SUMMER 2005 - PART 1:
June goes out with a bang!


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The second half of June 2005 saw a number of stormy days affecting the UK. Here the 19th, 28th and 29th were particularly notable, although this was more in terms of torrential rain and lightning than anything else. Haze and cloud infill between storm-cells made photography difficult, but I got a few decent results on the 28th - when someone in Aberystwyth got some quite exceptional results! More about that below.

On Sunday 19th it seemed likely that storms would fire along a convergence-zone across the Welsh mountains and here I headed. However it seemed that things were not getting going as they ought to. This was taken near Rhayader.

Towerlike cumulus clouds were shooting up but were not developing further, despite their potentially menacing appearance. I called a colleague and learnt that a mid-level inversion was present over the southern half of Wales but storms were firing over NE Wales and W Shropshire.

On my way northeast I caught this shaft of sunlight blasting its way down the side of a tower....

This was taken looking NE from the Kerry Ridgeway, in the Borders near Bishops Castle. Torrential rain is falling over the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones. Thunder was occasional but booming as it echoed around the hills....

This area seemed to be the "feeder" for storms that then ran NE along the convergence-line. Lots of "scud-funnels" kept appearing and disappearing, but nothing more spectacular than that. So after a while I headed N along the Shrewsbury road. Here I soon ran into much flooding - nothing too bad but very widespread....

Scenes like this were commonplace - obviously the amount of rain involved had overwhelmed the drainage-system. It was certainly a fairly violent storm with now frequent lightning and large hail was reported in Shrewsbury itself. I fought back westwards along the Shrewsbury bypass, just about able to see where I was going, and got out of the murky storm-skies on the road to Welshpool.

This was a wet end to the day then, but the flash-floods that tore up the Yorkshire village of Helmsley that afternoon were out of all proportion to what I saw. Up there a storm produced exceptional rainfall rates: 60mm fell in 30 minutes at its height.

Tuesday 28th June came around and widespread thunder was forecast as a plume of warm air destabilised over the UK. Instability became evident by early afternoon as dark-based Ac-Cas (Altocumulus Castellanus) clouds began to build high over the hills. Ac-Cas storms are a common feature of destabilising thermal plumes in summer. They can lead to high-based thunderstorms - hence the "alto" bit of the name - with cloudbases typically 6-12,000 feet up. Another feature of such stormclouds is that they are commonly very active electrically....

....while another feature is that they can be difficult to photograph well, except if you are lucky enough to have them passing by at night when they create superb opportunities for lightning photography. Here, in the late afternoon, a high-based storm is moving NE up the Cardigan Bay coast. Its structure is largely obscured by other cloud but you could easily hear from the constant booming that it meant business...

....and here I am about to move back NE as the rain-core and frequent C-G lightning are both very close now. Amazingly, just before I took this I saw several people swimming in the sea. They must have been aware of the lightning bolts striking the sea's surface less than a mile away. Public perception of the danger posed by lightning is sometimes nonexistant, I mused as I headed back towards Machynlleth....

I stopped once on the way back (the view SW was too obscured the rest of the way). This thing was really hot on my heels now! The swirls in the cloudbase are typical of such storms - and some much better examples have been photographed in the UK recently. What I wanted to avoid was being caught in torrential rain with its attendant travel risks, so it was time to get moving!

Daytime lightning is tricky to photograph (understatement of the year!) - I had a try at Borth but failed - you cannot leave the shutter open for long enough to capture it unless there's a strike every second or so. Strikes were every few seconds and with a maximum exposure of 0.7sec at F22 I had no chance really. The price of film is another factor!

Sion Ilar of Aberystwyth uses a digital camera and here there are less constraints, but you still need to put a lot of work in. Sion took 60 shots with his Canon 10D and got two with lightning on them and 58 without! This is a good shot and is Sion's copyright as is the one below.... wait for it.....


This deserves a prize! Great composition, and the lightning chose to strike very neatly to compliment it! Thanks, Sion!


Meanwhile in Machynlleth, I parked up and photographed the storm's gust-front as it bore down on Ysgol Bro Dyfi. Within minutes, daytime darkness had descended on us and then the rain started bouncing off the roads. Thunder rolled and crashed - sometimes simultaneously with the lightning - making for an enjoyable half-hour with the rest of the locals at the White Lion - storms and Guinness all at once!


Sirens were heard and somebody said a fire engine had gone down my street. Concerned that my house might be flooded, I set off home. The rain had now eased and the thunder was more distant, rolling among the hills. Light conditions were awful!

The fire brigade were pumping out a blocked storm-drain. Luckily someone had noticed what was happening and called them out in time. Water was building up quickly in this area - some of these houses were flooded in the July 3rd 2001 storm - but this time they were saved from the ordeal.


Wednesday 29th June saw further storms over the Welsh hills but these were unphotogenic. Here they can be seen in a satellite image (courtesy Bernard Burton) - but just look at the huge storms across parts of France, Belgium, The Netherlands and further south!


I did go out for a look but this time there were few results. This one illustrates a hazard of chasing in the Welsh hills!

Since that time largely dry and warm to hot conditions have prevailed. Vegetation is browning-off and the ground is hard and dusty. Talk is of hosepipe bans in some parts of the UK and it's certainly the case that we need some significant rain soon. Might be something to photograph again then!



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