incident we decided to get the heck out of there and drive down the road a few miles to catch another storm where we were positioned so perfectly, we didn’t need to move much. 3 storms turned severe right in front of us and were dropping so much rain and lightning, we couldn’t stop taking photos for at least 2 hours. Eventually the rain came but gave us an unforgettable sunset (see below.)

Iphone 7+ Video (No filter)

Behind the Scene Photos

Thanks for the photos of Greg and I, Dave Levin!

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Post your commens and questions below:

  • Jared Meoni

    on July 26, 2017

    Hey Sean, I was just wondering how do you get so much detail in your Milky Way timelapse videos? Specifically the one that looks like it was shot at 70ishmm. That video is beyond words and I'd like to see if I could get one like it. Was it short exposure intervals, or did you use a tracker? Thanks.

  • Mary Theresa Dietz

    on July 19, 2017

    Wow! This really captures the majesty of the monsoon season - my favorite season.

  • Sean Parker

    on July 13, 2017

    @Irene F Ortiz - You gotta visit again!

  • Sean Parker

    on July 13, 2017

    @madeline bresler - You definitely know Tucson with that Rosa reference haha. Monsoon misses you, too!

  • Irene F Ortiz

    on July 13, 2017

    Beautiful photos. I have been gone for 42 yrs n I miss the storm's.

  • Madeline Bresler

    on July 13, 2017

    I lived in Tucson for 24 years and what I miss the most, other than my friends and family (and green corn tamales from Rosa's) are the monsoons. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your videos! I'm not complaining, (because I live in Hawaii now, and y'know...) but man, do I miss a good monsoon.

  • Sean Parker

    on July 13, 2017

    @Paula Lajoie - Thank you so much. I absolutely love Monsoon and Tucson creates such a perfect backdrop for it. Thanks for watching and commenting.

  • Paula Lajoie

    on July 12, 2017

    Living 47 of my 53 years here in Tucson, I wanted to tell you how beautifully you captured one of my favorite parts of the year here. Stunning work!

  • Sean Parker

    on July 12, 2017

    @Marianne Bosee, Thank you! The chase is always the best part :)

  • Marianne Bosse

    on July 12, 2017

    Beautiful photos and I love the storm chasing.
    Your story about how you were doing it was interesting!😎