Sunday, August 14

Bolt from the Blue

IMG 945 -- Bolt from the BlueOn this night, I had the rare luck of capturing a less photographed form of lightning called a 'bolt from the blue', so named since they shoot out from the top of the storm, arcing sideways-- around the anvil-- and touching ground far outside of the storm's main precipitation regions. While spectacular to photograph (but almost impossible to witness visually), such bolts are far more deadly than the common negatively-charged strike and the cause of many deaths as they carry tremendously greater charge (usually 10X more than the common bolt!), and thus travel several miles outside of the main storm body.

On the night of the 3rd, I had the rare luck of capturing a less frequently photographed form of lightning called a bolt from the blue.

Such super-bolts, while spectacular to witness and document, are absolutely lethal and destructive as they possess about 10X the charge of the more common negative bolt. Also referred to as dry lightning, they have caused many fatalities and millions of dollars in damage.

The visible lightning discharge (return stroke) originates within the storm's upper glaciated anvil which holds solid hydrometeors (ice crystals & hail/graupel) that carry positive charge.

The initial stepped leader sets off as an intracloud bolt within the positively charged upper anvil/tower region before traveling outward up to several miles then down towards an unsuspecting target on the negatively charged ground. Positive bolts are the most highly charged and long-lasting form of lightning. While the average common negative bolt carries enough energy to light a 10-watt bulb for 2 months, a positive bolt can release enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for almost a century!!

Positive lightning strikes of this kind are superceded in rarity only by ball lightning, which I personally have yet to witness.

Captured with Canon 40D in northeast Colorado. Exposure time: 23 sec., ISO 100, Canon EF-S 10-22mm zoom.

Monday, July 18

July 13, 2011 Denver Lightning Superstorms

During the week of July 11th, the eastern Colorado and Front Range urban corridor were hit by some of the most powerful storms in memory. The strong late-summertime high situated over the southern and central plains enhanced the monsoonal moisture pattern, pushing deep moisture normally seen only across the lower central Plains during the height of storm season all the way up to the mountains. The deeper moisture naturally combined with strong daytime heating, with several days pushing highs towards the century mark, and an unusually mild upper air pattern with the jet stream situated well north toward the Canada border to create ideal conditions for slow moving, flooding storms with tremendous lightning.

While the storms were mostly non-tornadic (only one supercell with tornado reports which happened over some barren fields well southeast of Denver), the ferocious lighting shows more than made up for it!!

IMG 0135 (7.13.11)

Above is an awesome strike I captured from the comfort of my back yard on the night of the 13th!
In my opinion that night was the height of the prolific storms pattern with dazzling displays of non-stop strikes of every kind that moved almost over downtown Denver as with the previous night.

The storms then drifted northward over the southeastern part of town where they lost no strength! As I followed carefully through Aurora and up to I-70 east, I witnessed just how powerfully electrified it was!

IMG 0218 (7.13.11)

To view these and other great photos, please visit:
Thunderstrike Photography

Friday, May 13

Lucky Shots of Overshooting Towers!

So last week I felt SORELY disappointed that I wouldn't be able to chase what the forecast models had predicted would be the second real tornado outbreak of the year. Both the long range (GFS) AND medium-short range (NAM) showed the classic signs of a negatively tilted trough & associated jet streak complete with subtropical jet to pull out onto the southern Plains right over deep moisture classic to a healthy May starting Wednesday and moving slowly eastwards into the end of the week.

Unfortunately a business trip to Chicago-- starting ON Wednesday and going for a day & a half -- was mandatory. I had a sneaking suspicion that Chicago & areas along our flight one way or the other would likely see at least some storms, and thankfully was not disappointed!
While there were no tornadoes or crazy lightning storms to be had (and this system failed to produce any outbreaks at all, thankfully), I did have the great pleasure of photographing a few healthy supercells on the way back home-- from 40,000 feet up!! Somewhere over southeastern Nebraska between Lincoln & Hebron spiraling around the core of a large cold-core low a series of cells erupted...

Courtesy of my DROID X!

These failed to produce any tornadoes (at the time at least), but had plenty of awesome classic supercellular structures! Four twisters were reported earlier, but they were all further north along & just north of I-80 between 3-4pm.

Saturday, May 7

Gearing Up for Storm Season 2011

Greetings! It's been some time since my last update, and as we have seen this season has already taken off with a truly historic and unprecedented April of consecutive outbreaks with not just record numbers of tornadoes, but of VIOLENT killer tornadoes, as anyone tuned into the news has seen. The latest estimates and figures from NOAA & the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) are stunning: (source link here)

305 separate tornado touchdowns in two waves of outbreaks over a 3-day period.

Two E-F5s, 12 E-F4s, and TWENTY-ONE E-F3 tornadoes!!

Damage paths across long swaths of land from east Texas to Virginia, covering most of the southeast U.S. region known as "Dixie Alley", an area outside the proverbial & traditional "Tornado Alley" which has seen more deaths per capita than anywhere in the nation.

One particularly violent storm spawned from this monstrous "super-outbreak", infamously known as the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, was tracked and covered live by numerous media outlets including The Weather Channel, had a maximum width of 1.5 miles and an astounding 80 MILE path of destruction, very sadly inflicting a confirmed 65 fatalities, a new record from a single tornado since March 1925.

The endless streams of images, videos & dramatic survivor accounts have once again left the nation with a sad, sobering image of what a "Super-Outbreak" looks like, and the ongoing NEED to continue to develop advanced warning systems with which to not just continually warn, but EDUCATE the public. On the positive side, the Storm Prediction Center had issued categorical risks days before the outbreak, clearly highlighting the general areas most at risk, and then worked diligently with the local NWS offices in issuing warnings on some 90% of storms that produced tornadoes with an average lead time of twenty-five minutes.

A few incredible videos that put things in perspective for me on that night:
Tuscaloosa tornado