Comprehensive research and storm reports, more photos




March 2011 storm chase reports

Several weeks of the monsoon still deterred any chasing, but the latter half of March I was about to get out and get some good shots and chase around the place. The lightning research has mainly been study and books for the past 8 weeks and a lack of lightning at night really makes things difficult at the best of times to collect data.

Several chases included Darwin's rural area and further inland around 200km toward Pine creek, a small mining town which often promotes good storms.  Most of the set ups had afternoon cells ramping up and contiuing just on dark, but after that nothing eventuated.  A lot of November type storms formed in the monsoon break period in rural Darwin which were a treat to chase.  Abundant daytime lightning, big hits and plenty of it including some wonderful shelf clouds and heavy rain accompanied them.  CAPE values were around the norm at 2000j/kg upward but wind shear has been woeful.  HEL to 3km was mediocre at best.  With only 10-15kts steer and big winds aloft at over 90km/h really blew the anvil cloud across a wide area with thick storm coverage.  This in itself hampers other cells forming and getting some height, but generally if the steer was better the storms would have produced more.  The CLWC was fairly high during these periods and little electrification occured.  Some images are below of chased storms over the March period to date 28thMarch 2011.


Feb/March reports 











November/December chase reports.

All images

(c) StormscapesDarwin (c) Mike O'Neill

Severe  warned storm smashed into the rural areas and Darwin xmas night.  The winds were insane and the rain was many strikes were surrounding me I had to move around to get to the rear of the storms.  The first shots were taken on the way home prior to the storm ramping up.


Nice storm cell off the coast of Darwin City produced two nice CG's - the monsoon is finally gowing away so the storms are returning!



 It's been a delay in updateing the site simply due to so much activity from November onwards, and filming with the NHK documentary crew from Japan has taken up a lot of time.  So here goes with some photos etc from the chases done over the past two months to date 15/12/2010.



It took a while but the storm season ramped up early November with some striking storms about.  Several severe warnings for damaging winds with a couple of the cells and this made for some nice chasing.  The NHK film crew arrived late November so it was not long before they put me under the pump to find them some storms.  Easier said than done on some days.  Each day the producer wanted to know what the set ups for the day was and where we would go.  Most time it was a case of waiting until the mid afternoon came so the heating could lift those storms and I could get a better indication of where the boundaries were to chase.

 This is the NHK film crew.  They came complete with a barrage of camera and video gear and also an SA51 high speed unit which has a film rate at over 2million frames per second...insane speed just for lightning captures and perfect!





The NHK film crew consisted of Yoichi Minowa (Oceapro, Managing Director who organised the whole crew and acted as interpreter.  Ishimoto Tatsuya, Program Director from NHK, Yasuhiro Omoishi, Audio and Lighting Technician and Masashi Wada, Senior Camerman.




 The initial days chasing proved great, thankfully a bit of forecasting and head pounding nowcasting nailed some daytime storms.  The crew had a particular storyline in mind so we got some footage and still shots of the inland storms.  The filmed the whole process from go to woe...meaning, from home they fiolmed me checking the obs, the radar, the soundings and satellite images to target an areaEach time we filmed they added interviews and questions about where we were heading, what to expect and the like so it was full on from day one.



First few days were nailing daytime storms and daytime lightning, something which proved not hard to get, but harder to photograph given the lightning embedded in the storm's rain shaft.   The film crew fitted GoPro cameras inside the car to get me doing my thing on the way to the chase while they filmed from behind.

The main focus was to get Blue Jet lightning, something I needed and also upward leader lightning.  The storms were active at night but continually there was cloud cover either in front or above the thunderstorm head, so visually it was not appealing for the Blue Jets...during the end of the week's filming they specifically asked if we could get some nighttime lightning, up close.  It's something I'm good at targeting over the years and it finnaly happened as we chased to Adelaide River, some 90km from Darwin.


The scenario for good storms was on the cards and I specifically targetted an area with good instability and CAPE.  We ignored two strong cells on the way down - something I would not normally do, but given the priority factor it was important to nail some good lightning for the guys.  During the waiting period at Adelaide River the radar showed some new cells forming to the SE of our location...the punching cumulous cloud with strong updrafts soon caught my attention and then a boom of thunder heralded our move quickly!




