Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miscellany update

Well, I'm back in DeKalb. I'm not sure if I've updated since that transition was made. I've reunited myself with the lovely Lee/DeKalb wind farm, and actually just returned from there an hour or so ago. Oh right! I forgot about the tower photos from last week. Indeed, I have updated since I returned. Anyway, I've made a few random trips in the last week and figured I would post a couple of the photos. It's all honestly part of a larger picture that I'm working on. I've already mentioned that I won't be putting out one of my annual storm chasing dvd's, so the PWX 20XX series will have to skip a year (unless the fall brings insanity to the midwest or something). To make up for this I will likely be putting together a little time lapse project. There have been some incredible time lapse projects coming out on Vimeo.Com. This will be nothing near as cool as those, but it's something to challenge and occupy myself with!

Anyway, a couple of photos...

It's been a good couple weeks back in the DeKalb area. It probably is no secret anymore to my four loyal readers, but the lovely Tia and I decided to end our five year relationship back in the spring. That largely explains my absence from the blogging/photographing/chasing world, which was a real bummer. Not letting something like that affect your daily life is easier said than done, but the summer did me well. It was not a hostile deal at all, which I think at times made it harder. We did it with the idea of simply remaining best friends. ...speaking of things easier said than done. While we still are not on bad terms, she and I did decide recently that perhaps it would just be easier if we only interacted if we really needed to. We'll always have each others back, but for now we'll leave it at that. She's a great kid and will do amazing things in her life in spite of all the obstacles she has overcome in her life.

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a downer of a post, but rather the opposite. I made several posts in prior weeks about feeling completely comfortable in myself again, finally. Tia and I shared our entirely lives with each other, and for me that included storm chasing / photography adventures. While I loved spending essentially every chase and many photography trips exploring new places with her, I spent most of the summer regretting it thinking now that it wouldn't be the same and hating that all of those chases were now filled with memories of happier times with her. But that isn't how it needs to be at all. Simply part of the adjustment process I suppose. Driving around the country looking for cool clouds is what makes me who I am, and I simply needed to be a whiner and hate on things for a while before I realized that and got back out on my horse and started spending all of my money on my gas tank doing those things that made me happy again. Once again I am at peace standing out in the corn fields of Illinois watching the wind turbines turn while listening to the subtle whooshing noise of the blades, or pulling off the side of the road with a mind full of ideas as a thunderstorm blossoms in front of me. When I think back to all of the chase days that I shared with Tia as my passenger I no longer feel regret and the desire to go back and do it alone, but see happy memories spent with one of the best friends I have ever had.

Again, I didn't mean for this to come off as a pity party because I honestly feel amazing. I was certain I would spend the rest of my life with that one person, but that's exactly how life goes. If I wanted pointless attention I'd post emotional song lyrics or complain about how unfair life is via Facebook status or something. I was simply doing some thinking while I watched my barely-moving wind turbines tonight and figured some writing would do me well, and my much smaller, but ever loyal blog audience would be a decent outlet. What I dealt with this summer, everyone out there has or will deal with it at some time or another. One of the biggest leaps that I took in the pitiful grief recovery process occurred on the day that I first saw video out of Joplin, Missouri following the EF5 tornado that obliterated that town. This guy is sitting here down on himself over a relationship change, while others are dealing with their loved ones being blown out of their homes and killed. While in a sense I was losing a loved one of my own, I couldn't hardly feel sorry for myself at all when thinking about how my situation paled in comparison to what any number of people in the world are going through at a given moment.

Gah, I feel like I'm simply ranting and am losing readers by the minute. And I'm in an amazing mood too, tonight. The last two weeks have been a perfect return to DeKalb and Northern Illinois University. I've been out late "doing Andrew", running around town meeting new amazing people, hanging out at the wind farm, and learning annoying new mathematical formulas to explain why the cool clouds I'm after every year are there in the first place. Live freaking life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Looking the wind turbines in the eye

Yesterday evening I received a call from Gilbert Sebenste with a photographic offer. His friend, Steve, would be doing maintenance on top of the old AT&T microwave tower about 150 feet in the air, right around sunset, in the middle of my favorite place in the state - the Lee/DeKalb wind farm. He told me to think about it, and that he'd call me back in about ten minutes with instructions. Thirty seconds later my phone rang again with him asking if I could leave immediately. Of course, I was doing nothing with my evening at that point so I was out the door.

The tower is probably a 10 minute drive outside of DeKalb and the Northern Illinois Univ. campus. After unlocking 5 different padlocks, we were finally in the tower. The sketchy looking elevator wasn't responding, which I was certainly okay with, so we climb the nine flights of stairs on foot. Then, it was two rusty ladders to the roof of the tower.

