Adapting to the weather…

sand storm, jasper, landscape, winter, clouds, dan jurak, alberta, silhouette,

I just returned from a few days in the mountains. It’s not often that I make the drive. A few times a year seems to be plenty for me. This trip was amazing for the variety of conditions that I experienced over three days in December.

From photographing ice bubbles on Abraham Lake to chest deep snow near the Columbia Icefields to sandstorms and shelf clouds. Yes SANDSTORMS and SHELF CLOUDS in December.

Weather is to me the most important ingredient in landscape photography. Shooting mainly on the prairies if you don’t get the right weather most photos end up looking flat and uninteresting.

The internet has really helped in deciding when to go and at what time. Websites like can be particularly helpful with hour by hour breakdown of humidity, wind and cloud cover.

Apps like TPE for Android or iPhone with the accompanying Skyfireapp add-on very accurately predict the chances of having a blazing sunset or sunrise.

On my last morning I had decided to go to one of two places. My first option was to drive 100 kms towards the icefields as a moderately coloured sunrise was predicted. That was in the OPPOSITE direction of home. The second choice was to drive towards home where an absolutely blazing sunrise was being shown on the app. Hmmm… which to do?

Cleardarksky was showing moderate cloud cover over both of the areas but directly to the west of me was a really heavy band of cloud cover. Even with sophisticated weather satellites and programs predicting the weather is still sometimes hit or miss.

Because the heavy band of cloud was so close I decided to wait until morning and see what the forecast looked like and decide at that time.

Up around 6:00 a.m. and checking the Environment Canada forecast it had now changed to light snow which meant completely overcast. Out the window went the previous evenings plans.

I checked out of the motel at 7:00 a.m. bought a pumpkin spice latte and waited in a parking lot in Jasper townsite for the sky to lighten. If the forecast was wrong I might make the short drive to Pyramid Lake and take a photo of the bridge to the island on the lake with blazing morning colours. If the forecast was right I would point the Rav in the direction home.

I sat for the next hour watching the sky. It wasn’t promising. What the heck, I made the ten minute drive to Pyramid Lake near sunrise and nothing but heavily overcast skies with a smattering of snow flakes falling.

That was it. I would be heading home.

A few minutes later I was on the highway and driving into the Athabasca River valley. The skies were darkening even more and the clouds dropping near to the ground. As I drove on the wind picked up and started pushing the vehicle from side to side. This was a regular storm that I was driving into.

Now heading eastward along Jasper Lake which is really the Athabasca River where it widens to over a kilometre sand was whipping up off the flats and sheets of it were being blasted across the highway. Wow! I pulled over. Put on my flashers and grabbed my camera for a few shots.

Early December in the mountains and in the middle of a sandstorm. The ice that was parts of the river was now covered in a thick coating of brown dust and the distant mountains were obscured by the blowing sand.

I continued eastward stopping every few kilometres taking photos of the storm. Satisfied that I was done I got back in the vehicle with the intention of heading straight home.

As I was approaching the park gates what should I see but a HUGE shelf cloud over the mountains. EEEEEEK! In all my life I have never seen such a cloud in the mountains. It was like being on the prairies in July chasing supercells.

I pulled over by the Fiddle River bridge, threw on an ultra wide lens and snapped away at the cloud as it quickly moved eastward.

The next few hours was uneventful. The predicted sunrise never appeared but then I hardly ever get what I plan for when taking landscape photos and neither should you.

Happy shooting,


~ by Dan Jurak on December 13, 2018.

2 Responses to “Adapting to the weather…”

  1. It sounds like you are having some great adventures in photography.

  2. Too much fun Stephen. There was an incredible variety of weather over just three days.

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