As we drove about 5km down the track this beast appeared in the field to our left...what a gift!  we all scrambed out of our cars and got the camera and video gear set up...all went ballistic not long after and two friends Eugene and Martin were with me to nail some lightning shots...their first ever chase and it was going to be insane!  All of the lightning was very, very close.  Quite a dangerous situation but human nature kept us watching in awe as this storm produced a multitude of pulsing strikes right around us.


On dusk the sky was black but soon turned a beautiful purle/organge color and the lightning did not let up..we had to take cover in our cars as the strikes were so close it would be foolish to stay out in the open. Plus the rain had started, not heavy but enough for us to take shots within the car.



Image above shows a wonderful large strike hitting just in front of the film crew's hire car with them in it!  The money shot!   The producer and Yoichi were so pleased with the night's activity and light could not have panned out any better.



The following images are from the various days' shooting and chasing.  My thanks to Yoichi and the NHK crew for taking the time and having the confidence in me to deliver.  They came with a mission and it was successful for everyone.





The monsoon is upon us in the next day or two so some slow moving thunderstorms are dumping around 30-50mm of rain as they come through.  There is a low pressure system in the Arafura and Timor seas, so they are being watched as the days progress.  More to come!  



After a couple of dry days storms returned to rural areas around Darwin.  Most of them appeared in the late arfternoon and Darwin received some decent rainfall also.  My chase opportunities are limited to wseekends this month until I get some leave, but i have managed to get quite a few storm shots and finally some lightning shots.  Given this strong La Nina period our cyclone season is expected to be a lot stronger than normal.  It's the first time I have seen the words çoncerned' quoted in the media about this season.  Apparently it's akin to the late 90's period in which a strong CAT4 cyclone impacted our coastline.  There's lots of things happening chase wise over the coming months and they can be found on the International exposure page...just to keep you clicking!  Below are some photos over the past days.





I had always planned to chase today (Sunday) as the CAPE was a little better.  Although the scenarios have been somewhat 'wet' storm wise there have been brief moments of anticipation seeing flashes here and there but electrification was always going to struggle a bit given the low storm tops.  Many of the storms failed to anvil and they remained average in height, so chasing the ones that did get decent lift still proved a pain the neck given a lot of low cloud surrounding them.  Rather than being able to pick something that was going to produce lightning of some depth became akin to finding a target, waiting...more waiting and then moving on again.  So no success over the last couple of days or nights.

GFS was okay for energy but I don't beleive good enough for decent cells to remain high and charged.  Whilst the lightning trackers were showing some decent amount of hits, the reality is that most, if not all of them were totally hidden behind heavy precip curtains.

We had targeted east toward Jabiru, about 90km short of the town.  We did see only one large CB that anvilled twice with overshooting tops, but if there were bolts then we were obviously too late.  We decided to keep to the Annaboroo area and wait for things to happen.  There was no shortage of cells meandering and grouping and as it panned out - as you will see by the radar loop - a long line of cells converged into a line and kept on going.  No strong winds or torrential downpours, just a grandmother paced moderate rain borne line that just took its time to the coast.  Which made chasing something easy...just stay ahead of it and she'll be right!

I had planned to chase to Adelaide River some 70km south of Darwin, which going by the GFS models was a little less in CAPE, but from what we saw on radar and visually had probably the larger storm sets as our line east merged with it.  So William and I headed out east in the hope of lightning...alas not to be, but got some nice structured shots and the like.

Sounding for today was pretty average but showed a lot of moisture and a dreaded cap that was really hard to break.  Only a few discreet cells found locations in which to get some distance aloft, all the others remained under the cap, which would have inhibited electrification of any worth or timeframe.

We've had a prolonged wet season which did not actually cease until late May, early June and in fact had a thunderstorm to the NW near Dundee Beach?Litchfield area during the middle of July!  Insane stuff.  Some people got some photos of it which I will get permission to share with you...quite unusual and unseasonal.  We had a burst of moisture from an upper trough which moved over from WA and created some humidity and convection, with the NW area obviously very liking those elements and the resultant thunderstorm was shown!

