FROM RAIN TO ICE AND BACK: This week has brought more than its share of horrible weather to the U.S., with two flooding rain storms in the Northeast that have swollen rivers, washed out roads, and flooded hundreds of homes in low lying areas of New York and New Jersey. In higher elevations around the lower Hudson Valley where I’ve lived for most of my life, Sunday’s storm had a surprise ending for those who were willing to look up (literally) after the rain stopped. As the sun broke through the clouds around 10am, the tops of the hills to the South and East were illuminated like silver sculptures. Apparently, while the lower valleys were being drenched in 2-3 inches of rain over night, everything above 800 feet in elevation had been coated in ice during the last hours of the storm. If it had remained cloudy, the ice might have gone unnoticed from below, but the sun had other plans. The result was a dramatic scene from down below, as the fog and mist swirled in the air around the hills, with bright silver patches appearing behind and under them whenever a ray of sunshine made its way to the ground. At my first glimpse of the phenomena, the Monday-morning blues vanished, and I barely noticed the floods and debris on the roads as I headed towards Fahnestock State Park.
Ice storm video
To document the gift that Mother Nature left behind with both still photos and video, I decided to test out the new 16.3MP Pentax K-5 DSLR and the incredibly compact, weather-sealed SMC Pentax-DA 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 ED AL lens. I was hoping that the camera’s high resolution still capability, its ability to record Full HD 1080p video, and its new auto-HDR mode would do justice to the magical crystal scenes that appeared in all directions as I crossed the ice line.
In addition to a half dozen blizzards that made this Winter one for the record books across New England, this was the third ice storm to hit my area in the last three months. After the first two, I managed to get a few decent shots, but wasn’t totally satisfied with the muted lighting caused by cloud cover. However, I learned several lessons about shooting in a forest coated with a quarter inch of ice. From a camera meter’s perspective, it’s just like shooting chrome car bumpers at an antique car show–damn tricky! (Dialing in a bit of overexposure compensation, even when shooting RAW, is especially helpful when shooting into the direction of the sun). From a safety perspective, it can be very dangerous, especially if the wind starts blowing and you happen to be standing or sitting under an ice-coated tree. Even if the branches don’t break off and hit you (a higher probability than usual!), getting pelted by a shower of pointed ice crystals dropping from 30-60 feet above you can be very painful and damage your camera if you don’t protect it. And last but not least, we’re talking about ice coating everything, not just on tree branches. So even a familiar dirt path or plowed parking lot can send you flying on your ass if you’re not careful. In my opinion, the dangers and challenges faced are worth the results, just like when shooting lightning…
Every ice storm can produce beautiful scenes, but I was surprised at how this one towered over the previous ones I’d encountered. Everything looked more brilliant and silvery than it did in the last two storms, and the ice actually created a prism effect that produced rainbow colors on the branches. I think I know why this storm’s ice produced such a stunning vista. In the first two storms, the ice mixed with snow as it built up on branches, creating a milky ice coating that doesn’t reflect sunlight as well as the crystal clear ice that had formed after this particular rain storm. Combine that with a cloud cover that was quickly replaced by bright sun and a clear blue sky (blue background instead of gray), and voila! Silver and rainbow-colored ice storm! Or at least that’s my theory.