September 19, 2006 - Islamorada, FL
(c) 2006 -
The small thunderstorm complex just over the ocean south of the upper Keys
formed quickly during early morning hours. An outflow boundary was moving
through the area triggering these towers for a little less than an hour.
The first photo - that is where all the magic happens. Clear skies, bright stars and
a superb visibility. Then the thunderstorm "tower" starts "blinking". You know it
does not get any better than this. A better setup simply does not exist, for me, at
least. You are on time an ready to witness an entire life cycle of a thunderstorm.
If there is more cells, you are certainly in for a longer lasting show. Notice the
(clear sky - lit up cell) interface just above the lighthouse in the first photo - that's
where you always get the great night colors with these kinds of thunderstorms.
First positive lightning bolts appear only several minutes later. Note that an
average lifespan of summer time storms like these is usually not more than 20 -
30 minutes. Many times event less than that. It all depends on many different
conditions such as winds, instability, temperatures at different atmosphere
levels and so on... positive lightning discharges  most often signify
maturity of a storm and the near end of the lightning activity.
Another several minutes later in the process, the lightning frequency changes
like this : Flash intensity rapidly decreases - the "blinking" effect nearly comes to
an end while the thunderstorm somehow draws all the energy at this point
(seems to me) to produce the supercharged positive lightning bolts.
One of the most spectacular stages of the storm that you never want to miss.
Top left photo - a picture perfect positive lightning strike. Notice the lightning
channel far away from the main updraft tower. This is when you can hear
experts say that lightning can and will strike sometimes even 15 miles away
from the parent thunderstorm. Incredibly powerful discharge is generated by
this kind of lightning bolt. Whenever you see a towering sharp looking storm
related anvil directly above your location it is the most important thing to take
cover immediately. With these destructive discharges in vicinity no one is safe
in the open.
Most of these events share one characteristic. Just before the end of all lightning
activity there is a single huge bolt that seems to draw the last bits of energy out
of the updraft region. In this case that would be the photo above and left. The
last photo shows the cell heavily raining out with an overall weak look to the
thunderstorm. The flash interval past this point is usually several minutes and
the discharge would usually be very weak. Thunderstorm is at the end of it's life.
(c) 2006 -