Given the La Nina cycle again the usual banter is about re what type of season we will have...I've almost given up trying to predict anything due to the fact that each season promises less and less.  Last season was in reality quite dull - even compared to the previous season - with no major storms moving into Darwin except for a couple of nights, Dec10 being the incredible lightning display this city has seen in many years - of course I could only view it from the loading dock at work...

The storms of the last few seasons, I believe are being affected by the urban sprawl - the storms seem to be splitting from around Middle Point area - about 30km from Darwin - and then splitting in a V and moving either NW or NE and a large hole left where Darwin sits.  if the sea breeze is supposed to aid storm initiation then something is wrong!  Any storms with weak steer or shear are killed off rapidly once they come within 20km of Darwin.
There was also the opportunity to film with National Geographic in November 2009 for their recently finished documentary on lightning chasers.  It was filmed by an Austrian film company which had been to the US and South America and then came to Darwin to look me up and take them chasing.  Little nighttime action but a host of daytime storms which they were well pleased with.  Spent 10 days with them filming off and on and the trailer to the doco is herewith below.  Tom Warner is also featured in another snippet but I was humbled to see moi in the doco!  From what friends say in the US my ten minute addition was at the end of the hour long doco.  They caught more lightning in two days than they did spending 2 weeks in the US!!  Should be receiving my unedited copy of the doco soon from the producers.  Quite exciting to film with them and very exhausting!


September 2010


Unseasonal instability for this time of year is producing storms around Darwin.  Some very active storm cells have been visitors of late 21-23Sept on the coastal regions around Darwin, so chasing after work was not a problem.


Storm report 21/22nd September:

Influx of moisture from the NE and E created some highly active storm systems during this time.  For once the sea breeze actually made an impact on incoming cells and with those cells creating enough forcing to push through it proved quite a treat. Darwin has received some good rainfall with the storms and for those of us that chase an opportunity to get some photos.

 The sounding for the first day was very good, with decent lift and lapse rates.  GFS also agreed with instability and CAPE was in the range of about 100-1200, qhich is quite acceptable for this time of year so early. The storms showed good potential and electrification properties and whilst inland areas got some large storms, Darwin did not miss out late into the evening.








 I'm highly anticipating this season will be far better than last year's efforts.  So many daytime storms but lack of night time storms visited the city, work commitments hampered just about every good chase day set up more than I'd like to remember.

 We're expecting a La Nina period of the season's cycle which inevitably means more cyclones on the eastern seaboard and generally stormier conditions for us here in Darwin.  Once can only hope that that happens this time around as the last 'Nina' event was pretty disappointing.   It's my intention to frantically chase as much as I can this season not only for my own shots but for the lightning research I am embarking on.  In particular it will be reverse lightning, capturing it on video and still frame.  Also on the agenda is sprite lightning which can only be seen from quite a distance and using particular camera equipment.  With the aid of sponsorship money this season it will at least enable me to get things purchased and really nail those target areas outside of Darwin and rural.

I've a new camera, a Canon 1Ds MKII some fine lens and some more gear to get as the time approaches, but you can be assured of some insane lightning, big storms, and incredible footage!  Storm season starts around mid-October and November, December has the more severe storms rolling through.  I look forward to sharing my reports and other research findings during the season 2010/11.

 Don't forget to say g'day if you see me about!


New camera arrives this week so I am excited about putting the timelapse to work once the storm season arrives.  In fact there was a highly unseasonal thunderstorm - albeit brief - July31 which produce a few strikes in the inland region.  Totally caught everyone off-guard and it's something I've never seen during our dry season!  My appearance in the National Geographic Lightning documentary is airing in the US August 5 - so if you live in the US make sure you watch the show - it should be fantastic!  Here's a preview of the show...I don't know how long the link will remain active for viewing.

NatGeo lightning documentary airing in the US preview


Here's the US narrated version: