Like Clockwork

Good morning everyone and Happy Taco Tuesday! I was woken up yet again to the sounds of natures alarm clock. I know the science as to why storms form along the coast each morning here in South Florida, but I don't understand how there's almost an exact replica of this one single cell that forms in the same exact spot day after day. It's the one storm that continually wakes me up just before my alarm, every single morning. It is kind of a nice change to the beeping of my phone though! 

 

UPDATE:    After this mornings mini thunderstorm that woke me up, I headed off to work just before 9:00am. Another average day, but also a little bump in rain/thunderstorm activity through the mid afternoon. We had one cell that just clipped the area around 10:30am, which then moved off to the west at a pretty rapid pace. Usually by 11:00am, anything that formed near the coast in the morning hours has moved inland and is now heading for Naples and Ft Myers on the Gulf Coast for the afternoon/evening hours. Today, with some added moisture and instability in the atmosphere, we had a couple of reforms and got slammed pretty hard around 1:00pm. Unfortunately, I was still at work, so I wasn't able to capture anything. You can bet I was dying to just hop in my car and leave right at that moment. 

Finally, 5 o'clock came around and it was time for me to leave work. It was still pretty overcast from the earlier storms and everything on the radar throughout the state seemed to just have dissipated. On my drive home, I did see what looked to be growing cumulus clouds just off to the west, but I figured the atmosphere had stabilized and there probably wasn't much in the way of anymore storm development, and that is where I was completely wrong. 

Pretty much every single Tuesday for the last 2 years (unless something tragic happens), consists of an after work Happy Hour at the local pub. Today was no different. I got home, took a quick shower, grabbed my camera gear and out the door I went. From previous experiences, I've learned to never leave my camera at home. Even if I'm 100% positive that I'm not going to use it, you never know what you could miss without having it by your side. I pulled out of my little development en route to the bar. I took one look at the sky towards the west and I see what could only be a rapidly developing thunderstorm within a pretty close range. I glance at the radar on my phone and there it is. Just a tiny spec of red in the middle of my favorite area that is the sugarcane fields. Being that there was nothing on the radar just minutes ago and from personal experience and knowledge, I knew this storm was going to blow up rapidly into something great. How long will it last though is always the question. Sometimes these things pop up and last 5 minutes and other times, they pop up and become monsters that linger for hours. This thing would later turn into a lingering monster. 

I've completely detoured now from going to the bar in the matter of seconds, in hopes to maybe intercept this thunderstorm for an hour and then head back into town when I was finished. Driving out, this thing started to take on some great shape. During the developing stages of thunderstorms, there are these very well defined inflow clouds where the warm, moist air surrounding the storm gets sucked in like a vacuum and then straight up to the top to fuel the storm. They're great indicators that a storm is intensifying and you can easily identify them by a long, funneled shaped clouds leading right into the back ends of the storms. 

The bottom of the arrows are where the warm air is being drawn in rapidly, like adding gasoline to a fire to intensify the storms. 

No more than 5 minutes later down the road did this thing turn into one of the most intense and mesmerizing storms that I have ever seen. 6-8pm Is the absolute perfect time you could hope for a thunderstorm to form, which was just about when this one did. With the sun starting to get low in the sky, the colors reflecting off the clouds just get amplified and become almost unrealistic. The contrast between the bright sunshine behind the storm and the pitch black ominous clouds barreling down on you is too hard to put into words. One other ingredient that makes storms so beautiful here, is their isolation. These storms can become so severe, but only encompass a few miles radius at the same time, so you get this giant storm in the center with bright sunlight coming in around from all angles. In a typical cold front setting, you would just get a wall of cloud coming at you and it doesn't really make for exciting photos IMO. 

An absolute perfect case scenario. 

At this point I was approaching the storm and the closer I got, the harder it was to tell which side I should set up on. The north side was spitting out more lightning, but the south side of the storm looked like it had better development happening. I took a gamble on the north side and I'm glad I did. I turned off of State Rd. 80 and I'm now heading NNW towards Canal Point. I had a particular pull off spot in mind, but as I was approaching it, the storm shifted a bit and it started raining like you couldn't image. Giant golfball sized water droplets were falling from the sky, but in a very non- consistent way. I would go 10ft and it would stop, another 50ft later, it's pouring again. I was under the developing rain shafts so I kept pushing forward to clear the rain to try and get some water droplet free shots. The lightning was becoming really intense at this point. I thought if I did pull over to close that I would fear getting out of my car, so just a little further I went into a safety zone. I pulled into a field and just couldn't believe my eyes. I have never seen an updraft like the one I did with this storm. It looked like a waterfall of clouds heading towards the ground. I was seriously in awe. 

When storms lose their energy, the weight becomes so heavy that they pretty much collapse in on themselves. This sends a giant blast of cold rain-cooled air towards the ground, which then hits the ground and spreads out in all directions like a bomb. This cold air is called an outflow boundary. It usually signals that the storm is winding down and probably about to come to an end for that particular area. Another thing that can happen though, is that outflow boundary of cold air will push outwards from the storm for miles and when it comes in contact with new warm air around the storm site, it will force that warm air up and create a whole new set of storms. So while I was standing here shooting some photos, the cold air came rushing down the field and I thought maybe that was just about it. The lightning came to a halt for a bit and things felt pretty tranquil, but not for long. Another storm started to form rapidly from the outflow boundary to the southeast of me. It was time to take off and to get as close as I can to it if I wanted some lightning shots. 

Now facing south.  Old  storm on the right and new storm forming on the left. 

This is the point where all hell broke loose. I don't think there has been a single moment where I feared lightning as much as I did right then. I put myself in a very vulnerable spot under the new developing storm and even though they say you're safest in a car, there's still the chance that something goes wrong. The video down below just doesn't do any justice as to how close, and to how loud and bright some of these strikes were. There must have been 30+ strikes within a 10 minute time frame and some of them hitting objects just feet away from me. I stood my ground and prayed I got a really great close up lightning shot, but either they either ended up behind me or just inches out of frame. I had my GoProHero4 mounted to the top of my car shooting as much video as I could. I wish the sound quality was a little better on that thing though. 

After that, it was time to go back and head to the bar. It's been maybe all of about an hour since I headed out there into the fields, and I saw more than I could have ever asked for today. I made my way back to State Rd. 80 and instead of turning towards Wellington, I went straight down another backroad that eventually intersects 80 again, but it has a few pull off spots that I like to set up camp at. In my rearview mirror I saw a dwindling storm with the setting sun starting to poke through the lighter rain shafts. There was still the occasional lightning strike, so I got to one of my spots and had one more go at some lightning shots. My brain must have been somewhere else because I was only able to get 1 good strike out of maybe 5 opportunities. Capturing the speed of light with your fingers during the day time isn't always the easiest thing. I'm super happy with the way I ended my chase with this one last shot though. Hope you enjoyed and I hope your twofer tacos were spicy and delicious. Until next time. Adios!