A Waterfall In The Sky: Thunderstorms In May And Fallstripes

May is often a time in the year of short-lived thunderstorms and some cooler rainy days in Middle Europe. However, since some years there is also more severe weather with flash floods and even tornados in May. 2018 had been particularly unusual with new temperature records in April. It was too dry in many areas and it still is. A big problem is that it seems that steady rain is missing more and more. Long lasting rain was a common weather pattern every year which wasn’t very amusing for tourists but important for nature and farming. That changed. As predicted by climate change researchers we have more showers and thunderstorm with extreme flooding now.

When I was younger I remember May not as a very warm month. In some years there was still a lot of snow in the mountains. Often it was very cold in the middle of the month. But this year it was more like midsummer rather than spring.

In Southern Germany, the dry period ended to a certain extent and more and more showers and thunderstorms happened.

The first thunderstorm in my area close to lake Ammersee in Upper Bavaria developed on early evening May 12.

It was very impressing because of the late sun which illuminated the clouds and rain at a low angle. May is a good time for taking pictures of thunderstorms because often the light is better as in July and the air is often more clear. Furthermore, it is a good time to photograph fall stripes of rain which look like curtains and can create very interesting patterns.

The following days more thunderstorms occurred. Weather forecasters had a tough time during May. A couple of time stable, warm weather was predicted. But weather doesn’t behave like it was supposed to be. On Pentecost, May20+21, it should have been warm and dry but there were thunderstorms and showers. May 20 indeed was a surprise, because that “summer day” was more or less a dark day with a heavy thunderstorm and flooding in a village between Murnau and Garmisch Partenkirchen. Already on May 18 an open-air event had to be cancelled due to a thunderstorm in Fürstenfeldbruck, a city not far from Munich.




This is what Sunday, May 20, happened: In the afternoon the sky was loaded with dark clouds and rain. There were also shrouds of mist surrounding the Hohen Peissenberg, which can be seen in the background. Some lightning could be seen in the South. In the evening the weather calmed down.

Morning, May 21, began with a misty sky. There was a low hanging layer of mist between the mountains an the lower areas. The mist soon disappeared and the sky became clear:
The air was still humid and the sun was hot. Perfect conditions for the development of further thunderstorms. In the late afternoon, a thunderstorm cell moved towards lake Ammersee. It was very interesting to follow this thunderstorm since there were fascinating patterns of fall stripes. Furthermore, there was also a rainbow.

It was remarkable that this year in May the thunderstorms were often moving in unusual directions. Sometimes there were moving from South-East to South-West or from North to South. Mostly weather systems are moving from West to East. An unusual constellation of pressure systems in Europe was one reason for the long dry period and the further development.

The thunderstorm on May 21 was coming closer for some time but then stopped. Perhaps the huge lake had an influence. It happens often that lakes are influencing local weather.

In this case, it was again good to know some viewpoints in the area before. It made it easier to follow the weather pattern.

The higher position was particularly helpful to see the rainbow which developed during the thunderstorm.

The rainbow was barely visible for some time but then intensified.

However the most special thing was the development in the upper part of the thunderstorm-cloud.

There were not only fall stripes below the cloud but in this case, it was clearly visible that rain came from the upper levels.

It was indeed like a “waterfall” in the sky.

The unstable weather continued.The title picture was taken a few days later, May 24.

There were further dramatic events in the middle of Germany with flooding. There was also a tremendous portion of hail in some places.
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April Weather

April weather has a certain reputation. It is often non-predictable. The German term “Aprilwetter” means usually a rapid change between sunshine and rain. It means a day with a lot of showers and sunshine. But April weather is also about extremes: It happens a lot that winter returns with snow and frost as last year (2017). In some years there is also a first heat wave. I remember years when people in Berlin went swimming in the lakes in April.

Such a little heat wave has happened currently in Middle Europe. However, it seems that this year “April Weather” is a candidate for new extremes: We just heard about many new temperature records in Germany (Jena 29,7 Celsius on Thursday, April 19).

 

But why is April weather so special? There are a couple of factors involved: In April it gets warmer but there is a difference between the landmass and the sea. The sea is still very cold. Furthermore, the Northern regions are still very cold. At the same time, it is already very warm in the South (Southern Europe, North-Africa).

