As the remnants of Tropical Storm Hilary moved through California, I looked for opportunities to photograph interesting weather. I thought we might get thunderstorms, which we did, especially as the first bands of moisture reached our area. But I wasn’t able to find a thunderstorm in the right position to photograph it. We did, however, get three-quarters of an inch of rain at our house from one thunderstorm.
Then, as this large weather system moved off to the north, I realized there might be a chance to photograph a clearing storm Monday morning (August 21st). It looked like the rain would end around sunrise in Yosemite; it was less clear whether the clouds would dissipate enough for the sun to break through that early.
But it seemed like there was a decent chance that something interesting might happen. And it’s so rare to see this kind of widespread rain in August, with very different sun angles from winter or early spring. Plus, the Glacier Point and Tioga roads were open, allowing access to some great locations for photographing a clearing storm that I can’t get to in winter.
So I told Claudia that I was thinking of going to Glacier Point in the morning, and, as usual, she was up for it – even though it meant leaving at 4:15 a.m. Yikes!
Yosemite Valley only received about four-tenths of an inch of rain from Hilary. Not a lot, but I figured it would be enough to generate some mist. And we found lots of mist at Glacier Point – so much that it was completely socked in at first. I think this tropical system contained such moist air that it generated lots of mist, even without a ton of evaporation from newly-wet ground.
I wanted to set up a time-lapse, but couldn’t even compose that without seeing more of the scene in front of me. Finally Half Dome appeared through the mist, so I was able to compose and start the time-lapse sequence.
For the next hour or so the fog rolled past, sometimes completely obscuring the scene, sometimes parting to reveal moody, misty views of Half Dome, or Nevada Fall, or both. Bits of sunlight started to break through about an hour past sunrise.
Almost two hours after sunrise it rained briefly. I had to cover my camera, and wipe water drops off the lens. Then the sun started to break through again, this time creating sunbeams through the rain still falling in the distance. It was quite a beautiful moment.
We lingered for a bit longer, but the mist and light gradually got less interesting, so we packed up. We ended up hanging around the park all day, photographing a wildflower meadow, and waiting to see if showers might develop in the afternoon and produce something unusual. (No such luck.)
This storm was such an anomaly – the first tropical storm to reach California since 1939! Skies have been routinely sunny since then, and we probably won’t see any significant storms for awhile, but it was fun to photograph a clearing storm in August.
— Michael Frye
P.S. I’ve included a selection of photos here from that morning, plus a time-lapse video. At about the 45-second mark of that video you can see raindrops falling from that shower I mentioned.
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.