One of my favorite weather events occurred over Boulder again this week. A cold air inversion settled over town on Saturday night after some light snow making for some great photography opportunities over Boulder at sunrise on Sunday morning.
For me, if I even think there is a remote chance that conditions might be right for an inversion I’m going to be up in the foothills trying to get above the cloud deck before sunrise. The factor in all of this of course is how high up does one need to go before they break on through the cloud deck.
Depending on the conditions, the cloud deck may only be 1000 or so feet above the ground. The cloud deck might also be 10,000 ft above the ground making it impossible to get above.
Typically I’ll be on the look out for the potential for an inversion when the following type of weather is occurring in the area. Rain or snow is forecast through the night. Weather reports indicate that the precipitation is supposed to cease and clear out before sunrise. Usually, I’ll just look at the predicted hourly conditions on one of the weather sites. If those hourly conditions show the precipitation ending and clearing conditions taking hold soon after the precipitation stops, I’ll make sure I’m ready to go in the morning.
Conditions that indicate clearing is going to occur quickly do not guarantee that low hanging clouds or an inversion will still be hanging around early in the morning however. Here in Colorado, I would say eighty percent of the time one is going to wake to find the skies indeed devoid of any cloud cover at all.
What I’ll do when I even think the conditions may cause the inversion to linger through the night and be around in the morning when the sun rises is to get up at least two hours before sunrise. I’ll walk the dog and while doing that scan the sky to assess the atmospheric conditions. It’s important to note that conditions can and do change rapidly. Numerous times I’ve walked the dog in completely clouded over conditions that had me pumped up and ready to go only to have crystal clear skies thirty minutes later when I get back to my house.
But when I go through my morning routine, if the clouds are still present and the conditions in the sky don’t appear to be clearing, then I know I have a decent shot of having some interesting conditions when the sun does crest the horizon.
So on Sunday morning things were looking pretty good when I headed out the door. Photographing an inversion has you crossing your fingers the entire time while you scan the sky every few minutes. On one hand you don’t want the clouds to dissipate before sunrise, and the other your hoping the clouds stick around but that you can get high enough up to get above them.
One of the best places to go when their is an inversion in town is to head up Flagstaff Road. Climbing the 2000 ft above town up Flagstaff Mountain gives you the best chance of getting above the clouds while out the same time being right smack dab in the middle of some of the most beautiful natural areas around Boulder. As I climbed past the three mile marker on Flagstaff, things were looking a little bleak. I did not have much more road to go and I was still not yet above the cloud cover. Finally, just above Realization Point, I spied the moon in the sky to the south of me and I was above the clouds and the inversion.
I hustled through the woods over to an area that overlooked Boulder Canyon and the Lost Gulch area. The clouds were only a hundred feet or so below me but I could see Sugarloaf Mountain and the ridge along Four Mile to the north. All at once high clouds above the low hanging fog started to turn pink and it was game on.
Luckily for me, the elements all came together and stayed together long enough for me to capture a beautiful sunrise over Lost Gulch. Images that would not have nearly same impact if not for the weather conditions present on Sunday morning.