It is unusual for our area to see discrete thunderstorms — individual storms visible against otherwise clear skies — so we miss out on some thrilling sights. The anvil or thunderhead of a strong storm usually happens above a lower cloud layer in our region, hidden from those of us who appreciate such things. On July 20, 2022 a severe thunderstorm rolled right overhead. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard so many cracks of thunder so close by. I was indoors, did not see the mammoth bolts directly above my roof, and was actually getting concerned the house, or my tall flagpole, would be hit. I was close to being afraid of the lightning, and that’s very unusual! The storm passed, as storms do, and I took a peek through a window. To the west the sky was clearing as the clean edge of the thunderstorm moved east but then the thrill: mammatus clouds! Technically, mammatus are not rare phenomena, often hanging from the anvils of thunderstorms, but we rarely see them here for the reasons given above — we rarely see the anvils. The sky was full of them! I grabbed my iPhone (nearest camera) and hurried outside. Though I feared it would end quickly, the display went on til after dark. Here are a few views…
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I stayed up late, anticipating the arrival of a powerful storm system the night of June 13. The MCS (mesoscale convective system) tracked to the south of its predicted path, leaving me at the northern end of storm activity. I thought I was out of luck but saw some lightning and decided to try for some photos. My persistence and resulting sleep deprivation was rewarded. I witnessed several impressive displays of “anvil crawler” lightning — cloud-to-cloud discharges along the cloud base — but missed a couple. At midnight, however, this amazing crawler filled my visual field and the view from the camera. The strong horizontal bolts steal the show but look closer. Even in this reduced-resolution web version of the photo, streaks of lightning reach up and down across the bottom of the storm cloud. I remember seeing the motion of the light, almost like an advertising sign, luminescence racing along those fine lines. The MCS blasted across our region, downing trees and utility poles along its path. Here, the storm passed dropping only a little rain here with virtually no wind, allowing me to make this capture (a single exposure). The local newspaper surprised me by using the image — full-frame, in color — huge on their front page! It’s hard for newspapers to hold the finest details in print but the e-version looks pretty good.
A line of thunderstorms was bearing down on our area the night of July 24 and it looked like it might be interesting — it has been a while since I’ve made any lightning pictures. The storm progressed slowly from Southeastern Michigan and Northwest Ohio and across Lake Erie finally beginning its arrival here around midnight. As the storm overran the area, I watched it for lightning potential. Ducking outside and looking up at one point, I was treated to a beautiful “anvil crawler” display nearly overhead!
I rushed to my office and quickly assembled my gear: Canon EOS 6D Mk. 2, wide-angle lens, and tripod. First to the northern side of the house. After some waiting and a couple of “teasers” the storm let loose a magnificent crawler — brilliant lightning crossing the cloud bottoms, branching off to the sides. Turns out, that was the shot of the night though I didn’t know it at the time since I was unable to preview my images. Light rain began to fall and with not enough shelter, I moved to the south side of the house.
It took a while for the storm to progress southward enough for me to see the dwindling cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes but they eventually came. I spent maybe 90 minutes watching the storm, aiming the camera, waiting for the automatic trigger to capture the ephemeral brilliance. Thunder, this night, rolled across the dark countryside for many seconds after each flash before fading away — something I’ve not experienced in quite some time. It was lovely. My sheltered spot on the south side kept camera, lens, and photographer dry throughout, which isn’t always the case. Rain prevented me from aiming the camera as high as I’d have liked. Just a few drops on the camera lens, combined with a bright lightning flash, produces an unusable image.
The storm petered out so, sometime around 1:45 a.m. I went back indoors, and reviewed the images via the camera’s display. Yes! Beautiful stuff! Editing the photos after sleeping for a few hours was the highlight of my Sunday morning.
In future I really need to find a sheltered place, or at least a place where I can park and shoot from my car at night, a spot that has an open view of the countryside and/or town. In the mean time, results from the Saturday night storm were worth the sleep deprivation.
