On July 12th 2018, the bureau of meteorology here in Australia were forecasting stormy weather. They reckoned that a line of electrical storms would move northwards up the east coast of Australia during the afternoon and early evening before building and then heading out to sea. I looked at the maps and reckoned that we were going to cop one of those storm cells right on our heads. I wouldn’t regard myself as a stormchaser, but if a storm’s going to drop right in your lap it would be a shame to waste the opportunity, right? So I headed out an hour before sunset to photograph it.
I set up my camera in Gerroa and I was uniquely situated to watch the storm cell for the duration of its transit over Seven Mile Beach and Seven Mile Beach National Park. I saw it arrive from the south, I saw it pass right over the top of Mount Coolangatta and Shoalhaven Heads, I saw it track along the bay of Seven Mile Beach, I saw it pass right over my head and then I saw it move north-easterly, out into the Pacific. I had my camera trained on it the whole time it was moving north and then I followed it out to sea with the zoom lens too.
During the storm’s run I saw plenty of lightning strikes, but there were two particularly big ones and they both touched down in Seven Mile Beach National Park, about 8km to my south. I photographed both of those strikes and got great images on both occasions.
Meanwhile, a car travelling south down the Bolong Road between Gerroa and Shoalhaven Heads reported seeing a lightning strike and smoke and, being community-minded folks, phoned it in. The call was directed to Shoalhaven Heads Rural Fire Brigade who responded to the call and sent a crew out in the tender to investigate. When they arrived on scene they found one very badly damaged tree and a small bushfire. There wasn’t much they could do for the tree, but they extinguished the bushfire and returned to base.
Later that evening I saw their post on Facebook about the lightning strike and realised that I must have photographed the every moment the tree got struck. I looked at my photographs and, from the location information about the strike and the timing, worked out that it was this precise moment …
As you can see, a couple of sizeable bolts touched down on the edge of Seven Mile Beach National Park and it was that bad boy on the left which I reckon did the damage. If you’re curious as to what a lightning bolt of that size does to a poor unsuspecting tree, then feast your eyes on this …
Lighting is the cause of many of the bushfires that ravage the Australian landscape – all you need is oxygen, a fuel source, and an ignition source. In the case of our little incident the fuel source was the dry grass around the tree and the ignition source was the lightning.
Thanks to the crew at Shoalhaven Heads Rural Fire Brigade and indeed all the volunteer members of the rural fire service who give up their free time to respond to these incidents and keep everyone safe.