STORM CHASING 2005-2006

Travelled today: 383kms | Travelled so far: 1816kms | Allowance: 1800kms

Yesterday we were told about a 'wave' of storms to arrive some time around 2am this morning. We woke at 1:30am and nothing was happening. At 5am I woke up and noticed lightning flashing outside. I woke Jeff and we immediately drove out to Gunbar St in Bayview for it's nearly 360 degree views. Lightning-active cells were approaching from the E and NE.

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The cells had a small gustfront, but it seemed most of the lightning activity occured either north or south of us.

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This is the inside of the gustfront as it came over us:

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We stayed until sunrise and got a few more forks.

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After the lightning had ceased, and with Jeff getting dive-bombed by a sensitive plover, we went home to bed till 11am.

We got up later and jumped online for a while. Around 3pm Jacob SMSed about a cell to our E. I checked map and realised we were too late to get to Noonamah so we went down the Channel Island Rd instead (which veers back to the S of Darwin, instead of SE). It dropped a few lightning bolts with some good rumbles of thunder as it tracked W near us and eventually away from us.

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At this point we could see several new cells building inland, but the healthiest was directly to the E.

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On our way, we stopped for a drink and noticed this sobering sign:

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Considering the poster, I actually found it a little difficult to concur. Back on the road and playing tourist again:

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We thought the idea of no speed limits was novel (although according a sign, it seems a speed limit will be introduced soon).

Jake SMSed again to inform us that our cell looked good on radar. It was certainly looking good from our perspective! A second tower was building up next to it and they seemed to both grow in tandem.

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We tried to find a road that went north so we could go up and meet it (a road to a town apparently called Woolner on the map) but failed to find the turnoff.

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We continued along the Jabiru Hwy until we found an information shelter which showed a lookout nearby. We continued E a few kms to the turnoff to a place called "Bird Billabong", then another 1.6kms up the road. Along with constant rumbling thunder, our storm was now producing the most rock solid updrafts I've ever seen!

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We were pretty disappointed with this view, till we discovered that the lookout was actually at the end of a 1.5km walk! With a storm approaching, I wasn't too keen to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without a shelter...

Considering we'd got this far, and this seemed to be our best shot at a view, we decided to continue. As we started to walk I was concerned that we either wouldn't make it before the storm hit us, or we'd get there and there'd be no shelter, making it dangerous for us if there were high winds and possibly branches flying around. I noticed a group of large boulders while we walked and considered it our best option if we had to find shelter.

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Thunder was now rumbling continuously and a noticeable gustfront was approaching while we walked and I was getting more nervous about getting to our lookout and whether there would be anything there to protect us. We continued on walking briskly!

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When we arrived I nervously noted a sign that indicated crocodiles and 'no swimming', though the billabong was devoid of water, revealing a cracked mud basin. The view was great and to my surprise there was a shelter. We made it about 30 seconds before it started raining... unfortunately, I was too late to get a pan of the gustfront, but I did get a shot of the inside of it which was now on top of us.

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Lightning started landing a little closer as the thunder got noticeably louder. Jeff and I were now concerned that this entirely metal structure was perhaps not the best protection in a lightning storm. Although, we were perhaps in a type of Faraday cage (a cage concept invented by Michael Faraday to send any electrical charge put to it straight to ground, protecting anyone inside). Either way we had no choice but to stay as I considered what it might sound like if lightning struck our 'cage'.

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Lightning now started falling only a couple of kilometres away and Jeff and I waited for the big one. It never occured. Two kilometres was probably our closest strike (a mixed blessing!), giving us some satifying booms of thunder without the real crack we actually wanted. It seems we were on the edge of the rain shaft as we only experienced moderate wind gusts. The rain soon past and I decided I wanted to get out of the shelter to get a full view of the storm which was still close but slowly drifting away from us. The thought of the croc sign had not escaped me and without any real idea whether there would still be any around considering the lack of water in the billabong, I looked around nervously just in case. The idea of crocs here without any water eventually seemed quite silly and I soon felt comfortable shooting away while some beautiful big lightning bolts continued to fall out of the rear of the storm as the sun set.

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After about half an hour it suddenly occured to Jeff that it was getting dark and that we still had another good 20 minute walk back to the car. The second part of the track in here was partially obscured by growth, so Jeff was keen to get going immediately to avoid being caught in the middle of nowhere in the dark.

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On the way back at a rough clearing, with the majority of the trek now behind us, we stopped so I could take a few more photos. Despite drowning ourselves in insect repellent, we both got eaten alive by mozzies.

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After getting a few weak crawler shots we continued walking back and soon found our car, although by now it was quite dark and it was only just possible to make out the track. It was a relief for both of us to be back at the car and considering the awesome experience we just had in the shelter we drove off in very good spirits.

We drove back W towards the Stuart Hwy when we started seeing more flashes to the E. Jacob had told us about another Gulf line which was apparently due to arrive at around 2am, but was now visible to us on eastern horizon and firing roughly every second. We continued on till we found a spot with a good view and sat and enjoyed the show for a while. Jeff decided he was thirsty so we continued driving E to the Humpty Doo pub for a drink. We figured the line was going to continue it's journey so it was just a matter of us waiting for it to arrive. Again, I couldn't resist playing the tourist.

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We sat around the pub for around 40 mins, then drove back the Stuart Hwy, turned left and went a few kms south of Noonamah to our favourite little spot on Elizabeth Valley Rd. The line continued towards us and got noticeably closer, before it suddenly just died completely. The other few times this had happened, storms had fired ahead of the line, so we sat tight with a sharp eye on what was happening behind us in case storms formed over Darwin.

We sat for about two and a half hours waiting with small clouds forming around us but nothing significant developed. Around 12:30am we finally decided to call it quits and drove back to Darwin.

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