.: Chasing Hints :.
Chasing in the Top End is indeed a different experience to that of chasing in
the mid latitudes, or even other tropical areas, in fact some locals would
argue there is almost no need to chase as the storms ‘find you’. Although this
is the easy and slack way out, there is some truth to the tale. The majority of
decent thunderstorm events come from the ‘storm breeding grounds’ just to the E
and SE of the city, and since the predominant storm steering winds are from this
direction, a lot of the activity will generally pass directly over the greater
Darwin area, including Mandorah to the West.
Don’t let that make you complacent though! The smallest shift in steering
winds, or even sea breeze interaction of an afternoon can force storms much
further west or North, and cause you to miss out on what could be an ethereal
Top End storm, this is enough to drive anyone crazy, enduring a day of excessive
heat and humidity; seeing huge storm towers building inland, only to watch it
all move right past!
Establishing what it is you’re ‘craving’ will better clarify where to go, and
when to be there…
For the lightning
Gust Fronts, Cloud formation Junkies
Severe Storm Junkies – Show me the goods!
For the Lightning Junkies :
bottom line is, almost anywhere is going to be great for lightning, it’s almost
as simple as choosing your background, ocean/wetlands/outback or city. As
normal pulse storms and NE/SW oriented squall lines pass over the city and head
out to sea, they often increase 10 fold in flash intensity, this is most likely
a result of the warm air sitting in the coastal basin for the cells to consume.
Places like Fanny Bay, Nightcliff Jetty, Casuarina Beach are great places to get
lightning shots over water. Be sure to exercise caution as the region is well
known for its positive lightning strikes, these are strikes that often jump well
clear from the top of a thunderstorm, and can land 30km clear of the storm..
There have been many instances out chasing when a storm has been long gone in
terms of distance, and has still managed to take out a tree nearby, stay safe!
experiencing the close strikes or “flangs” (Flash/Bangs) is what you crave, your
options depend on the conditions. If storms appear to be slow moving of a
daytime, or low level cloud can be seen as barely moving, your best bet is to
find a decent sized Cumulus or towering Cumulus inland. Humpty Doo, Middle
Point, Howard Springs, Noonamah, Berry Springs and that general vicinity is an
unreal place to park under a quickly developing pulse storm.
Obviously do NOT leave the car, and ensure you exercise absolute caution rather
than contempt for the beast above you. Parking yourself just to the North-West
of the rain curtain usually delivers the best results. The portion of the storm
that is well placed under the bulk of the storm, above the main updrafts, but
not experiencing excessive precipitation tends to be the best charged and least
weakened by the discharging effects of rainfall.
Expect VERY close strikes and aim cameras at trees or power lines. The latter is
a given, the lines in these areas all have a special ‘Top Line’ earth conductor
at the top to protect the current lines from lightning strikes, and being
earthed every 5 or so poles makes it quite a lightning magnet!
Lightning in these areas during the average pulse storms tends not to be
excessively photogenic. The above chase would be more of a ‘close strike
thrill’ than a effort to get great photos (video cameras might help capture the
buzz of a spark fest) . If you’ve chosen this option, you’d probably find
yourself under a messy storm base wondering when the first strikes will start,
and how intense it will get. Luck has it, as it’s still an enigma predicting
the intensity of lightning events.
Personally I’ve seen cells that have been exploding exponentially with all the
right conditions to spark away rapidly, and they’ve not done so. But I’ve seen
cells that look almost too small to meet the icing requirements of lightning,
drop so many close strikes that I felt uncomfortable, sometimes over a strike
per second dropping within a few kilometres. Enough to perturb even the
Gust Fronts, Cloud formation Junkies :
Generally the best place to be for great storm front photographs is within 50km
of the coast, reason being is the higher moisture levels at the coast. Whilst
inland monsters tend to be quite raggedy, they usually develop clean, crisp and
mean looking shelf clouds and outflow features upon hitting the coastal plain.
As the crisp cool outflow air pumps out of the storm cells along a squall line,
it lowers the theoretical ‘cloud base height’ in a smaller area, creating some
spectacular lowering reminiscent of the movie ‘independence day’ and the
cold air rushing ahead of the storm instantly condenses the moisture brought in
of an afternoon from the sea breeze front and the result is awe inspiring.
Amazing gust fronts reaching as far as the eye can see ahead of the squall
line. If the storm is rolling in from the South-East during an afternoon and
the Sea breeze is still flowing strongly, not only will the gust fronts hold a
solid shape (as they represent a significant air mass boundary between the NW
and SE winds) but rotation can often be seen at various levels.
There is time lapse of this SE/NW interaction occurring ***HERE*** . Solid
South-Easterly shear combined with a slightly deeper than usual sea breeze often
causes rotation and often a lot of ‘symmetrical’ looking storm clouds that
appear to be moving rapidly but getting almost no closer, this is a fairly
unusual occurrence for a tropical area, but naturally given a few environmental
factors, Darwin doesn’t fit the average tropical profile.
Storm Junkies – Show me the goods! :
terms of severe storms, Darwin’s main phenomena is severe wind gusts. And they
are quite common indeed. The BOM estimates in the Darwin severe storm warning
area (within 60km of the CBD) there are 50 severe storms of this type per
season. Impressive figures and usually the result of squall lines or isolated
pulse updraft cells. Waiting for the latter to produce severe winds is a bit of
a long shot. Knowing the moisture profile of the atmosphere helps
tremendously. If the mid troposphere is particularly dry, but the rest of the
atmosphere is primed with moisture and reasonable lapse rates, the Darwin BOM
usually include a high wind prediction with storms.
coastal forecast is a quick way to establish if this is the case. If the
forecast says “Gusts to 30 knots with storms” you can fairly safely assume the
atmosphere is either too moist, or upper level winds are weak. When the BOM
issues “Gusts to 50 knots with storms” they usually also include “Damaging wind
gusts” in the actual forecast as well. From this you could assume that either
the moisture profile of the atmosphere is favourable with significant dry areas
in the atmosphere, or that wind shear is strong.
Pub/Wharf/Nightclub chasing :
of visiting Darwin, or living in Darwin is enjoying the incredible nightlife.
Designed to cater for backpackers and tourists from around the world, the main
street of any night in the week, will have at least 15 pubs and clubs open for
your patronage, even on a Monday night town can be stupidly busy.. So why not
head to the pub for a chase? There is usually a reasonable chance that the
storms will pass overhead later into the night, and often ‘Gulf Lines’ and
‘Kakadu Squalls’ will come rolling in when you least expect.
best indicator of an incoming storm when you’re inside a pub/club/restaurant is
surging power or power loss. It’s a very frequent thing in the Top End, a dip
of about 30% in a second then back again usually means storms are affecting the
suburbs well to the south of the city, dips of 50% or more usually mean storms
have passed over the power station (channel Island just SW of the CBD) or the
suburbs between yourself and the station.. Complete power failure alas is very
common also and is usually short lived. As soon as the storms pass the local
power authority quickly restores electricity and fixes the lightning fried