1st February 2015

This image was taken just outside of Gingin, Western Australia (you can see the town on the far left) and is made up of 8 separate images stitched together. After getting these shots, I had to get out of there and in front of it because this storm had dropped golf ball sized hail earlier. It chased me all the way to Bullsbrook.

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26-27th November 2014

My chase started late on Wednesday afternoon in Subiaco, as I had an appointment to have my injured hand checked out. The short version is that 10 days earlier, I tried cutting the end of my finger off with an angle grinder. But it is mending well and I was not going to let that stop me from chasing. I’m just happy it wasn’t my shutter finger.

So, with a fresh new bandage on, I set off through the northern suburbs of Perth, through peak hour traffic, with thunder, lightning and rain making things slower than normal. After 2 hours, I was finally on the open road and heading north. My plan was to head towards Wongan Hills and camp for the night. After a quick stop in Bindoon to grab some supplies, I headed up the Great Northern Highway, turning right onto the Calingiri Road. By this time, the western sky was on fire, probably due to the smoke in the air from fires around Gingin, which were caused by lightning strikes.
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From here, I headed NE towards Calingiri, then on to Wongan Hills, after stopping off to check out the Mount O’Brien lookout, which is 424 metres above sea level (making it the highest point in the region). The view is amazing, with a 360˚ panorama of the entire district. There were a few very distant storms to the east but I was able to get this image.
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It was now getting late, so I drove just south of Wongan Hills and found a quiet roadside parking bay to get some sleep. Time to test out my new bed arrangement, which is basically a large sheet of marine ply which sits across the folded down seats in my 4WD. My trusty camping mattress and sleeping bag made for a very comfy and peaceful sleep. The down side to sleeping in the car is that the sun wakes you up very early. After some brekky, I got on the road again and headed south to find a good spot to wait out the morning and see where the predicted storms might develop.

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By 9:30, it was clear that the convergence line running along the west coast was starting to move inland. This, combined with predicted temperatures in the low 30’s, meant that I would need to head north again. So I headed back along the road to meet up with fellow PWL chaser Grahame, who was waiting near Wongan Hills. After a few detours (to take some cloud development photos, and because one road I went down was a dead end even though the map said it wasn’t!) I finally met up with Grahame.

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Grahame had been watching a storm cell developing to the west of Wongan Hills, and once we met up, we headed west to intercept it. The plan was to get in front of it and leap frog our way down the Bindi Bindi Toodyay Road, stopping to take photos as we made our way south. The following images were taken at various spots between Yerecoin and Bolgart. We must of stopped half a dozen times. It was evident as we did this that this storm was picking up speed and strength.

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By now it was 1:30pm and we were just north of Bolgart. We pulled over and I got this short video which shows the updraft in the leading edge of the storm. It was also here that the storm began to change direction and head in a more SE’ly direction. As you can see, it was a fairly intense place to be standing and not something I would recommend doing if you don’t understand the risks (mainly due to lightning). Unfortunately the sound in this video was horrendous, so I had to drop it out.

As we left Bolgart, things started to get interesting. The wind picked up and as we were heading out of town on the Bolgart East Road, there were small tree branches flying everywhere and some fairly heavy rain. We went east about 10km’s and turned south onto a small side road so that we would be in front of the storm again. By this time there was a very strong gust front and it was hard to keep balanced whilst trying to shoot. I got some more video footage that shows the velocity. We also observed some cloud rotation in some scud on the SE corner of the cell.

From here, we made the call to head east to chase a new storm that had developed north of Dowerin. It was clear as we approached that this was a big system. In fact, we could see cells developing along a line that stretched north to south as far as we could see. This 360˚ panorama gives you some idea of what it is like to be surrounded by storms in almost every direction.

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(Click on the image to open in new window)

We stopped in Goomalling for fuel before proceeding east along the Goomalling Wyalkatchem Road. One feature that stood out to us was the leading edge of this storm, which you can see in the following image. This was going to be exciting.

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Normally, I don’t try to core punch storms, but sometimes in order to get in front of a system you have no choice. So through we went. As we got closer to Dowerin the rain really started to pick up. By the time we got into town, it was smashing down. The streets were flowing like rivers and the surrounding paddocks had water flowing off them. This is not ideal weather for this time of the year as many farmers are still harvesting. But you can’t control the weather and that is just part of life on the land. This short dash cam clip gives you some idea, but unfortunately it stopped recording as we passed through town. (I might be able to get some footage from Grahame as he had his GoPro running – will add later).

