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 `beauty light.')

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 that night.

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 (afn09444@afn.org)
All Photos Copyright © 1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.