September 29, 2007 North Platte, Nebraska LP and Lightning

I wasn't too excited about this day, but went anyway. That morning cirrus shield sure did hang around all day. I don't think it hurt much as stronger heating likely would have just mixed out the low dewpoints anyway. What hurt was the system being just a bit too slow for a Saturday show.

I met up with fellow chaser, Steve Peterson, on the damn at Lake McConaughy. Wound up sitting there a lot longer than I thought I would...around 2 hours(guess). We blew off the stuff further west after seeing a tower go up to the south. We then raced back east to North Platte. Nothing like wasting gas driving too far west. The blip on radar was pretty small, not a good sign. Tiny returns and updrafts like to stay tiny returns and updrafts. There's just a certain size where you know it has issues, and this was one of those. They'll often be like this one, with the updraft on the nw side, with the precip to the southeast of it. It's extremely rare they ever amount to much. Well this one made me rethink its hope, as it entered North Platte. It looked a bit lower and a lot wrapped up, and soon had a very small hook on radar.

Wider view of the small storm, which was severe warned.

Now is when it was really spinning up in the low levels. That's likely some fashion of a funnel in there now. I never concentrated on it real hard, as I currently had a video camera going in my left hand, and my still camera taking stills in my right.

The storm even had a band of clouds closer to the mid-levels swinging out and around from it. Right above the closer building.

Very small updraft, but certainly spinning. Things love to do this as they shrivel up and die. Steve had already left to chase it northeast. I was regretting sitting here and shooting stills, and soon did the same. I only made it across I80 before I said screw it. The city would surely slow me enough that it'd be a lost cause. That and there were a couple other towers back to southwest that I thought would have more hope. Right now all the surface winds were backing as well. It's too bad nothing much came of the storms to the sw.

I hung around till dark for some lightning hopes. I got them at Lake Maloney, just south of North Platte. I actually accidently stumbled upon this lake. Any cooler scenes I find, that's pretty much always how...on accident. I rarely plan anything. I was trying to find a spot without heading south of North Platte, as I remembered the turn off/road options became limited fast. Too many lights and nothing good in town, so I drove south anyway. I then see the lake option on my gps and thought, suuuure, that would work. I should have zoomed in further sooner, as I kept using the main road around the lake which has no view. I found one road I thought would lead me to water, but it said no private vehicles, so I scratched that idea. Then I zoom in and see the other options. I find a lot of trees and few views until one spot. Problem with it was a vehicle was already there and I couldn't tell what kind of surface they were even parked on(have to be careful near rain and in a Mustang). I pass it up and find this boat dock. I don't like to be out of the car in lightning, but the pavement just wasn't working(trees blocking the area with lightning). That and there were signs saying you can't park such and such a distance from the water. I wasn't sure if I needed some permit here, so I didn't need any excuses for a park ranger or cop to come over and "check mine". Later a cop did come through and shine his light on me as I was trying to use the paved part, once it was raining.

Anyway, I get out here and decide to brave the lightning as it seemed all well off to the southwest and northwest. It wasn't long and crawlers were streaking overhead. I also encountered some sprinkles. If you have really strong winds aloft, your anvils will really race out from storms. Some of the nastiest cloud to ground bolts come from these anvils, weeeeeelllll away from the rain. I kept fearing some strong tower down there, or even something closer, and any lightning that would come from that. I'm one of the most lightning cautious people there are. I really wanted at least a couple shots though, and figured I had time, since nothing had been close at all yet(other than some crawlers).

It was damn windy on the lake. Waves were smacking the bottom of the dock and moving it around a bit. Oh yeah, and that is me and the camera in the bottom right. I should have stood up and extended the tripod some, but figured I didn't need to add to any movement by doing so(taller in the wind is obviously not a great idea). You can tell it was moving by looking at the end of the dock and the part that I'm on. Since I'm moving with the area near me it's sharper. The end of the dock however is blurry.

Also, these shots from the dock are 10mm. The lightning may look like a real long ways off, but it really wasn't that far. 10mm was the only real way to get my shadow in the shot with that area of lightning to left where it was.

The longer exposure sure makes the lake look calmer than it was. You can see the white caps in a picture down below. End of the dock again very blurry thanks to it moving around. Lights on the horizon also a bit blurry thanks to this. The lightning wouldn't be as bad since it's there and gone so quickly. Same with the tree line since it is dark, and is only really standing out over there because of the lightning.

My favorite shot of the trip, and probably just one of my favorite lightning shots all together. I just love the shadow of my head and camera looking at the bolt for some reason. I'm not looking through my camera during the exopsure obviously, but it sure looks like it. Man do I wish I lived near this lake, or even Lake McConaughy(very big lake).

