Don’t always trust the apps.

Earlier in 2020 I went up to Clingmans Dome to try to capture the Neowise comet, and it seems every time I go up there, I ask myself why I don’t go more often.  One reason is that it just takes so long to get up there (about an hour and a half from my house).  It also seems to me to be completely unpredictable when it will be clear up there, however as I have observed the Dome this year, I think I believed that because I wasn’t paying attention to the weather when I would go up there.  Anyway, I decided I wanted to spend more time up there, and I mentally targeted the fall as when I’d do that.  I figured I’d start at the top of the mountains and follow the fall colors down the mountain and into the valley, for the maximum amount of time with the leaves. 

Well, early in the season I started watching the weather forecasts, and I generally do this with a number of apps.  My go to is the MySunset app, which predicts the quality of a sunrise / sunset by looking at where the clouds will be in relation to the viewer, the horizon, and beyond the horizon.  What I have noticed about this particular app though is that it can’t tell the difference between high clouds and low clouds.  Perhaps in an area where the terrain is flat, this wouldn’t make as much difference, but here in the mountains, where low clouds generally rest on the mountain tops, preventing the rays of the sun from breaking through, it makes a HUGE difference.  I also use an app called Clear Outside, which tells you a number of things, including what types of clouds will be present (low, medium, or high clouds).  For this particular morning, the MySunset app was predicting a low probability for a colorful sunrise because it would be overcast.  However Clear Outside was showing it was going to be all high altitude clouds, which make for excellent sunrise material.  I decided to roll the dice and set my alarm, and made the long drive to the top.  As you can see, I was rewarded for my efforts.  This sunrise was the best I saw all year!  There were only a few of us at the parking lot on this morning, but you could audibly hear people saying “WOW!” as it played out.  It was THAT kind of sunrise.  

Now, I should be honest and say the apps aren’t ALWAYS wrong. 🙂  Literally yesterday morning a similar situation played out where the MySunset app was saying a low probability of color, while the others showed all high clouds.  My friend Steve and I decided to give it a try, and it was a total bust.  Rather than the high clouds the models were predicting, low clouds found their way to the mountains, blocking the view to the horizon.  Oh well, you win some and you lose some!

I’ve mentioned previously that I really love shooting with a wide angle lens (14 – 24mm), but sunrises are admittedly hard to shoot with this lens because you need sky-filling drama to make it effective – something that’s fairly rare throughout the year.  By using a zoom lens instead, if there is a little bit of drama, you can zoom into that drama, and leave out everything else.  On this particular morning though, there was enough drama to make the scene compelling, and so I swapped to the wide angle lens and included the late summer / early fall flowers into the foreground, adding to the overall depth of the scene.

More next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome, Forneys Creek, NC 28713, USA

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