The view was unreal, but I'll let the photos do the story-telling on that one. We stood up there for a half an hour or so while Gilbert and Steve debated on whether or not it would be a good idea to ride out a severe storm in the tower, until the sun dipped below the horizon and Steve finally got to work on his radio maintenance.

The last ladder to the roof of the tower, looking up.
Gilbert joining the club at the first platform.
The elevator shaft that I was not disappointed to not be using.
Looking to the north at a little farmstead and some turbines.

Back on the ground. The farm stead on the right side was burning a little something.

Hanging out with my shadow.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 13th Incredible Sky

Another day, another slight risk for severe weather in the region. Would it be another typical 2011 bust in this area, or would we have a repeat of Monday evening? I had the luxury of a lazy Saturday to keep an eye on the sky (or radar, in this case) as numerous thunderstorms developed to the west and north and moved toward the area. One little cluster looked to be developing into a small line segment as it approached the area, so with the dry conditions we've experienced in this region I hoped perhaps we'd get some dust kicking up along the gust front. That was my vision upon leaving the house, anyway. My 16 year old brother, Wil has taken up an int in photography and often asks to come along on these little atmospheric adventures but is usually in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of non-chasers don't quite understand the difficulty in arranging someone else coming along at last second. When it's time to go, it's time to go, and I'm gone. Anyway, I knew well enough in advance that I'd be heading out locally and extended the offer. Once the storms were about 30 miles out, we headed off, both picking up a couple of fountain Cokes as I gassed up and headed out.

As the line approached, the storms quickly tanked and went downhill fast. What was left of an ugly shelf cloud quickly dissolved. Not sure whether the time lapse I shot of this will be interesting or just depressing. I told Wil that sometimes you just have to be patient, and the early portion of playing with a storm can often suck, and if you stick with it through the suck you are sometimes rewarded with some not so sucky scenes.

I dropped south of Philo ahead of an ugly (and not the good kind of ugly) shelf cloud. What was weird was how early the actual gust front winds slammed us and began kicking up a little bit of dust in the field outside the car. The shelf cloud was nowhere near us, and there was no real sign of the winds coming in advance. Not sure if this was the same situation that the were faced with at the Indiana State Fair last night with the same thunderstorm complex.

Still bummed about the lack of photogenic convection, but not wanting to head home yet, I dropped southeast toward, you guessed it, Block Illinois. I ventured to the same grain bin / barn on a hill location that I shot the star trails and Milky Way Galaxy a couple of weeks ago. That's when the day finally turned around.

A rain free (though we were anything BUT rain free at the time) base emerged to our southwest and a little tail cloud quickly developed from some scud and began racing to the southeast. Rapid fire cloud to ground lightning began slamming out of the updraft region. We were in heavy rain being driven by northwest winds that pelted the passenger side of my car. Like a true pro, my brother quickly scurried from the passenger seat to the back seat on the driver side so he could shoot the base of the storm while being shielded by the rain. We made note of the incredible lightning activity and how we hoped to time it just right to catch one of them in a photo. It had to be less than a minute later when another bolt flashed and we both let out a "AH!" as we both realized we had caught the same lightning bolt on film. This would be a lot less exciting if shooting lightning at night, but during the day when you consider that your camera shutter is open for only a fraction of a second, the difficulty in capturing a daytime lightning photo is largely luck based. To both have caught the same bolt was pretty gratifying and pretty awesome. We both high fived, and continued shooting before the storm overtook us.

During the core of the storm my car was rocked by 50 mph sustained winds, perhaps with a gust or two at severe levels as it took down some small branches in the trees up the road. At the rear of the storm some pea sized hail finally began falling. Hail seemed to rule the day as far as severe weather reports went, so I was beginning to wonder when it would show up.

The rest of the evening was pure sky bliss. The sun sank down toward the horizon, and the numerous updrafts in the region simply came alive. We saw several full double rainbows, and countless sunlit updrafts spitting out lightning and dropping hail across the fields.

High resolution flickr set:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Downtown Villa Grove, IL Fire

I was alerted by a text message from David Bellmore around 6:30 PM of a major fire in the downtown district of Villa Grove, a smaller town about 20 miles south of Champaign-Urbana, suggesting I go document the blaze. I quickly made my way and grabbed the camera gear and hit the road. Immediately upon exiting Urbana on Route 130 southbound I could see the smoke plume, from nearly 20 miles away. It wasn't hard to spot either. Not like an "oh yeah, something must be going on way down there" but more of a "oh crap."

Anyway, for an event such as this I will simply let the photos do the talking. It was very fun to later meet up with David, who also happens to be a fire fighter for the Edge-Scott FPD who was called from Urbana to assist in the fire.

I'm all for sharing by the way, but please don't let me find these images on other sites with my name cropped out. That's stealing.