August 12, 2011 North Omaha TV Tower Lightning

How not to chase storms/lightning. I watch a shelf roll into town again, the thing was as sad as they come for lightning or anything interesting really. I was down right surprised just how sad it was actually. Hardly any lightning, even in the rain behind the thing. But I knew it would at least have an area of stratiform rain and an anvil field behind it. And I knew and hoped that would be enough for some TV tower lightning ops. They really don't take much, other than some patience.

So I race down there ahead of the shelf, hoping I'd find a further away location this time around. Trying to do those from a half mile away in rain, just ain't fun or that easy. Especially wide angle too. I find no good areas away from them in my brief look, so I go back to the mall area I'd in the past. Security guard was sitting in the dark, furthest away parking lot. Drats. So I end up at the other end, closest to the towers, like across the damn street from them. Starting to rain and I was in hurry and set up mode. I pull in right next to some lights, as in RIGHT next to them, as to not have them in my shot. I take some shots(these from a tripod IN my car) and soon see other lights were going to be an issue. So I had to scoot over another parking row(I'm having to park the wrong way in the slots too) to get them out of the shot. I think, I'll back up and curve over there so I'm right between those. I completely forgot I'd just slid in RIGHT by the lights I was first trying to avoid, while still parking in the parking slots. Screeech, crunch....crap. Could even hear the door pop back out when I turned the wheel back. Oh well. 218,000 miles on this car and it's full of hail dings. May as well drive it down cement blocks holding street lights up. I blame being in a hurry hurry mode and trying to get the camera setup before the first bolt hits the towers.

Then the security guy can be seen driving away from where he was and back to his middle favorite spot. So I said to heck with that close close spot and drove down where he had been. No lights on in that parking lot either. I hoped he'd not see me pull in there and then shut my lights off. Seems he had to. It would have to leave one wondering why this car is pulling in the wrong way and turning off their lights in an empty parking lot lol. Then as I had the window down and camera pointing out I feared he'd finally come over to see what I was up to and mistake the camera for a gun or something lol. He never did leave his spot till about 2 a.m. He drove behind me then around the back of the stores, never bothering to come see what I was doing. Same thing happened another time I was there. Fine by me. I'd actually prefer they'd stop and I could tell them so he'd know. But yeah in the rain I wasn't in a hurry to roll my window down to tell them.

I measured on google earth how far this is from the towers. It's around 3,000 feet. Tip that close tower over and stack it on itself twice and it would almost be to me(1300 feet tall). Car is facing left here/east. Those are south out my passenger window. Sitting in my drivers seat you don't see the tops of those, not even close. You have to leave way over to see the tops. When I'd see a close flash, I'd just wait for the thunder report to know if it hit one. It's raining to some degree the entire time. First there was breezy north winds making it simple to shoot. The tripod was behind the passenger seat, which was slid all the way forward. Camera was sitting about mid way from center console to the open window. Or even closer to the window than that at times. Any mist gets whipped in it is going to hit the lens. The other thing I started doing this time was put my sweatshirt on the door. That way rain drops would hit and soak into it rather than hit the door frame and splash up. If there was any southerly component to a breeze, it just wouldn't work. No wind or north would work. A 10-22mm lens just has to be so close to the window. A 50mm from a few miles away would be a lot better/easier. Could shoot from center of car that way. So anyway, these wide angle ones just aren't that simple. This one hit while it was still windy north and the main core wasn't here yet.

Rain and drops now, mostly because the camera was too near the window...had to hedge it back some.

White balance on this stuff is a joke. You'd think, hey I can just pick one in the raw converter and be good to go, use it on them all. That is how it should be. But doing so they look even more crazy different from one another, trust me. Two things are happening in that regard. City lights are reflecting off the clouds and rain adding to the overall balance. Depending on the rain amount that color casting is changing. You also have the bolts and flashes themselves. Depending on how much moisture they are going through, their color flash will be different. The lights there are the greenish kind. If those look like they are shining greenish, it is likely the right white balance setting. Problem is those exposures with varying degrees of city lights and lighting color flashes, are also adding to the areas the green lights are shining on. I tried to pick a happy white balance setting for them all to use, but it just wasn't happening at all. Had to do best I could on each to even the image out.

I didn't crop out the door frame on this one on purpose. Might give some perspective to see the top and bottom window parts. Then again it really doesn't lol. I should have taken a damn shot from the driver's seat and not tilted upward so much. Could have conveyed distance that way. The lens is almost dead even with the bottom of the window frame. Center of the lens is pointing at the tower top obviously.

I get 8 bolts to hit in an hour and a half. This from the most pathetic area of storms ever. You just don't need much for tower bolts. If you ever get a good anvil crawler display going overhead, find some TV towers(taller the better, don't mess with lower towers you see all'll waste your time). The only hard part about them is that it will be raining. This is the only time I've done so well at getting shots without drops on the lens. Again it'd be far far easier from a few miles away with a 50mm in the center of your car. Might even look cooler as you'd see more of the bolt. I am finding it is hard to get anything other than the single channel bolt deals. Dan Robinson does a lot with tower lightning and he said about 1 in 10 for him give the better upward branching.

You can see it really likes to get that closest tall center one. Its next favorite is the one to the far left. Mostly just those two but sometimes the back middle one. It's rarely the right shorter one. I have one image with upward bolts coming off all 4.

I was starting to get cocky that I'd actually captured every single tower hit there was. Messing with hard to stable and position tripods(in the back of a Mustang afterall) and cleaning off is damn easy to miss tower hits. I had gotten so many with the wide, I decided to stick the 50mm on. I then got this one after a long wait. You'd get one about every 15 minutes. You can see the lens ghosting on this one. After this one I put the 10-22 back on. I'm struggling to get the tripod set right. I have it and decide to finagle the horizon a bit to be perfectly level. As I do so and am looking through the lens.....zzzzzzzzzaaaapppp crraaccckk zzzzzzzaaaaapppp booooom. For sure the best of the night and very likely a huge mutli-branched upward display. It was clearly the loudest. Most weren't at all loud, even a half mile away. This one was different. And I was seeing part of it through the lens, the only one I even saw with my eyes(can't see tower tops without leaning over to passenger seat whole time). My being cocky I wasn't missing any jumped up and got me right then lol. Sigh. Can only dream about how crazy that one was. The potential is there to get something truly crazy looking, something none of these really are. And Dan's 1-10 deal on those would have been about right. That would have been the 9th while I was there. And the other 8 are on here and all were no where near as loud.

What is truly a crazy op and thought is the ability to stack bolts later, much like you do star trails. The camera position just has to stay the same. It's really no different than someone doing a 10 minute exposure and getting a bunch of bolts in one image. You just can't do that in city lights or it'll blow out. You could with stacking. The problem might be not moving the lens the whole time, as it is likely you'll have to wipe it off. I got 3 while not moving the shot, I stacked them for the above image. If you had more or better branched ones it could be downright silly looking lol. I never even thought to do it this time or I could have probably got them all without moving. Thing is you don't really expect to end up seeing and getting 8 of them when it is all starting. I have tried before and got zero for the effort. But don't think there was an established area of stratiform rain and anvil shield that time.

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