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Typical “April weather” happens when cold air from the Northern Atlantic and the Northern Sea reaches middle Europe and has become more an more humid. Now – over land – the air is getting warm and rises. The condensed water vaporizes and is turned into shower clouds. The whole mass of air is not stable. Since it is still very cold in the upper levels of the atmosphere there is sleet, hail, snow, and rain.

The effect is completed when cold air descends and creates larger areas of clear air between the shower clouds. This way the typical “April Weather” effect is created: a mix of showers and moments of sunshine.

“April Weather” is a normal weather phenomenon, which is a powerful demonstration of the struggle between winter and summer. Some people suffer not only because you could easily get a cold but this weather pattern also triggers headaches.

It can be also a challenge for farmers: for example, the late return of winter in 2017 led to crop failures due to frost. Fruit trees are particularly vulnerable and late frost can seriously damage them.




For photographers this weather pattern is a great opportunity: it is maybe the best time of the year to capture rainbows. Furthermore, the dark shower clouds create impressing and dramatic sceneries in the sky especially in the late afternoon, early evening or in the morning.

The pictures are taken around lake Ammersee in Upper Bavaria on April 1, 2018. During a boat trip, the weather changed between intense sunshine and a lot of rain.

Weather forecasters announced an end of the significant heatwave after the weekend, April 21-22. Then we will most probably see thunderstorms and possibly severe weather. Due to the increased risk of forest fires rain is welcomed.

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Panoramic Viewpoint: Hilltop Near Wessobrunn, Upper Bavaria

In Upper Bavaria, you can find an endless number of panoramic viewpoints. Thus the choice might appear a bit arbitrary. There will be certainly more places to be portrayed in the future but recently I discovered a viewpoint I particularly liked because of the extraordinary setting. There is a village nearby, meadows and woods and there is a free sight of the whole chain of mountains in the south.

It is easily accessible because it is close to the famous Wessobrunn monastery, where there is also a parking space, approximately one kilometre from the viewpoint which is basically a small road and a hilltop leading towards Diessen am Ammersee.

I discovered this viewpoint when I did part of the “King Ludwig 2 Trail” between Diessen am Ammersee and Wessobrunn. The viewpoint is certainly the highlight of this section of the trail. It is possible to do this (not recommended if it gets too warm) but there is no restaurant or such thing between Diessen and Wessobrunn. Due to the length of this part, it might be most suitable for a bicycle tour.

Sunday, March 11, was the first really warm day (17 Celsius) after the period of the arctic cold (“Beast From The East”) in Southern Bavaria. This was mostly due to the Foehn-Effect, which happens often during the wintertime. Foehn leads to an unusual rise in the temperature. The air becomes very clear and there is a clear sight of the mountains with many details. This day, however, there was also a special phenomenon, the so-called “Föhnkante”. This is a distinct border between clouds and the clearer part of the sky. It appears when the Foehn-Effect starts to break down. Subsequently, the following days were much colder and more winter-like.

In March there is little green and if the sun is behind higher-clouds colour in the landscape isn’t much appealing. But this time of the year between winter and spring could be interesting to capture structures in photography. After some time where I played a bit around with the pictures, I decided to present it in black and white. Black and white is often an interesting option and could reveal much of the special atmosphere of a place. The trick is not just to switch to black and white but trying different things with the software. There are also very good black and white filters in the NIK-collection software.

The viewpoint can be reached easily: you can use the parking space at the “Tassiloweg” behind the monastery. From there a steep path leads to the “Schloßbergstr.” The “Schloßbergstraße” leads to a settlement called “Haid” but do not walk towards the settlement but straight. The street becomes a small single road (better not go by car there because it is really very narrow and there is no parking space). It is great for a walk. There is also a seat there near the viewpoint and its fantastic for a rest – and of course to take pictures.

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The viewpoint is also not so far from the Hohen Peissenberg. Both places are very suitable for weather-photography. The place near Wessobrunn could be also of particular interest for sunsets or sunrise. It presents a very typical Upper Bavaria landscape setting.

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The most dominant mountain in the silhouette in the south is the Zugspitze. Seen from the viewpoint near Wessobrunn you have the Hohen Peissenberg with the big antenna in the foreground before the Zugspitze. It is good to choose a day like this one with the Foehn-Effect or come very early to capture the whole dimension of the view. The lower hills and the bigger mountains in the background add to the depth of the scenery.

