Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blinded by the lightning: Weather is fun again

Intense lightning strike in Cocoa Beach
Lightning strikes in the Atlantic off south Cocoa Beach. I can still see this image when I close my eyes. It's forever ingrained in my brain.

Some crawlers off Cocoa Beach, just after the deluge had stopped deluging for a bit.

After the beach, I stopped along the Indian River in Palm Shores, where I saw a few bolts.

Note: I might post a video later, if I have the energy after this draining night.

While I was watching Letterman around midnight Tuesday, an Emergency Alert System message scrolled across the screen with a tornado warning for northern Brevard County (Florida, for those of you just tuning in).

As I said in a post Tuesday, I was quite displeased with the amount of rain we had been getting during my four-day weekend. Bands of heavy precipitation were rotating off the Atlantic coast and in toward the peninsula, pounding Central Florida with more than 1 foot in some areas. I felt like I was at Camp Grenada, and I knew I would have some fun if it would just stop raining.

But since its offset, the storm had not produced lightning. That changed last night, when bolts started crawling across the offshore skies, and except for a lull early this afternoon, it hasn't stopped since.

I knew the tornado warning meant there was a good chance of lightning. Despite the rain, I ventured out and drove toward Cocoa Beach, less than 30 minutes from my Melbourne home. I stopped outside my old apartment along the beach. With my camera wrapped in plastic, I attempted to get some shots. But the only thing I got on my camera was water.

But the rain soon stopped, and I set up a tripod on the end of a boardwalk leading to the beach.

The light show was interesting to watch, but without visible bolts, the simple flashing behind the clouds was not photogenic. That was until a gigantic bolt stretched out across the water and struck the ocean directly offshore from my position.

That instance of lightning was so much brighter than what I had been experiencing, so the image came out a bit overexposed. But I was happy to capture it anyway. If it had spanned a greater distance, it would have touched down beyond the view of my camera. I would have jumped into the raging ocean and ended it right there.

sidewalk_0070When I close my eyes, I still get the image of that bolt striking in front of me. In fact, the strike made the hair on my head stand straight up, as you can see in the self-portrait below. (Actually, I lie. That's more because my hair got wet while it was raining and was dried by the stiff onshore winds in Cocoa Beach.)

On my way home, I stopped beside the Indian River in Palm Shores, but it was a different location from what I've staked out before. At this new place, a boathouse provided some foreground as the lightning, still offshore, flashed over the barrier island in the background.

The impressive show continued after daybreak. I attempted a few shots around the time of sunrise, but the task of capturing lightning in daylight hours is considerably more difficult when you can't leave the shutter open for dozens of seconds per exposure.

The photography excursion was draining. I emptied two batteries for my still cameras and two batteries and two tapes for my video camera. I was tired when I left my house at midnight, and it was 7:30 a.m. when I finally jumped into bed. But one must be adventurous when staving off boredom in Florida. Luckily, Mother Nature is once again being conducive to my form of entertainment.

Ahh, but it's raining again. Gee, that's not better.

(Left: Parking lot for the boat landing on the Indian River near the Pineda Causeway.)

I just appreciate the clouds in this image taken along the Indian River in Palm Shores, with the lightning bolts unseen behind the clouds.

Some more unimpressive lightning seen over the Satellite Beach area.

Eager to try something different, I attempted a self-portrait. For this, I used two cameras. The photo was taken with my new Nikon D90, which I triggered with a remote control once in position. But before that, I put my old D40, rigged with an external flash, on a 10-second delayed timer. Just before the D40 fired, I pressed the remote on the D90, beginning the exposure. After the D40 fired - and lit the subject, yours truly - I ducked out of the shot and hoped for a lightning strike. Out of about 10 tries, this is the closest I got. (And as you can see, the electricity really does make your hair stand up.) Note: You can e-mail me at to call me a dork. It doesn't hurt my feelings.

My two babies - Canon Vixia HV30 video recorder (left) and Nikon D90 still camera - at work. The photo is taken with my old D40, which I apparently forgot to focus. The hat - go Black Bears! - is preventing light from entering the viewfinder, in theory.

As the sun came up, I returned to the banks of the Indian River, this time near the Pineda Causeway just south of Rockledge. This exposure was only a few seconds long, as the sunlight started to make long exposures impossible.

These were the clouds above, with daylight arriving around 6:30 a.m. This was not manipulated in Photoshop, for those of you suspicious people. In fact, my version of Photoshop won't even read the images from my new Nikon. I'll have to work on that.

The lightning was still spreading across the sky as the sun came up, but never in front of my camera. I took about 300 shots with this composition, and that puny cloud-to-ground bolt is all I got (shutter speed: 1/20 of a second).

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