|Lightning Storms of March 15th & 16th, 2007
BY MARTIN KUCERA
(c) 2007 - FloridaLightning.com
|These two weather active days were the second greatest lightning event of 2007 here
in the Florida Keys. I have been pleased with how this year has been going so far,
speaking of thunderstorms. The first (and the best so far) lightning event occurred
between February 26th and 28th and was very difficult to photograph. This time
around the storms were much closer to the shore and visibility was great, as well.
At first I wanted to go intercept the squall line off shore Tampa, FL which looked quite
nice on the afternoon of March 15th although I thought things might not last well
into the night. That turned out to be the truth. The line went weak as soon as the
heating of the day was lost, shortly after sunset. That's when I spotted a lightning
active cell all the way on the north coast of Cuba. That one did not last for very long
either but at least provided a good distant show - I viewed it from Everglades N.P. -
more than a hundred miles away... upon arriving back to the Keys, things were quiet.
I knew it was not going to last for too long. The atmosphere was very unstable, it was
muggy outside and quite warm. Well, by midnight plenty of small thunderstorm cells
exploded all around and especially south of Key West. I waisted no time and by no
later than 3am I was in Lower Keys. A beautiful thunderstorm exploded just to the
south of the Lower Keys and I managed to get several decent positive lightning shots
before I got rained on. There was a lot of debris clouds in the sky tonight, though.
|Positively charged lightning bolts exiting upper regions of a mature thunderstorm near Lower
Keys on March 15th, 2007. Movement of the storms is north - to the right of the photograph.
|Two last positively charged lightning bolts. These were quite powerful and signified the near
end of the life cycle of the thunderstorm. Time to move a little closer to these thunderstorms.
|It is not the best thing to get very close to a thunderstorm when photographing
lightning, not only for obvious reason of getting struck by lightning itself or
getting into messy rain but as I learned on this chase, the visibility is a major
factor. In my opinion the optimal distance when photographing lightning is
anywhere between 5 - 30 miles. I know those are some broad numbers but it all
depends on location and the sky condition. If the sky is clear and there is a single
lightning active thunderstorm cell I would want to get as close as possible but no
closer than those five miles. Reason is, you should always be able to observe and
have a good, unobstructed view of the top of the thunderstorm as the most
interesting things, when photographing lightning, happen there. If you are any
closer you only get a good view of the bottom of the storm, maybe bag a couple of
negative lightning strikes but certainly will have much harder time achieving
anything more spectacular. These days I always want to have a good view of the
entire thunderstorm and be able to capture it all, especially the positive lightning
bolts leaving upper portions of the storm. Too close of a view would certainly not
allow that. These bolts usually travel great distances away from the storm so even
five miles is still within a deadly range of these superbolts or "bolts out of the blue".
If the sky is not clear ad there is lots of moisture and cloud debris in the sky you
want to be quite far away from the action, as was the case during these two days.
I made a mistake of going too close and for sure it did not pay off. When I was
about thirty miles away from the next storms that by now were affecting Key
West itself - the view was spectacular. From this distance you could clearly see the
main thunderstorm tower brilliantly flashing at a high rate and a blue sky all
around it. Yeah, at a high rate of lightning you can actually see blue sky
surrounding the thunderstorm - one of my favorite parts of lightning
photography. You could see the actual bolts shooting out of the storm in all
directions, that's how electrified the storm was. From this distance you can also
see that from about the middle of the storms to the actual bottom there is a lot of
messy clouds and various other cloud debris surrounding the thunderstorm. This
is the stuff you want to avoid getting under at all costs. And then there is the
obvious rain that sometimes falls and great distances from these storms not
only in subtropical places such as Florida and the Florida Keys.
I drove on all the way to Key West, got in the heavy rain and soon did not see
anything but rain and vivid flashing, obscured by all low level clouds and more
rain. Right. I am not even mentioning here you will get stuck behind that one car
(even at 4 am in the middle of nowhere) that will go at 25mph for the next 25 miles
in all that heavy rain. You will loose plenty of time you could have spent
photographing lightning from farther away but with a great view and no rain.
Between 4 - 6 am I was trying to avoid rain in the vicinity of Key West
International Airport, facing storms that were approaching the city from
the south. There were more storms over the Lower Keys and north east
of Key West. I saw non-stop flashing everywhere but could not see a single,
nice lightning bolt. It was exactly the situation I was trying to avoid but it
is so amazing to be close to storms I could not help it. Maybe next time :-)
|A roll cloud approaching Key West, FL.
Notice all the cloud debris in the sky. Most
of lightning activity remained obscured by
these low level clouds and heavy rain.
|The sun was almost coming up and there was a single thunderstorm left near Big
Pine Key. It was on my way home, too. What a great thunderstorm it was. And
again I was at a perfect distance, the flashing main updraft tower, ideal view and
all when I got amazed again and decided to punch through it. It took me almost
an hour to make it to the other side. Now by this time the storm was almost done
and you could see the first light on the eastern horizon, just above the spectacular
Seven Mile Bridge. During the punch, lightning was peppering the ground all
around the highway. But now there was not a whole lot of the storm left. I set up
my camera near the north end of the Seven Mile Bride one last time. Several great
anvil crawlers went overhead and all across the northern horizon, sounding like a
huge jet plane flying overhead and creating a spectacular ball of fire in the sky.
It was a new day by now and the things suddenly got that feeling like everything
was over, yet once again. And once again I was back on the highway, driving
home. The remnants of a thunderstorm anvil were still overhead, some distant
rumble of thunder on the horizon. Suddenly, the brightest bolt of lightning hits
the bottom portion of a street lamp, just on the opposite side of the highway. Just
a couple of feet from the sidewalk. What a great luck that it was so early in the
morning and nobody was walking there to school or elsewhere.... the light was so
bright and the bang so loud it nearly stopped my heart there for a second. I did
not regain my normal senses after this strike until I was too far away to remember
where exactly it happened to go back and investigate the area. This was the closest
lightning strike I have ever witnessed in person. It was no further that ten yards.
|All Images & Text