I very much want to take pictures like this. I hoping to hit the plains states this next storm season!
I have created a new website aimed at showing people the best locations to take lightning and storm pictures. It’s called Lightning Shot Spots and I just launched it today! So far it’s a bare bones site while I work to collect location data (provided by users like you!), but I have plans to develop it into a world class storm photography resources. So, head over, take a look, and please contribute a location if you have one. Thanks!
As the temperatures in Southern Arizona heat up, and the moisture in the air decreases, we start getting a lot of Red Flag Warnings for the various parts of the state. I’ve known intuitively what these warnings are about, especially since I was a wildland firefighter for a season, but wanted to find out some more details.
Red Flag Warnings are issues by the National Weather Service to inform firefighting authorities and land management offices that the conditions are right for wildland fire ignition and propagation. For these offices, the issuance of a Red Flag Warning helps them prepare for the potential fires brought on by drought, low humidity and high winds with potential lightning. For the general public, a Red Flag Warning means there is a high fire danger with increased probability of a quickly spreading vegetation fire in the area in the next 24 hours.
The weather criteria for fire weather watches and red flag warnings varies with each Weather Service Office’s warning area based on the local vegetation type, topography, and distance from major water sources but usually includes the daily vegetation moisture content calculations, expected afternoon high temperature, afternoon minimum relative humidity and daytime wind speed.
Related to, but of less severity than, a Red Flag Warning is a Fire Weather Watch. which alerts the public and fire fighting agencies that conditions may exist for a Red Flag Warning after the initial forecast period (12 hours). It is generally issued 12 to 48 hours in advance of the conditions, but can also be issued up to 72 hours in advance. That watch then remains in effect until it expires, is canceled, or upgraded to a Red Flag Warning.
Here’s an example of a Red Flag Warning for Flagstaff, AZ.
WWUS85 KFGZ 120342 RFWFGZ RED FLAG WARNING NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FLAGSTAFF AZ 842 PM MST WED JUN 11 2008 AZZ111>117-140-120445- /O.EXP.KFGZ.FW.W.0023.000000T0000Z-080612T0400Z/ CHUSKA MOUNTAINS AND DEFIANCE PLATEAU (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 111)- LITTLE COLORADO RIVER VALLEY IN COCONINO COUNTY (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 112)- LITTLE COLORADO RIVER VALLEY IN NAVAJO COUNTY (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 113)- LITTLE COLORADO RIVER VALLEY IN APACHE COUNTY (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 114)-WESTERN MOGOLLON RIM (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 115)- EASTERN MOGOLLON RIM (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 116)- WHITE MOUNTAINS (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 117)- NORTHEAST PLATEAUS AND MESAS SOUTH OF HWY 264 (FIRE WEATHER ZONE 140)- 842 PM MST WED JUN 11 2008 ...RED FLAG WARNING WILL EXPIRE AT 9 PM MST THIS EVENING... THE RED FLAG WARNING WILL EXPIRE AT 9 PM MST THIS EVENING. WINDS WILL CONTINUE TO DIMINISH AND RELATIVE HUMIDITIES WILL INCREASE THIS EVENING...THUS THE RED FLAG WARNING WILL BE ALLOWED TO EXPIRE. $$
For as long as anybody can remember, where the Catatumbo River empties into Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, there has been lightning. For an average of 160 nights a year, 16-40 cloud-to-cloud strikes light the air above the waters of the lake. As many as 20,000 bolts have been recorded in a single night. But that all stopped in January 2010…there have been no strikes since then.
In an online article at The Guardian, locals are concerned about the lack of lightning :
Fishermen in the village of Congo Mirador, a collection of wooden huts on stilts at the phenomenon’s epicentre, are puzzled and anxious by its absence. “It has always been with us,” said Edin Hernandez, 62. “It guides us at night, like a lighthouse. We miss it.”
There has been lightning in the skies around here for most of recorded history :
Electrical storms, product of a unique meteorological phenomenon, have lit up nights in this corner of Venezuela for thousands of years. Francis Drake abandoned a sneak attack on the city of Maracaibo in 1595 when lightning betrayed his ships to the Spanish garrison.
“This is unprecedented. In recorded history we have not had such a long stretch without lightning,” said Erik Quiroga, an environmentalist and leading authority on the Relampago de Catatumbo, or Catatumbo Lightning.
It appears to scientists that El Niño is to blame for the disruption of this phenomenon. The theory is that El Niño has caused a drought in the area, drying up the lakes and rivers that normally exist, and which contribute to the creation of the lightning. Another theory links it to decomposing organic matter which release methane. Yet another theory links it to Andean winds blowing across marshes, generating low pressure and building up an electrical charge in the atmosphere.
The last time the lightning disappeared? In 1906 when a catastrophic 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Ecuador and Colombia unleashed a tsunami. The lightning returned three weeks later. But the long delay in the lightning’s return this time have locals worried.
Losing the lightning is a symbolic blow. In addition to warding off Drake’s naval assault – an event celebrated in Lope de Vega’s 1598 epic poem – it is credited with helping independence fighters defeat a Spanish fleet in 1823. The state of Zulia, which encompasses Lake Maracaibo, has a lightning bolt across its centre and refers to the phenomenon in its anthem.
Quiroga worries that when rains return the lightning may not recover its former glory. It was dwindling in frequency and force even before the drought, probably because deforestation and agriculture had clogged the Catatumbo river and several lagoons with silt.
“This is a unique gift and we are at risk of losing it,” said Quiroga, who has led scientific teams to its epicentre. He has lobbied Venezuelan authorities to protect the area and the United Nations to recognise it as a world heritage site. A Unesco spokeswoman said there were no plans to do so because electrical storms did not have a “site”.
For more information about the Catatumbo Lightning, check out this brief Wikipedia article.