STORM CHASING 2012-2013

Holy wow. I hate to talk it up but this chase day has to go down as one of the best. Well, certainly for me as I managed to get into the right place for most of the day.

The general practice when the potential for storms is high is that nature catches on to our excitement and turns the day into a fizzer. Surprisingly, this didn't happen today. Storms this weekend were the talk of the town. The Bureau forecasted storms "which are likely to be severe" days ahead, chasers got their knickers in a twist over the numbers, and the media (god love em) even spruiked the possibility of tornadoes. I had friends (some of which work in the media) wanting to know what was going to happen, and I had a chat on Gold Coast ABC radio about what it's like chasing storms:

There was not only anticipation but controversy when the Bureau neglected to issue a timely warning because of a technicality. SE Queensland was abuzz and it was difficult to not get caught up in it.

After my radio interview at 9am storms were already on the way. Generally, this doesn't bode well as early activity often saps ingredients crucial for more severe storms in the afternoon. Not today. There was plenty of heat and moisture to go around.

By the time I was able to start chasing, a hefty cell was over Marburg, ruling out a chase out west. So I started in Toombul at a spot I frequented often when I used to live there. It didn't take long for it to arrive.

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I, in my usual form, left it till the last minute before darting out to stay ahead of it.

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It caught me and I made it to Boondall before realising I was never going to get back in front of it so I turned around and returned to Toombul to watch some awesome mammatus behind it.

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Here's some timelapse of the developing guster on approach and retreating mammatus:

It was only midday so I went inside Toombul Shopping Centre to discover one store without power and a dozen buckets collecting water from a leaking roof. Reports then started emerging of 110kmh wind gusts near the airport, building damage, trees down, flash flooding, cars underwater near the RNA Showgrounds, and a photo by Westside News reporter Vanessa Croll of destroyed stalls at the Kelvin Grove Markets.

It wasn't until the storm reached the coast that it apparently reached a technical threshold that finally prompted Bureau of Meteorology to issue a warning at 10:50am. A media frenzy followed, reporting outrage at the BoM for not issuing a warning earlier. Considering the storm's ferocity, it does seem odd that a warning wasn't given until it was too late, which of course reeked of Grantham, but clearly not to the same scale, thankfully. It's interesting that, as mentioned, the BoM had forecast severe storms days ahead.

My plan was to head out to around Toowoomba and play things by ear from there. At around Gatton, I noticed a fat cumulus tower to the distant W so I continued on past Toowoomba and onto the glorious plateaued chasing territory that is the Darling Downs. I stopped at Pittsworth and the fat cumulus tower had anvilled and adjacent updrafts had started along the SSW/NNE trough.

The innocent little cumulus congestus in the centre of the next photo absolutely exploded. The next photo was taken at 3:08pm and the FOURTH photo below was taken at 3:23pm - just 15 minutes later! It's anvil was well and truly over and past me and being carried E at 50 knots. Use the sun in the photos as a reference point.

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It was lovely to catch up with Anthony Cornelius, David Sercombe and Mike Manning who showed up. Let the record show that I arrived first. I always know I'm in the right place when chasing if I run into these guys :)

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We waited around a while when another fellow chaser, Bryan Juni appeared. At 4:10pm some base features and a rain shaft became visible to the WSW. Regular lightning bolts were now also visible.

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All the guys then choofed off and I stayed waiting until lightning got closer.

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This east-moving cluster was now getting organised and shifting to the N, so I took off up the Oakey-Pittsworth Rd. Lightning was really starting to pick up and a shelf cloud was also developing with plenty of interesting lowerings.

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The next lightning bolt is interesting.

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I've managed to capture sucessive strokes of the above lightning strike in two different photos (the following two shots, which are zoomed in). I'm intrigued that the main channel from the bolt in the first photo has CHANGED in the second photo. The main path is the same between the two until about two thirds of the way down, then it deviates to the right like a dog leg. (When you click on an image below, use your cursor keys or mouse wheel to switch the images.)

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If those brights lights near the base of the strike are cars, then it looks like the bolt has changed paths to strike the same car twice which has moved between strikes! There may not be enough evidence to be sure, but it's an interesting possibility.

This lightning show was only just getting started, with close CGs landing around me every few seconds.

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You can see dust being blown and sucked up into the inflow on the right side of the storm in the next shot.

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One particular lightning strike started a fire nearby to the N, the smoke from which showed the NE inflow winds.

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At this point, I needed to skip N again to stay ahead of the storm. The smoke plume ahead looked pretty harmless... until I got close to it.

The fire is visible in the next shot on the left. And the lightning barrage continues.

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I moved on to somewhere near Oakey.

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Then just N of Kingsthorpe...

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I thought it was worthwhile adding a photo without lightning to highlight the structure:

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And one more stop just N of Goombungee.

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It was getting pretty dark by this stage and difficult to make out any structure. It seemed like the storm was now moving NE towards me, which I confirmed later from the radar. Trouble was there were no roads NE. The only N road (New England Hwy) veers back NW and what would have been straight back into the storm. Consequently, the storm overtook me and I had no chance of getting ahead of it, which wasn't too bad considering it was becoming linear. Still, I would've liked to have stayed ahead of it if there was still a nice guster on it.

I then met up with David Smith and Chrissy at the Crows Nest pub for a meal and debrief after one of my best chasing days ever!