Wednesday, June 30, 2010


A resident hoses down the side of his house in the Chelsea Park subdivision, where burning embers from a wildfire in a nearby bird sanctuary threatened to ignite the home.

Last Tuesday, the day of my return from the first of three consecutive long weekends, I was called to work by an editor who said Rockledge was ablaze. Actually, it was a simple wildfire near a subdivision in the city, a subdivision where a friend of mine happens to live. So there was an added concern. When I got there, though, I discovered that the flames were far from her home but very near about 20 along a few streets in the community. I covered it for the newspaper through words and photographs, more of which can be viewed here.

A teenager carries her most prized possessions - a surfboard and a skateboard - from her home after she was ordered to evacuate.

A county firefighter assessed the blaze from atop a special truck used in brush fires.

The firefighters had considerably more hosepower.

The fire and the homes were separated by a small canal, providing a natural barrier against the blaze. Still, residents used their garden hoses to douse small flames on the other side.

A woman, her daughter and some other local children gather closely while they look at flames shooting above their homes.

A father comforts his frightened 8-year-old.

All of these neighbors were quite concerned, but the firefighters stopped the flames.

Finally, when the wildfire was contained, everyone could take a break.

Monday, June 21, 2010

SpaceX's Falcon 9 and the disaster that didn't happen

For the maiden voyage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, I sat for four hours on a lens case, waiting for the thing to blast off. My makeshift chair was provided by James Murati, a contract photographer for United Launch Alliance, which could be considered a competitor for SpaceX in the commercial launch business. SpaceX is a leading candidate to provide cargo launch services to the International Space Station and possibly manned flights someday. This launch on June 4 was a demonstration - or test - flight for the rocket itself, and it had a high probability of failure. That's why James and I waited for four hours in the hot sun until the crew at SpaceX managed to shake off a technical glitch and finally push the button.

I set up my tripod and camera on the sandy shore of the Banana River - as opposed to the bank - along a stretch of Port Canaveral, the closest public viewing site for liftoffs from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. My low angle put the horizon - the launch pad - out of site. The optical illusion that my angle created made it appear as though the rocket was emerging from the river.

During the entire flight, I trained my 150-500mm Sigma zoom lens on the rocket until it disappeared from view. That's because James and I both knew it could blow up. We also knew that would have made for an interesting shot.

The rocket engines light up some clouds.

The Falcon 9 is fueled by kerosene - not solid rocket fuel - so there is little smoke trail involved when it launches, much like is the case with Delta IV and Atlas V rockets without solid rocket boosters. This makes for a dull launch.

But some condensation did occur in the upper atmosphere, creating a bit of a contrail. Still, the highly probable disaster didn't materialize. And I suppose that's a good thing for the future of spaceflight.

Friday, June 18, 2010

An impressive storm and the ensuing rainbow

Click for full panorama. | These shots are from a few weeks ago - Saturday, June 5 - when Brevard County was hit by a few strong thunderstorms. Since then, there hasn't been too much activity. I'm hoping that changes. Without lightning, Florida is a bore. The above is a panorama stitched together from 11 photos of a storm as it blew over the Pineda Causeway just north of Melbourne.

A boat motored under the causeway as I pulled to the roadside.

Heavy rain falls near downtown Melbourne. I was fortunate to avoid most of the rain on the northern end of the thunderstorm.

Most of these shots look westward toward the mainland.

The view down the Indian River toward Melbourne.

Lightning was striking near the bright portions of these photos. The bolts were shrouded by rain, though, and they didn't show up.

This is the solitary shot I took from the causeway that looks eastward at Merritt Island as the storm reaches the horizon.

A rolling cloud feature.

This three-image stitch shows the rat tail.

A little lightning. As the storm passed, I huddled under the boardwalk over a sand dune to the beach at Patrick Air Force Base, which is at the end of the Pineda Causeway.

Later in the day, conditions were perfect for a rainbow: sun low in the sky, dark background from the distant storm. Sure enough, one formed over the Atlantic.

The thing I like about rainbows is that the lighting is often just perfect for photos: The sun is always directly behind you, providing sufficient light for the foreground and the background.

Lightning was striking inside the storm behind the rainbow. But I wasn't fortunate enough to catch both weather phenomena in one shot.

Brown pelicans enjoy an oil-free Atlantic Ocean.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The clouds are back in town

On Thursday, Brevard County experienced its first real rip-roaring thunderstorm of the summer. I was stepping out of the shower when I heard about a severe thunderstorm warning for the region. I quickly dressed and left for work early so I could stop and shoot if I saw anything worthwhile. Just 2 miles from my apartment, on Parkway Drive in Melbourne, I saw a shelf cloud coming out of the southwest.

It was an impressive formation, but a very fast-moving one. The cloud was far into the distance when I first spotted it, but within five minutes, it was above me.

Last year's storm season got off to a similar start, with a well-defined shelf cloud. I missed its approach, however, and only shot its wind-torn, aquamarine underside, like you see above. For last year's version, go here.

On the leading edge of shelf clouds, these "scuds" often form. They're low-hanging, wispy clouds often association with a storm front. This one was deceptive because it had a slender, funnel-like shape. Its lateral motion was rapid, but I couldn't see real rotation, so I knew it was just a scud. Here's a bigger example from last year.