May 10 Shelf Cloud as it clears a tree line to my west. This one was silent until it arrived with 34+ mph winds of very cold air.
It’s “shelfie” season: the time of year when springtime convective weather generates strong thunderstorms and picture-worthy shelf clouds. The popular term for shelf cloud photos, playing upon the term used for smart phone self-portraits or selfies, is shelfie.
May 10 was the first opportunity. I took up position and awaited the storm’s arrival in the parking lot of a public park. As the storm approached I could see only the separated top of the shelf above the treeline; that gave it the appearance of a wall of cloud (not a wall cloud) looming in the distance. The feature came closer and finally made visual separation from the trees and I knew I wasn’t about to be swept away!
Looking like a wall of clouds, the separated top of the approaching shelf cloud is visible above a tree line.
The storm was silent, no thunder, until it drew closer and I could hear the roar of wind in the treetops. A 34 mph peak wind was plenty strong, however, and ushered in a steep temperature drop. I was glad to have a jacket with me.
May 14 Shelf Cloud. You can see the rain curtain in the distance. When the view of the far woods turned white, I knew it was time to get into the car or get very wet!
Another photo-op presented itself with a squall line of severe thunderstorms on May 14. I thought I’d given myself enough time to reach a selected observation point in a city park in Lorain County but as I drove I realized I wouldn’t make it in time. So I bailed to a rural road and found a likely spot: a farmer’s access drive from the road to an wide-open field. I parked, got out of my car, and there it was! There was thunder and lightning with this one so I had some concern; nearby objects were better targets than me so I told myself I was okay. The shelf rolled over my location quickly. Intense rain arrived with 43 mph winds. And then it stopped. The rain and wind simply stopped. That was a very intense, concentrated line that moved along very quickly. A strange experience.
After the Storm. The rain abruptly ended, the wind calmed, and the sky to the west became bright. A strange experience.
Shelf Cloud Panorama
We have had a few days recently when heat and humidity-driven storms have roamed the region. On Tuesday, August 20 we saw a long line of powerful, even severe-warned, storms develop to our west. Though the line appeared to be moving at a leisurely rate, I arrived at one of my favorite observation sites with just enough time to set up before a broad shelf cloud appeared on the horizon.
The leading edge passed over my location and, as is expected with these things, heavy rain immediately followed and I retreated to my car. After a quick splash of intense rain, the precipitation stopped! I got back out of my car and shot a few photos of the areas about to be visited by the storm. One view in particular from behind the shelf cloud: from a spot spared rainfall was this view of the dark clouds overhead, curtains of intense rain drenching the area, and brighter skies being engulfed.
Here Comes the Rain
Ah! Stormy weather!
A Most Impressive Shelf Cloud
It surprised me. We were expecting rain and thunderstorms but the approaching weather looked disorganized and “wet” — that is, plenty of rain leading the way and blocking views of the storm clouds. Suddenly I got indications from observers to my west that something was cooking, so I fired up my radar access and saw a well-defined monster of a storm approaching. I grabbed a camera and headed out, knowing I couldn’t get far before meeting the storm.
Under the Shelf Cloud
Finally getting through town and out into the countryside, I saw on the horizon hints of the approaching line. I quickly located a farmer’s field access path and pulled off. I got there just in time to watch the shelf cloud develop, roll toward me, and pass overhead.
Deluge: The Rain Arrives
As the ominous clouds passed overhead, I knew to what to watch for: torrential rain! I strolled to my car as the wind began to rise, got in, and enjoyed the arrival of the downpour from dry, air conditioned comfort!
This was possibly the most impressive shelf cloud I’ve seen; bear in mind I don’t chase in the Great Plains. I nearly missed this one and, as it turns out, I grabbed the wrong camera — could have done with the wide-angle lens left behind!
Thanks to the unnamed property owner who drove over to see what I was doing and generously allowed me to stay put on her drive!
Shelf cloud photographed July 2, 2019 in central Medina County, Ohio. Note the area of heavy rain to the left, the “clear” area bearing strong winds to the right.
I love shooting shelf clouds — clouds that form a line or arc along the leading edge of a gust front in a thunderstorm. They are awe-inspiring, scary, to me they’re just beautiful in their power rugged symmetry. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now (apologies to Joni Mitchell) and discovered something at least as impressive; clouds of chaotic shards and pieces, tumultuously flowing together as a mass. I saw this configuration with a severe thunderstorm that dropped a tornado a few weeks ago, and I saw it again today in another severe thunderstorm — after the shelf cloud passed. I still love photographing shelf clouds (called “shelfies”, a twist on self-portrait “selfies”) but…
Tumult. A chaotic storm cloud behind a shelf cloud.
Shelf cloud panorama shot May 28, 2017 in Grafton Township, Ohio
I have loved weather-watching since I was a young boy and I believe that love has grown as I have grown older. I am now located in an area where, with a little head start, I can reach open country — away from town — to observe and photograph weather phenomena. My current favorites are lightning, and shelf clouds. (BTW: I don’t shoot lightning from open country!) Lately I’ve had two successes resulting from interpretation of weather radar that allowed interception of storms. I drove to places in the path of oncoming storms, waited, and photographed the developing scenes. In each case, once the storm shelf clouds appear, there are a very few minutes to set up the shot, record images, and then duck out of the rain as it arrives fast and furiously! The first picture (below) did not turn out as well as I’d have liked. I simply cannot seem to process the image in a way that pleases me and represents what I saw; and it’s way too blue! The second picture (above) is much better, in my opinion, depicting the leading edge of a thunderstorm as it barreled towards me. Both experiences were exciting, great fun, and rewarding in themselves. I’m working on photo techniques that will better depict the wondrous scenes.
The leading edge of a thunderstorm – May 21, 2017.