After a long period without rain, Friday saw heavy rains and thunderstorms across the region. Most of it was a big wet mess, not well organized and not interesting to look at — at least not close to home. In the afternoon things changed.
I could see, via radar, that a promising area of activity was approaching but I had to move fast. The storm was approaching quickly and I had made my decision a little late in the game. I grabbed my phone, and one DSLR camera and rushed out the door.
Once cleared of city traffic, as I drove towards my target observation point I glanced to the south down crossroads. In the distance I could see a dark sky close to the horizon and … a light line running through the clouds parallel to the earth. It was big and it was close. A singular bright bolt of cloud-ground lightning held promise of exciting visuals, and not a little danger. I was also running late; I had to cut travel time.
I changed destinations to a favorite site nearer home, pulled off the road, and unpacked the camera. I had arrived only just in time. Hurriedly shooting smart phone photos — a quick image insurance policy — I then shot a few via DSLR: a huge and beautiful shelf cloud was moving in from the southwest.
Fortunately, the lightning activity came to an end* and except for a quickening breeze and crickets in the grass, passage of the shelf was quiet. Only a few more shots and rain drops began. The tell-tale sight of approaching white sheets of rain sent me back to shelter in the car, and my photo shoot was over.
The results of my minutes-long efforts were surprising. The iPhone produced one of the best shelf cloud landscapes I’ve ever made; and a seconds-long video, also shot on the phone, drew use requests from cable stations: The Weather Channel, and WeatherNation. A big surprise!
*Safer without it but a lightning bolt during the video or, miraculously in the still image, would have been spectacular.
It’s “shelfie” season: the time of year when springtime convective weather generates strong thunderstorms and picture-worthy shelf clouds. The popular term for shelf cloud photos, playing upon the term used for smart phone self-portraits or selfies, is shelfie.
May 10 was the first opportunity. I took up position and awaited the storm’s arrival in the parking lot of a public park. As the storm approached I could see only the separated top of the shelf above the treeline; that gave it the appearance of a wall of cloud (not a wall cloud) looming in the distance. The feature came closer and finally made visual separation from the trees and I knew I wasn’t about to be swept away!
The storm was silent, no thunder, until it drew closer and I could hear the roar of wind in the treetops. A 34 mph peak wind was plenty strong, however, and ushered in a steep temperature drop. I was glad to have a jacket with me.
Another photo-op presented itself with a squall line of severe thunderstorms on May 14. I thought I’d given myself enough time to reach a selected observation point in a city park in Lorain County but as I drove I realized I wouldn’t make it in time. So I bailed to a rural road and found a likely spot: a farmer’s access drive from the road to an wide-open field. I parked, got out of my car, and there it was! There was thunder and lightning with this one so I had some concern; nearby objects were better targets than me so I told myself I was okay. The shelf rolled over my location quickly. Intense rain arrived with 43 mph winds. And then it stopped. The rain and wind simply stopped. That was a very intense, concentrated line that moved along very quickly. A strange experience.
The night of April 7, 2020 looked interesting to me. An approaching squall line bearing very active thunderstorms was moving rapidly toward us, approaching from the west-northwest. I hoped the storms would provide me with excellent chances at lightning photography. I was mistaken.
Shortly after I recorded what would be my only decent lightning photo of the night, my phone went crazy with emergency alerts: TORNADO WARNING! The city’s tornado warning sirens sprang to life.
I grabbed the camera and fled indoors.
Once inside we opened and occupied the only space we deem safe against storms — an office closet occupied by file cabinets and shelved storage.
Timidly I peered through an office window ready at any second to duck back to the closet to avoid flying debris, a falling tree, watching for a tell-tale funnel cloud. The wind bent neighboring trees farther than I though they could stand. Rain pummeled the side of the house, the anemometer registered 49 MPH at peak. A distinctly-blue flash lit the horizon from the direction of downtown — a power flash!
I continued hearing the roaring sound as it changed focus from northwest, to west, to the south. I never saw a funnel cloud but I heard the storm’s passage: it was a localized source, likely the tornado.
