PAYNES PRAIRIE LIGHTNING -- 10 JULY 1997.
On the evening of July 10th, 1997, about 8pm, a severe storm passed over
central and southern portions of the city of Gainesville. This storm for
some many minutes produced constant and dangerous CG lightning strikes
within the city during it's maturing stage, some of which I was able to
witness from my side-view vantage point in NW Gainesville, just along the
outside edge of the storm. The cracks of thunder from these in-town
strikes was constant. There were really no breaks between rumbles.
`Sparks,' N4EAS, a local ham who was mobile that evening, reported lots
of loud strikes near him while on his way home in Melrose, too. While
we never got rain at my location, the city itself was apparently inundated
heavily upon, though, from many reports of other mobile hams.
The storm itself had an anvil part of which which spread northward slowly
and ominously overhead of my home. Lower, peeking above the trees to my
southeast, I could see smaller cumulus towers moving in a line towards the
main storm. These were semi-shrouded by a light fog-like rain, while
side-lit and made orange by the rays of the setting sun. (Was this what
would be called an `inflow band?' or `feeder band?' Anyone know? They
were on the north side of the storm.) The direction in which the
storm was moving as a whole was towards the east.
As the storm started to die down right about sunset it began producing
less dangerous lightning, and a very interesting show of `sheet lightning'
which crawled beneath the undersides of the low cloud base. I found this
both beautiful and fascinating. The show lasted for quite a good while.
I debated on it for a while, and then decided to pack up my cameras and
tripods and head about town to try to find where the storm seemed to be
going and to find the best spot to set camp and begin my very first
attempts at lightning photography. After about thirty minutes, the clock
ticking on the storm, I finally decided to head out to Paynes Prairie.
These photos are the result. Of all the photos I took that night these
three were the only ones that I thought were good enough to display. I
was lucky to get those, as the show began to quickly deteriorate not too
long after I had set up. (I wish I'd gotten there just a little earlier
because I could have probably made some beautiful use of the post-sunset
Paynes Prairie is a state-owned preserve that is located just south of
Gainesville, Florida. Both Hwy. 441 and Interstate-75 pass through it.
Since 441 had a turn-off with a short boardwalk leading to an observation
platform (usually for watching the wildlife), I thought this would be a
perfect place to set up and so I chose to go there to take the photos.
The first photo of the CG strike was taken looking due east towards the
city of Hawthorne, over which the storm, itself heading east, had moved by
that time. It was hard to see in the dark what was out there, and the
very short strikes offered only limited ideas. But, looking at this photo
afterwards, I think I'm seeing a tower on the left (note the small patch
of blue at the left edge of the photo - this was taken not long after
nautical twilight) - with part of an anvil visible above it, spreading up
and out overhead. What is that line of small Cb's, though? Is that a
flanking line? or an inflow band? What's causing the rounded shadow at
the top of the photo is, I think, a low cloud base in the foreground that
was between me and the lightning strike. (I think its along the underside
of that low cloud base that the sheet lightning was occuring in the later
photos.) Also, take a good look at that CG strike. Its not as apparent
in this scan, but the original photo shows that the main bright strike
visible here actually originates from a much dimmer side filament that
that scud cloud (just to the left of the main strike) is hiding. Look
closely. It's at a 90-degree angle bending to the right off of the top of
the bright strike and stops a short distance from the edge of the photo.
It's hard to see here, but it is there.
The second photo was my first attempt to catch some of the `sheet
lightning.' It was taken looking southeast, towards the horizon. This
one especially looks too overexposed to me.
The third photo was taken in the same direction, but with a tilt upwards
about 45-degrees. A little overexposed but better than the first.
The second attempt at the `sheet lightning' was better than the first. (I
wish I'd had a wide-angle lens to catch more of it!) All photos were
taken using a Mamiya MSX-1000 35mm SLR camera using a 50mm lens set to
it's widest opening (f/3.5), and FujiColor SG 200 ASA film. The strikes
all appear a bit too overexposed to me. I had no idea this would occur
using 200 ASA. Next time, I think I'll try 100 ASA, or even 50 ASA.
Still, not bad for my first attempt at lightning, I guess.
To get the shots, I tried to `time' the lightning (by counting the seconds
between strokes) in an effort to predict the approximate occurance of the
next CG or CC event, and opened the shutter a few seconds before the
expected event. Of course, the lightning toyed with me that night, as the
storm was dying by the time I'd finally got set up, and the exposures
tended to be more on the order of a couple minutes long waiting for
the strokes to occur, rather than the few seconds I had expected.
But for the most part, and it could just be dumb luck coincidence, I've
found that if you can catch a storm during it's mature stage, that yes,
you can indeed somewhat predict when the next strike will be.
The following is theory on my part...
During any particular moment in a storm's lifetime, the storm will tend to
take a certain specific amount of time to build up enough potential to
break the `insulation' of air between cloud and ground. This will vary
shorter and then longer depending upon how far along you are in the life
cycle of the storm. If you catch it as it is maturing, it will of course,
increase. If you catch it as it is dying, then the time between strokes
will, of course, begin to stretch out. This becomes more complicated
though, when there is more than one area of a cloud (or clouds, if
multi-cellular) that is active with lightning. If one area is active with
CG, and another nearby area is active with CC, for example, then sometimes
the CC will actually TAKE some charge from the already built-up potential
of the nearby CG area, and the CG will not occur when expected. The CG
area then has to start building it's potential up all over again at the
moment of that nearby CC stroke. This is what I think was happening to me
Of course, standard discalimers apply. I did not tell you to go out and
shoot lightning. As Warren Faidley said himself, lightning is a dangerous
and unpredictable thing. It gives very few clues of it's intentions. You
could feel a `tingling;' or not. Your hair could stand on end; or not.
Your tripod could actually become electrified; or not. You could smell
the odor of `ozone;' or not. (What is that, anyway?) It could just
strike you without any slightest warning at all. And you may not be hurt
at all; or you could be slightly injured, or seriously injured; brain
damaged, or burned; internal organs minorly or majorly shocked and/or
heated. ...Or you could be killed, immediately or shortly afterwards. If
struck, various survivors speak of hearing a `hissing,' some of a
`sizzling,' some of a `ringing,' and some of hearing nothing at all ...
being within the center of the shock wave expansion point when they were
struck. If you survive, you could suffer serious permanent physical,
mental, and/or neurological disorders: like very painful severe
headaches, constant tingling in either specific or varied places of the
body, loss of feeling in some places, paralyzation, feel constantly cold,
or constantly hot. You could suffer speech impediment, loss of sight,
drastic personality changes - habits, lifestyle, likes and dislikes, or
memory loss, etc. And for all of these, there are no current known cures.
It all depends upon where and how it strikes you, and what actual path it
takes through your body to the ground. I do not encourage you to go out
and shoot lightning, especially if you do not know storms well and/or what
you are doing. Even if you know storms, lightning can still strike from
tens of miles away from a storm and hit you...the `bolt out of the blue.'
I'm being deliberately gruesome about this for an obvious reason. It's
your own decision; your own responsibility. Here's another
sight with a little more information on the effects of lightning.
My really grateful thanks go to Jim Carr/KC4MHH -- a fellow ham radio
operator (who happens to have a callsign similar to my own), and who is
also a volunteer Captain in the Communications Dept. of the Alachua Co.
Fire/Rescue (ACFR) Reserves -- for taking the time and the effort to make
these photo scans for me using his own equipment, and at no charge.
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Created: October 14, 1997.
Last updated: October 31, 1997.
Mail to: Todd L. Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
All Photos Copyright © 1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.