The picture above is taken from the viewpoint and shows the whole Hohen Peissenberg. In the middle, there is a church. On the right side, there is a small tower, which is part of the weather station of Deutsche Wetterdienst. On the left side and also in the picture below is the big antenna.

March 3, 2018: Partnach Gorge

When the “Beast From The East”, the arctic cold in the second half of February 2018, loosened its grip on middle Europe I immediately thought of realizing a plan I had already the previous year: visiting the Partnach Gorge near Garmisch Partenkirchen. The famous gorge is a great destination in winter-time because of the fantastic world of ice with frozen waterfalls and curtains of ice. It is a natural monument since 1912 and is visited by many guests every year.

Last year the gorge was closed when I was there because when temperatures rise huge chunks of ice come down and it is too dangerous to let visitors walk through the 700 meters long gorge. An owner of a restaurant close to the gorge told me when the giant icicles are thundering down and fall into the canyon everything is shaking in the house when they hit the rocky bottom. It must feel like an earthquake. Sometimes the trail needs a lot of repairs. There are unimaginable forces at work and in former times this was a feared place. The gorge is a monument of untamed nature and demands respect. Very close to the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen wilderness begins.

This year I was lucky and the cold temperatures had done a great job. The gorge was a palace of ice. It was one of the more positive sides of the arctic cold.

I knew I had to act fast or I would have to wait for the next winter. After the extreme cold, temperatures on Saturday were rising in Southern-Germany, since there was an inflow of warm air from Northern-Spain. The direction of the wind was changing.

 

The gorge is a 25minutes walk from the Olympic Skiing Stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. As soon as you enter this wonder of nature it is like being in some Tolkien-setting from “The Lord Of The Rings”.
 

Words fail to describe the fantastic experience. Like the Breitach Gorge, there is a trail allowing visitors experience the dramatic atmosphere of the raging river and the close wet rock faces.
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But the ice curtains, the interplay of frozen water and snow make it a unique experience during the winter time.

Particularly on the first 100 and 200 meters of the walk, there were some impressive sights. The trail is close to the river Partnach and there is a chance to study the ice-sculptures.

 

For most of the year, everybody gets wet when walking through the gorge, because there are springs everywhere and there is always water coming down. Thus you can see these fantastic curtains of ice when the water, which normally rains down is freezing.

 

The Partnach Gorge is offering a huge variety of great motives for pictures. There are not only the big panoramas but also many details in this “palace of ice”. Of course, sometimes you have to share the trail with many other photographers. Thus it is good to start not too late in the morning.

At certain points of the trail, the Partnach Gorge reminds me also of the famous ice-caves in Austria like the “Eisriesenwelt”. When walking through the narrow parts of the gorge there is only little light. If you want to take pictures a tripod is now extremely helpful.

The special experience of the Partnach Gorge is created through the change of very narrow parts and the parts where it is widening.

There is a special magic of these curtains of frozen water. In some places, it seems there would be a green glow on the ice adding to the otherworldliness of this special atmosphere inside the gorge.




Getting closer to the end of the gorge, there was sunlight coming in. This created another kind of experience and an even more enchanted situation.

The Partnach Gorge can be reached easily from Garmisch Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany. From the train station, there is a city bus going to the Olympic Skiing Stadium. There are also horse coaches. There was also an announcement that there are guided night-tours with torches.

The gorge is also a starting point for many hiking tours into the highest mountains of Germany. Alpine cabins and farmed alps are not far.

As said before sometimes the Partnach Gorge needs to be closed when the ice is melting. Thus it is always good to check before (partnachklamm.eu).

At any time of the year, it’s very important to have sturdy shoes and sturdy clothes. The trail is in very good shape but of course, such places can be always slippery or muddy. If you plan to do pictures it is good to have enough time since the trail is a narrow path. Often there are many hikers and tourists walking through the gorge in both directions and you need to wait for a quiet moment to set up equipment.

Furthermore, think of not only some rain-clothes but also about some water-protection for the camera particularly in summer.

During winter sunlight is limited inside the gorge since it is a deep canyon. When I was there, 10.00-11.00 seemed a good time for some sunlight in the last section of the gorge.

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