Posted by: peterhact | December 5, 2011

My first decent storm chase in years

I never thought that i would say it, but my separation has been a blessing in disguise. I used to chase storms. I had an old point and click camera, and I never really got the great shots, but I was there to witness nature in her glory- to watch a light show that was always awesome, up close & very personal. Then I met someone who didn’t like lightning chasing, who couldn’t experience storms on the raw level I could, and I stopped going out and seeing mother nature at her finest.

I resorted to visiting websites about other chasers and their achievements. Then, I got separated. I don’t chase on weekends when I have the kids, I don’t rush outside to photograph storms when they are with me, I am a sensible daddy. I itch to take the brand new camera that i bought for my 40th out, but I resist. It is hard, as the storms are like a different kind of addiction, and I always play it safe.


So, last week, on a work night, on the 29th of November, we had a bit of weather round Tuggeranong, fairly loud storms and green clouds. I recorded them on the iphone, and was talking about it on twitter when a comment was made by a guy who reports weather in Gungahlin. This wasn’t the big storm, there was a second one brewing out round Wagga Wagga.  I announced that I was going to head up Mount Ainslie for a bit of a look see. I was told I was mad, crazy, what was I thinking?? Off I went, leaving my brand new camera at home, as I had run out of batteries and couldn’t find my inverter. (both packs were flat)

When i got to the top, there was a storm out over the airport towards Queanbeyan, which was producing great lightning. I chatted to a couple of blokes there, one was named Tom, and he already had great shots of the lightning in the clouds. I mentioned that there was activity on the other side of the summit, and they ended up wandering over to take a look. We were nearest to Anzac parade viewing area watching what was coming in. There were a couple of nice strikes, but then it got muggy. not your average humidity, this was a drenching. I mentioned to tom that my weatherzone radar showed a front that I was predicting would  come in over Gungahlin. There was a rain shield around it, but there might be a chance for some decent strikes.

So there we were. The storm was coming, I was feeling more alive than I thought possible, and I was talking a lot. I do that when I am nervous. As I pointed out to another person on the mountain, I go silent when I am scared. The strikes were really big on the horizon to start with, then they got closer. Ever been fishing with friends? that sweet moment when everyone has a fish on, and you keep landing them only to hook up a second later? That was what it was like. Tom was getting crazy shots, they were fantastic, the other guy near me was getting them too, and everyone except me had a camera and a tripod… I am going to fix that. next time it is a tripod for me too.

I was “doing the count” timing between flash and thunder, and it was agreed that when it got to be 1 second between the flash and the bang, it was time to go. 10 seconds, 6 seconds, 5 seconds, 2 seconds, BANG!! that was too close for comfort! I said, calmly, i thought, “that is me. goodnight all.” and headed for the car. I reviewed my shots that I had taken with the iphone. and there it was. double exposed, grainy, but it was the lightning shot that I never thought possible:

Wow. Now I should have paid attention as the other photographers all got in their cars and got the hell outta there. I didn’t. I drove out of the carpark, down the darkened / lit road (by lightning), as the car got buffeted by major gusts, whiteout rain – I mean, there needs to be a setting of 11 on wipers, I couldn’t go faster than 40kph, considering that there was a curtain of rain on my windscreen. I had the lights on high beam, and I did a bit of praying – that the kangaroo population didn’t decide to cross the road, that the massive gum trees around me stood up to this beating, that I could see where the hell the road was. I made it down without any of the mentioned concerns happening, and then, just before reaching the T intersection, in the light of the streetlights, I watched as a massive branch tore itself from a tree and cartwheeled across the road…. It was too close for comfort, so i took it even slower at the intersection, turned left, and headed for tuggeranong.

The drive home was a hell ride, with an extra helping of devils. Firstly, avoiding tree debris was interesting, and having a strobe effect from the wiper / lightning combination was interesting, but concerning. I considered pulling over for a couple of shots out the side window of what I was seeing, but I am certain I would have been hit by a couple of cars that seemed to not get the concept of hazards on the side of the road meaning people had stopped. As I passed hume, there was a multitude of cars sheltering at the service station. next to the bowsers. as debris was blowing in. and lightning was striking close. Not on your life.

I have already posted my trip home, but I am repeating it, i know. Wow. it was just so…. surreal. awesome, scary and invigorating. next time, I go when the others do. or, I stay up till the front passes. Never trying to outrun the storm rain front.

I received emails from people who were interested in showing me storm shots from the mount. if you want to see the type of shots they are, visit this site: – he had taken shots that i dream of, but I will get to take my own soon. The photographers all were helpful in telling me what to do, how to capture the lightning on a digital SLR, and I am going to try their advice next time.



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