Lightning and Storms

Lightning on a Shelf Cloud

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
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  shelf cloud and lightning  

Strong winds from a severe thunderstorm appear to be bending out the channel of this lightning bolt. The fast moving wind storm moved through western Oklahoma late at night. The cloud feature along the leading edge is called a gust front or shelf cloud. As it passes the winds shift and become much cooler. This particular storm line had 60 m.p.h. winds.

Want to learn more about the lightning and understand what's going on in these storms? Kids can learn more about lightning by visiting sources such as the National Geographic Page on lightning . Lightning extending from thunderstorms into space is a new area of study and may be observed in special situations involving very clear dark skies.


Cloud to Ground Strikes

virga and lightning a collection of branched bolts

Cloud to ground lightning looks the best when it's out of the rain. The branching shows up best when there is no rain to blur the image. In the left shot taken near Dodge City, Kansas the precipitation is actually virga, it's evaporating before it hits the ground. Note the difference in the top of the lightning and the detail near the ground. The better contrast is lower in the image and out of the rain. The shot on the right is mostly rain free so the branching shows up throughout the shot.



tornado lit by lightning  

Using Lightning To Illuminate the Tornado

Lightning is common in a tornadic thunderstorm, but often after the tornado is on the ground the lightning diminishes. This was a lucky shot, well not total luck, I was there. It's really hard to do this, as I have tried for years. On numerous occasions I have had a tornado in the lightning and something goes wrong to keep me from getting it. One time I had two tornadoes going on simultaneously in the lightning east of Wichita, Kansas. I broke out of the storm too close to the tornadoes and they roared by before I could get set up. For this shot I was on a little hand tripod setting on the car hood, which is fast to set up. Also, it wasn't raining and that made it possible to stand outside without soaking the equipment.


Lightning Over The City

The secret to good lightning shots over the city is to get a great vantage point and stay dry (and out of the lightning) as the storms move in. In this image a severe thunderstorm rains lightning down on Oklahoma City. The lightning is on the leading edge of the gust front where new storms are forming. That keeps it out of the rain so the branching shows up on the film.

  lightning rains on Oklahoma City  
 

Shooting lightning over the city is the easiest place if you want to take pictures like these. Setting up the camera from a second story window or a balcony of an apartment is a good start. I use a window clamp tripod in a car for safety. Since a group of us storm chasers got hit we have been really careful. If you want to learn more about lightning I could tell you how I do it, but someone else that takes great lightning has already done it. So visit Chuck Doswell's site for lightning tips before you try this, and your results will be better.

 

  storm in red sunset  

Combining a Red Sunset and the Lightning

A very red sunset combine with an isolated severe storm over Ardmore, Oklahoma produced this unusual shot. No colored filters or Photoshop tricks here, just a great sunset. Oh, and the way to check if weather and astronomy pictures are authentic, look at the white lights, are they white, or red? This photo was taken from the scenic overlook in the Arbuckle Mountains.



Daylight Lightning Hits A New Mexico Mountain Side

It's common knowledge that lightning hits the highest spots, right? By watching lightning long enough in the mountains one will discover it hits where it pleases. It frequently bypasses the mountain tops to strike in the valleys or hillsides. If you're out in a lightning storm it's best to get under cover and away from big trees, but just because you're on lower ground is no guarantee of protection.

  Lightning strike in NM mtns



"A Bolt of Lightning" is a common saying, but is it true?

This is a typical lightning shot for me. A couple of bolts hit the ground a few miles away, but there is much more to these hits than immediately meets the eye. Click on this enlargement of the image (somewhat reduced quality) but it does show what's going on near the ground. As I look across the horizon on my monitor I can see up to 21 individual lightning discharges making contact with the ground in this instance, some are very faint. Never doubt for a second that each one of these little "mini-bolts" could harm you. I believe many lightning survivors are stuck by these small branches as opposed to the main bolt. Each one of them would carry thousands of volts at high enough amperage to knock a person to the ground and burn them.

For this reason it is good to be under cover during a lightning storm. Much more ground is covered by these bolts than the eye can see, especially during the daylight hours. Also, many bolts are so bright that the smaller branches are hidden in the flash.

 

Lightning Back Lights A Wall Cloud

Lightning is generally very active during the formation stages of a wall cloud and mesocyclone. In this image I was able to take advantage of the situation by capturing a rapidly rotating wall cloud, with a tail cloud streaming in from the east. For the best observation of a wall cloud at night place it between you and the rain wall of the storm. That tends to be where most of the sheet lightning is coming from.

  rotating wall cloud by lightning

Go to Lightning Part 2