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At Dowerin, we dropped south 8km to Lake Dowerin, which is a salt lake that the road cuts in half, and we discovered that it had water in it. We found a safe spot to pull over and waited for the rain to ease. It was about 3pm when we got there and we stayed for a good hour watching the storm we had just passed through slide away to the SE. This was a good opportunity to set up a time-lapse (which I will post a link to once I process it) and take some photos of the storms around us.

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It was time to start thinking about our next move. Sunset was 3 hours away and there were more storms popping up further east. So the decision was made to push east towards Nungarin to find a good spot to set up and hopefully capture some epic sunset storm structure. I had been out this way late last year and I remembered that there was a salt lake NE of Nungarin which might make for an interesting foreground. We arrived at the lake just after 6pm and were greeting by a nice surprise. The lake had water in it. This made Grahame very happy because it meant we could get awesome reflections off the water of the distant lightning and sunset lit clouds, as you can see from the following images.

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As an added bonus we also got to shoot stars and storms, although they were very distant on the eastern horizon by now.

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By now it was was getting close to 9pm, so it was time to start the long trek back to Perth. We headed south to Merredin where we grabbed a late snack before hitting the road. This chase was the best so far this season, and hopefully a good sign of things to come. It was fun to meet up with Grahame and chase with him and I certainly learnt a few things from him during the day. You can check out his astro-photography page here.

So until next time…

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22nd March 2014

With out a doubt, the 2014 summer storm season has been a big let down so far here in Western Australia. Up until today that is.

I had some idea late on Friday evening that I would be heading out the following day. After looking at all the charts and models, I narrowed my chase location to an area somewhere around Wongan Hills. So at about 11am, my son Connor and I loaded the car and headed over to pick up my friend and chase buddy, Ramon. We grabbed a few supplies from IGA and headed up Wanaroo Road before turning east. We picked up the Great Northern Highway and headed north towards the target area.

It was clear that by the time we got to New Norcia, we would not have to go as for north as previously planned. So we sat in a clearing on the edge of town for an hour or so and watched the convection around us. We even had a few big and very cold drops of rain. After so long with no rain here in WA, it was almost a novelty. Before long, we made the call to head further east. We passed through the small town of Yerecoin and continued east for a few Km’s before turning south onto Woods Road. We found a fantastic location on top of the highest point around to stop and watch was developing all around us. Click on the image below to see the 360° version.

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There were some fair sized cumulus towers developing to the north and north-east which were producing pileus caps. They form as a parcel of air is shoved upward by the rapidly rising convective tower. Moisture in the air above the tower condenses directly into an ice fog as the air rises and cools, forming the pileus.

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These towers formed and then collapsed several times over the next hour and a half. One that was directly north of us dropped a few bolts of lightning, but it soon collapsed also.

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To make things a little interesting, there was also a fire burning to our north-west, so some of the photo’s we got have an orange colour to them because of the smoke.

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To the west, we were treated to an awesome display as the sun shone through a gap in the clouds.

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As the evening began to cool, the atmosphere  seemed to get less dynamic, but further south we could see that things were just getting going. A quick look at the radar confirmed that there were significant cells developing off the coast near Perth. So we packed up and headed south. After a quick bite to eat in Bullsbrook, we headed over to the coast to see what was going on. As we got closer, we could see the western sky lighting up with flashes of lightning. We made our way to Ocean Reef Marina and parked the car overlooking the ocean towards the south-west. It wasn’t long before we started to see some significant CG lightning dropping somewhere south of Rottnest Island. We set up our cameras and settled in for a couple of hours as we watched the storm cell move slowly in a south-easterly direction. Whilst there, we bumper into fellow storm chaser and photographer Mark Finley. The storm was a long way from us and there was a fair bit of light pollution, so the following images are not as good as I would have liked, but they give you an idea.

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The following images were taken by my son, Connor. Whilst I was chatting to Mark (meaning ‘whilst I wasn’t watching’) he thought he would have a go behind my camera. He was pretty excited as you can imagine.

