Michael Thompson's Australian Storm Chase Diary

4th January 2004 - Lightning show from non-severe storm, or the " Almost my last ever lightning shot chase "

Taken at 28mm (eq) this bolt is closer than it appears. Oak Flats, NSW.

Take away the lightning and this storm would rated about a 1 out of 10 on the interest scale. When I played back the radar loops later that night I was amazed at the pitiful shower that animated across the screen.

As it was it could have been my last ever lightning photo, read on for the full story.

It had been a hot an humid day, but the humidity was a cruel thin layer associated with a seabreeze, as far as being a moisture source for storms it did not rate, there was a weak trough, but the lack of moisture was keeping things dry. Around midday small convection showers about 150 kms further down the coast took my interest, there was also a weak front moving up the coast aiding the development of these showers. The front passed my area about 6pm, not long afterwards high based cumulus started developing, but nothing of note. Around dusk I noted some showers had developed about 100km west, but they looked mositure starved and struggling. By now I had resigned myself to a quite night at home. I walked outside just after dark to see lightning immediately to my west. I grabbed the camera gear and drove around the corner and took three 1 minute exposures.

The first photo I took. Bolts grounding near Albion Park, NSW
Second photo and closer this time, Oak Flats. NSW

During the third exposure ( large photo at top of page ) it started to rain. I quickly grabbed my gear and retreated to the car, cursing my bad luck as some lovely close bolts rained down. The rain eased so I decided to grab at least another photo, as I walked back to the lake edge I looked at an inviting sheltering tree, not overly tall and lower than the ridge immediately behind me, I even did some mental sums - ' my car is a better target as its metal..... the tree is only small.... but tree is exposed '. I even started to walk towards the tree, but changed my mind due its exposure and walked about 10m ( 30ft ) further up the shoreline. The next photo below is my fourth photo, and what may have been a last for this chaser.

Photo 4, same 1 min exposure, but look at the light..and what is that orange stuff?
Photo of the tree taken the next day

Part of the way through photo 4 and bang !!! As my eyes came too from the sudden flash I thought to myself that was a close one, imagine my surprise, shock, horror when I looked at the tree to see it smolder than spring into fire, the same tree had contemplated sheltering under, albeit briefly. The photo has a funny orange glow at the top right, one possible cause is that I had to interrupt the exposure due to rain returning, the Noise Reduction may have still been working away. I don't know, perhaps it is something to do with the tree being struck just 30 ft to my right.

One last photo in a new location as the storm decays rapidly over the ocean.
Small track marks down the tree.

There was no hair standing on end, no sense of the electrical potential build up, no funny cracklings. I guess I was lucky that I did not receive any secondary shocks being that close. The tree was growing into saturated salty soil, perhaps the earth was just too good.

The storm moved out to sea and decayed very rapidly.