Looking at the radar depiction of the severe-warned thunderstorms a distinctive and ominous shape emerged from the colorful pixels — a hook — the signature of tornado activity. I realized the thing had passed quite close by!
But how close?
We stayed awake for an hour or so, too excited to sleep. Winds, rain, and thunder continued for a while, and slowly abated.
Finally to bed.
The next day I took a walk to survey the damage. I made a number of photographs, relaying them to the National Weather Service along with street locations hoping to help in their damage survey.
Broken branches and fallen trees were common along a path about two blocks south of our house. Fortunately deciduous trees were not in leaf, helping them survive the winds. Evergreens, with their limbs full of greenery and shallow roots, took the brunt of the damage and inflicted most of the damage I saw.
A small yellow house with a green metal roof and brand-new siding was damaged when a large pine tree was uprooted and blown over. The tree lay broken across the little house, whose owners suffered loss of the improvements but also mourned the loss of their grand tree.
There was much more damage around town: the root balls of toppled trees pulled up sidewalks and gas lines, smashed into houses, blocked streets.
To no one’s surprise, the National Weather Service determined the cause of all the mayhem was a tornado: Category EF-1, 100 MPH winds, 100 yards maximum width. Along the nearly 12-mile path the storm damaged other homes, left a scoured path across a field, and tore the sheet metal roof from a large pole barn. Much damage reported. No lives lost.
How close was the tornado to us? Too close.
We have had a few days recently when heat and humidity-driven storms have roamed the region. On Tuesday, August 20 we saw a long line of powerful, even severe-warned, storms develop to our west. Though the line appeared to be moving at a leisurely rate, I arrived at one of my favorite observation sites with just enough time to set up before a broad shelf cloud appeared on the horizon.
The leading edge passed over my location and, as is expected with these things, heavy rain immediately followed and I retreated to my car. After a quick splash of intense rain, the precipitation stopped! I got back out of my car and shot a few photos of the areas about to be visited by the storm. One view in particular from behind the shelf cloud: from a spot spared rainfall was this view of the dark clouds overhead, curtains of intense rain drenching the area, and brighter skies being engulfed.
Ah! Stormy weather!
One good thing came from my extended storm chase that afternoon. While my hopes of spotting a powerful approaching storm were washed away by torrential rains, the drive home revealed the beautiful contrast between peaceful, sunlit farm scene and a threatening sky. — September 21, 2018
So I went out chasing what promised to be a big, powerful thunderstorm about 30 miles away only to be greeted by a wall of water. I get home, have dinner, and discover I’m under a gigantic thunderhead with cirrus fringes and gobs of beautiful mammatus beneath all surrounded by a beautiful blue sky. Storm chaser Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.” — September 21, 2018
I love photographing scenes that include dramatic weather and clouds and that often involves “storm chasing” or, as I prefer to refer to my activity, storm interception. I try and anticipate where interesting scenes will develop and be there when it happens. I’ve had some success.
Springtime brings its share of weather drama, even in Northeastern Ohio. Thunderstorms can be powerful, even dangerous, and produce impressive sights as they balance heat, cold, and moisture.
On May 26, watching radar for coming opportunities, I spied an area of interest in the area between Wellington and Oberlin, Ohio, and so headed in that direction. As I approached Wellington, I could see I needed to head a bit north to meet the approaching storm head-on but it came on faster than I expected. In the LaGrange area I realized I needed to stop and set up right away! I wound up on a county road, facing west, as the storm developed outflow clouds, a shelf cloud formation, as I watched.
Thunder rumbled in another storm to the north of me, in the Oberlin area, I saw but one flash — no lighting photography for me this day — the drama of the storm overhead was satisfying. The outflow quickly overtook me and I scurried back to my car, got inside as sprinkles fell, and then came torrential rain. It was a fine intercept.
A couple of “catch-up” images follow:
And while we’re at it, here’s yet another storm seen this month, a real beauty!