Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Photos | A lightning chase to the boonies and back

Central Florida has been experiencing a pattern of after-dark storms recently. None have been too notable until Monday evening, when a strong line of lightning and rain blew through the eastern half of the peninsula. Thinking the storm was moving more south than east, toward my location in Brevard County, I decided to race after it. I drove over U.S. 192 to Osceola County, then back to Brevard when the storm finally moved east. The above shot is of one of the Trinity Towers, an elderly housing complex in downtown Melbourne, after I returned around midnight.

When I finally got close to the lightning, I found myself in Holopaw, a tiny unincorporated town about 25 miles west of Melbourne. But the skies had opened up. The rain ruined my early chances to photograph the storm. But after driving south on U.S. 441 for a while, it started to let up. With the help of my GPS unit, I found a dark turnoff on the edge of the otherwise deserted highway. The above shot is of one of the closest strikes of the night, but because I wasn't expecting it, it's incredibly overexposed. Otherwise, it would have been a great shot.

The mosquitoes and assorted bugs were becoming so bothersome that I jumped in my car and used my remote control to fire shots with the camera. This shot is at the same location as the one with the gate, just facing the opposite direction. The lightning was all around.

I started to make my way back toward U.S. 192, the east-west highway that leads back to the Space Coast. I stopped in someone's driveway and took a shot of lightning and one of the few cars I saw on U.S. 441. Few of these shots are special, but I enjoy doing this. So humor me.

Here, I pulled into the muddy entrance to a nature sanctuary on U.S. 441. Both my feet and my tripod's were caked in mud after this shot of crawling lightning.

The rainfall was hindering the view of many bolts. With many of the ones I did capture with my camera, only the central column of light is visible. But this one was close enough so that the rain didn't block the branches.

The rain really started to pick up. But I liked how this bolt wiggled its way around the droplets on the lens so that it wasn't obstructed. After this, I packed up, wiped off my equipment and hopped onto U.S. 192 to chase the storm back to Melbourne.

About 30 minutes later (at 75 mph), I arrived in Melbourne, when I - kind of late - got the idea to expose while driving (you could call it photographic streaking). For these photos, I simply held my finger down on the button, keeping the shutter open in hopes of getting some lightning in the distance. I liked how this photograph was lit in two particular portions.

If I had a tripod, or some sort of stabilizer, hooked up in my car, these streaks from headlights, roadside signs and streetlamps would appear as straight lines. Instead, the shakiness of my hand as I rested the lens atop the steering wheel made the streaks ragged.

After a brief stop in downtown Melbourne for the top shot in this post, my filthy Americanized Toyota and I stopped on the Melbourne Causeway.

The cloud-to-ground lightning was mostly offshore at this point, so I felt safe. But the crawlers still made their way above Indialantic - the beachside community on the horizon in this photo - and the Indian River.

There are a few ducks in the lower right of this image. The fish in the river were jumping wildly, too.

The lightning seemed to indiscriminately emanate from many different points in the sky.

For the final few shots, I look my wide angle lens off the camera - it was wet by this point anyhow - and attached an 18-200mm zoom. Here, I zoomed in to 52mm, focusing on the lights across the river, and scored these bolts in the first exposure.

A bolt goes its separate ways as it strikes near the barrier island. I'm hoping that we'll have more storms this week, and that I'll have more luck in staying away from the precipitation.


Denise said...

Nice! Seems like your night was almost as exciting as mine!

Andrew Knapp said...

I'm betting that I would take my genre of excitement over yours.

Mark said...

Your becoming a full-fledged storm chaser. You should move to Kansas or Oklahoma for the tornados.

Thomas Damgaard Sabo said...

Beautiful work! That first one is amazing!