AUTUMN 2006 - part 6: Incredible psychedelic sunrise!


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The busiest period in a long time for weather photography continues unabated with the most extraordinary sunrise I have ever seen, coastal storms that brought flooding, thunderstorms and for some, devastation as another powerful tornado struck, this time in NW London. The Atlantic is certainly experiencing a particularly active storm season, the most vigorous in several years. No sign of winter so far, that's for certain!

I want to begin this page with a dedication to a dear friend, Diana Francis, who passed away on December 1st after a long illness. Di was born in South Africa at the end of the Second World War, and upon reaching adult life, and understanding what was going on out there at the time, made the difficult decision to leave her homeland in the hope of finding a better place, arriving first in London and then finding her way to the Dyfi valley where she spent the rest of her life.

I first got to know her about 12 years ago from the pub darts scene in the Dyfi Forester, where my old friend John Davies had moved to a few years before I came to Machynlleth. A larger-than-life character with a wicked sense of humour and a deep love for the area, my abiding memory of Di will be the spontaneous afternoon last summer when I popped out for a quick lunchtime pint and sat out in front of the White Lion when she came past, stopped and we ended up drinking G&T for the rest of an afternoon of sunshine and laughter. The latter two things I will always associate with Di.

She bore her health problems with a positiveness and determination that I can only gesture at and aspire to. The last few times I saw her, in hospital, saw an incredible ability not only to come to terms with her situation, but to help others through that too. So much so that the celebration of her life that we had yesterday was a joyous, albeit tearful occasion. And that was followed up with a booze-up of legendary proportions at the White Lion. I'd like to think she would have wholeheartedly approved of the send-off we gave her!

A wonderful poem by Martin Newell (his collections are essential reading!) kind of sums it all up - he refers to the valleys and the maritime creeks of Essex of course, because he is there and we are here, but I hope it touches the readers of this webpage as it touches me.... remember days with those you love, and celebrate the natural world that they loved! And, so, we move on...



Some silver autumn morning
Remember days like these
As horses seen through trees

And in forgotten orchards
The ochre of the sun
And echo of a gun

A gale bends the birches
The elders crick and groan
The moon is smashed to pieces
In the waters of the Colne
And Autumn drags you home

The dead are reacquainted
With living they have known
Their half-remembered faces
In flowers, moss and stone
Ashes, earth and bone

And if I die in early autumn
Light a fire, boy - in the woods
Build it well and crack a bottle
Share out my worldly goods

And on some silver morning
Remember days like these
As horses seen through trees.....


Di loved open skies and the sea, and so these photos are for her!

November 28th: in a break from site-investigation and BBC interviews at Bow Street, I nipped down to Borth to catch the sunset and got a couple of nice shots....

Deliberate underexposure allowed this direct shot of the sun and cloud-illumination, with Borth Head in the background. I quite like the effect...

Now onto the main subject of this page. On November 30th I awoke as dawn was breaking and immediately sensed something "strange" about the light. Peering out from under the duvet, I caught an eyeful of pink clouds: looking a bit harder I realised what was going on out there, flew out of bed, dressed untidily, grabbed the camera-bag and sprinted the 200m to where the jeep was parked. The following series of images were shot at the nearest venue from there where I could be free of rooves and overhead cables - Machynlleth golf-course. A solitary fencepost made an ideal resting-place for my beanbag tripod - these would not be fast exposures.

When I first saw the sky at home this was all an incredible pink colour. By the time I was set up, it had already changed to a fiery orange as the sun, still below the horizon, crept ever upwards...

As the sun continued to rise, streaks of molten gold appeared and deep blue-grey areas started to appear between the individual clouds. The scene was constantly changing as sunrise progressed.

The clouds are mammatus. As seen elsewhere on this site, they are frequently to be seen hanging down from the undersides of thunderstorm anvils. Yet in this case, no thunder was forecast: indeed it was a dry morning.

The colour differentiation increases - this was just incredible. I breathed in the cool morning air and tried to take it all in.....

This was perhaps the best for the range of colours....


As the sun rose over the horizon, the mammatus began to fade to a duller pinkish-yellow and finally to grey, at which point they became scarcely visible. The day dawned to reveal a monotonous sheet of Altostratus. I packed away and set off home for breakfast, posting up a note on the UK Weatherworld forum. It turned out that a similar dawn had been seen widely across Wales and NW England.

Mammatus may in fact form under other clouds apart from thunderstorm anvils, but the process appears to be relatively uncommon. The Altostratus sheet clearly contained precipitation particles (ice crystals or water droplets), since fallstreaks (or virga) were observed in the cloud-deck both here and elsewhere. Because of the presence of precipitation particles, some pockets of saturated air within the Altostratus deck would have been heavier than the air below, so that they were sinking through the cloud-deck towards the dry, clear air below the cloudbase.

If the subsiding air contains large enough precipitation particles, there may not be the instantaneous evaporation of them that would normally be expected in the clear air below the cloud-base; instead, as happened here, the cool moist air continued down into that clear air for some distance, manifesting itself as these pouchlike mammatus. Just another of many atmospheric processes in which the explanation may sound mundane but the results ended up giving me the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen! Right time, right place has to be the number 1 rule for any weather-photographer....


This page starts at the coast and finishes there. I can't even remember which day this was taken, there have been so many stormy days of late! Currently it is pouring with rain out there, the METO have put out a plethora of warnings, my hangover from Di's send-off has evaporated and my thoughts are to the future and the fact that in only 12 days time, the days will once again start to get longer and the cycle will renew itself once again. I've always thought that the Winter Solstice ought to be the start of the new calendar year - it is so much more logical and it follows the heartbeat of the planet. I suppose that's why it was abandoned - Man thinking he knows better as usual. He doesn't!



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