Noticed it looks like a funky horseshoe vortex there to the right of the lightning.

I'm really glad I tried this on a recent chase. What is this exactly? I put my camera on my tripod, extended two of the tree legs and set it up in the front of my car. The camera is right below my mirror. If it is sprinkling, or even raining, you can still shoot. The faster you have to use the wipers, the more likely they'll be strobed into a shot obviously. It works great for light rain and sprinkles though. I had to drive over to where that vehicle was before, since it wasn't working near the dock. I set it up in the car back there and was like, hello, I see nothing out my window but light from the streetlight near the dock. That of course was right when the cop came through and I was parked far too close to the water(according to the signs). That's one good thing about severe storms though, cops often don't want to bother with you(or anyone) at the time. Sort of like speeding in the rain. I'm sure you can get by more often as most people/cops aren't going to want to stand out in the rain. Then if the storm is just really severe or something, well I'm sure they have their own concerns. My only point is, I should be able to park right on the water, lol.

I screwed up a number of these...pretty much all the first ones I shot here(not on this page). I know I checked the focus ring as I turned on my dome light to look at it. Well, I also bumped the mirror with my lens while putting it into position after that. Turned out I moved the stupid focus off. I'm just glad I noticed it on the lcd before all these later bolts on here. You can see the whitecaps in this one.

This is the full sized version/perspective of what I was shooting. The other end bolts on this page(non-dock ones) were cropped from this perspective. I left it wider like this because a number of bolts were hitting damn close, and I certainly didn't want to miss a bolt hitting the tree infront of me, or just off to the sides in the water. One hit around 1/8 of a mile away, judging by the flash-boom gap. I was really hopeful for some very close bolts, as that area to the southwest(directly ahead of me in these) was moving right towards me and was extremely active with cg's.

Here is one really showing just how windy it was(whitecaps). This was likely during one of the very close bolts hitting out of frame. You can see the wiper in two positions here showing that the bolt flashed at least twice. The bolt pretty much turned the scene from night to day here. Anyway, those were the kind of waves smacking the bottom of the dock and moving it around while I was shooting there.

This bolt was extremely bright, brighter than all the others. It was almost staccato, but not quite. It of course blew out. It shows how little exposure compensation really does in RAW conversion. I still don't think it gets you anything better than you can get via curves anyway. It wasn't all that blown out, surely not three stops worth. Well I adjusted it down via exposure compensation, only about a stop, and you can see the blown out area near the top get a funky gradiation to it. If it was really that great of a thing to use, I should have been able to go the other two stops lower with it and not have that crap. But, it reminds you even with digital it's still important to get a good exposure....something I blew here(actually it's the bolt's fault ;). I stopped things down after this one, just incase a very close bolt hit, or another one of these bright ones. The crappy part about doing that is the majority of the bolts you are seeing are very underexposed then. I always hate trying to decide what you want. If you don't get the super close bolt, you probably don't get much all together. If you shoot for the others, you get them and blow out any close bolt that might happen. These storms were now forming a line anyway, which killed the cg activity. For those that are new to chasing, lines of storms are not great for cloud to ground lightning. The many updrafts begin disharging between each other and you wind up with a lot of cloud to cloud crap, often stuff you can't see any bolts from, just flashes. I hate lines. It was like a switch was thrown on this as that happened. Also, some of the best cg activity comes from the biggest pieces of crap on radar. This morning was another great example of this(as well as my Devil's Tower account earlier this year). I was woken by close bolt after close bolt. I was actually affraid to turn my computer on or touch much. I look out and can't even find the base of the thing. Another comes through after it and I see the base on the ne side of it, and it was sad and excessively elevated. Yet for cloud to ground bolts it was like gold(too bad it was light outside).

This was an interesting chase to me. It's often funny just how close you can be from coming home with nothing, and manage to see a couple worthwhile things, or interesting photographic scenes. I mean in terms of great storms and just the overall day, this was a downer. But, lucked into being in North Platte for that tiny storm, right when it got intersting. Then hung out a bit longer for lightning hopes and had some fun with that. I remember looking at the clock, seeing it was going on 10, right when I was having the most fun. I then added up how far I was from home yet. If I left by 10 I'd be home by 2 a.m. That's not a great best case scenario. In a way I was glad the cg fun ended when it did. It got me on the road and ahead of the rain. Man nothing can suck faster than being stuck in rain on a long drive home. Anyway, time to go chase today's whatever.