Storm Chase - La Belle Downs

The day started as any other day for me in the bush. Early rise hoping for a sunrise - but I was disappointed by the drab overcast skies. Grabbing an iced coffee I headed off to see what I could find. The cloud was low and the light was half decent giving rise to this image near Buley Rockhole, Litchfield National Park.The cloud lifted rapidly by the hidden but rising sun and again provided some interesting light when I captured this image near the Aida Creek Jump Up, Litchfield National Park.

Storm Chase - La Belle Downs

By the time I had returned to the car from my walk the light had gone and it was time to wait for the afternoon storms - heading to a vantage point, which provides just enough reception to check the weather sites and watch the progression of potential target areas. About 11am a few small cells started to appear on the radar, but I knew it was going to be hard because it would be a case of taking an educated guess on which way to go.

I drove across the Litchfield escarpment to the lookout near Tolmer Falls and the decision was made for me. La Belle Downs was going to be the target area for the afternoon. As I drove onto the Channel Point Road and headed to La Belle Downs Homestead to check in, I thought I had done the wrong thing as a large rain cloud with no structure was moving off the escarpment and looking like it was going to destroy any chances of a good afternoon cell.

Taking shelter at the homestead I checked the weather sites again and noticed a potential cell in behind the rain cloud. Heading west along Channel Point Road I drove out of the rain and into clean air. The chase was on. The sky was inky black and the cell was high. What was the best location? I could just stop and try to make something or head to Murrandja Hill and get something potentially special. Time to test-drive the troopie. Engaging 4WD for extra traction I navigated the wet road, numerous closed gates which can be frustrating when you’re watching a big storm develop. (Out the car, open the gate, in the car, drive through, out the car shut the gate in the car and keep going.)

Finally, with adrenalin pumping, I arrived at Murrandja Hill, set up and captured this.

Storm Chase - La Belle Downs

I waited until the storm was over me, but all the lightning was embedded in the cloud so just as the rain hit me I headed off. Deciding to try and get out in front of it again, I backtracked to Channel Point, this time opening and shutting the gates in the rain. At the final gate I could tell there was lightning in the area as I was booted 3 times when I grabbed the gate.

After about 20km I was in clear air again and could see the cell was still building nicely and now throwing a few sparks. Stop and get just a lighting bolt or push on in the hope of getting something great. It’s about the storm in the landscape I said to myself, not just a lightning bolt…… so I pushed on the next 15km to the coast. As I arrived at Hay Stick Paddock I had a few minutes to setup and get a progress shot of the storm. Here I noticed it had moved further south and away from me but I knew the area and there were no opportunities to get closer.

Down to the beach and along to the Perons, but I was too close to the tree line to view the cell. Grabbing my gear I ran out to the low tide mark to see what was happening. Magic - this was going to be good. Need my umbrella and raincoat because I knew I would stay out too long and get wet. Rain and a Hasselblad Camera do not go well. After retrieving the wet weather gear I composed my shot.

I could see the cell move out over the water and just needed that spark of lighting. I knew it was a distance away but chose to go wide angle because of the size of the cell. I had chased it over 130km and watched it grow and develop now it was time to capture a moment in time that showed the complete storm in all its power and might which included a lightning strike.

A couple of small strikes out the bottom. Nothing of note. I started talking to the storm. “Come on come on just one good strike. “ “You owe me something” (Remember the adrenalin is running and I have no one to share the experience with.)

‘Crack’… out it came with a second one behind it. Shortly after that I was running back up the beach as the rains came ripping down.

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Not finished with the cell yet I waited for rain to abate and headed out onto the mud flat (escorted by thousands of mosquitoes) to capture the dying moments of a magical storm. The cell finished as it started – quietly, and the mosquitoes had the last say on the matter.

Thanks to RM Williams, La Belle Downs Adam (Station Manager) and Martin (Tourism) for giving me access to the station – you make experiences and images like this possible. Also thanks to Bridge Toyota and ARB Darwin- as the troopie is the ultimate chase vehicle.