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As the cell moved further south, it seemed to start getting less intensive. So we called it a night and headed back down the freeway. As we got closer to the city, we could see that the storm had got active again as it crossed the coast. We made a last minute call to see if we could get some more images from the bank of the Swan River. We found a great spot just west of the Old Swan Brewery, set up the cameras and started shooting. I’m so glad we did. The light show on the other side of the river was amazing. I had some trouble keeping the camera steady because the wind was so gusty, but I managed to capture some CG’s.

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Eventually, the storm moved further south-east and the lightning became obscured by rain, so we packed up once again and headed home. All the way home we watched as this system belted the outer southern suburbs with strike after strike. You can see some of the many images sent into the Perth Weather Live Facebook page here.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the lightning and thunder and rain as much as we did. Lets hope we can a have a few more before the season finishes. On an interesting side note, today  is the 4 year anniversary of the March 22 super storm that dumped large hail on Perth. You can read about it here.

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16th November 2013

It’s only a month late… but here is the report from the last storm chase into the wheatbelt region of Western Australia. With me on this chase was my friend Jim and my son Connor. We initially headed down towards Williams, but soon realized that we were too far south, so we headed for Wickepin. I remember that it was a very hot day and the flies were driving us mad. We sat for a while on the side of the road and watched to see where the storms might develop. It soon became apparent that we needed to head north, so we made plans to head towards Quairading. We found a great spot just north of Lake Mears which had a good outlook towards the north. It wasn’t long before the storms that had developed to the north were fast approaching our position.

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At one point, the lightning was getting too close for comfort, so we took shelter in the car, just in case. As night fell, a good sized cell moved to our west and produced some amazing colors as the sun set. As the cell moved south of our position, it was dropping some big bolts and it wasn’t long until we noticed that lightning had started a fire in the distance. This is not a good situation at any time the year, but during harvest, it is potentially disastrous. As we raced toward the location, we saw that farmers from every direction were already making their way there with their fire fighting units.

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What an amazing site as we came over the hill to see a dozen utes, farm trucks and volunteer firefighting units already on the scene. We felt a bit helpless because there was not really a lot we could do to help. Before long the fire was under control but the threat of further lightening strikes was very real.

As a photographer and storm chaser, I love to get out and shoot severe weather events. But I also have the utter most respect for the people who live on and work the land. Lightning, hail and severe thunderstorms, whilst awesome to watch and photograph, can and do cause a lot of damage to crops and farm infrastructure. The following shot is of a volunteer fire fighting unit as it was returning from the fire. As it went past, they put their lights and siren on for us. As luck would have it, I had my shutter open and got this amazing image.

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Titled ‘Lights and Sirens’, this image is dedicated to all of those people who live and work in the rural areas of our state,  and I would like to say a big thank you for all that you do for us. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the tireless effort that many volunteers put in fighting fires in rural areas. Everyday people helping each other in a time of need. This is what our great country in built on.

After this drama had passed, we settled in for a couple of hours to watch another couple of cells pass through. The following images are just a sample from this chase and a few of them are available to purchase from mattfrickerphotography.com

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May 8-9 Winter Storms

Yesterday saw the first real winter storms for Western Australia and it is not even winter yet! We knew this system was going to be big but just how big was a surprise. As you can see from this Sat image, the front stretched from the North West down into the Southern Ocean.

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In the hope of seeing a water spout (we have had a few over the past month) my son and I headed off to the coast with our camera’s fully charged. On the way, I spotted this low, ominous looking cloud off to the south. There was some rotation and it looked like it was dropping, so we headed over to have a look.

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This cell dumped lots of rain and as we got close to where it had been, we saw small branches and leaves all over the road. Eventually, it dissipated and moved away to the south, so we continued towards the coast.

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We arrived at Kwinana Horse Beach to discover that the waves were washing right up to the dunes.  We had fished from this beach just a couple of weeks ago and normally, the water is about 40m from the dunes. Not today.

The sea was green and angry and every now and then a big set of waves would push foam and debris right up the access track. The wind was strong and blowing a constant gale. My son was nearly blown over a few times. This made holding the camera very difficult and using the tripod was not going to work either. So we sat in the car and waited, watching.

And then , on the horizon, we saw a growing dark mass. As the wind began to pick up, our excitement went up a level. You could tell by looking at the approaching front that this was going to hit us hard. To our right, looking north, we could see another cell further up the coast as it passed somewhere over Fremantle. There were some very interesting cloud formations going on and for a while, I thought we might actually see a spout form.

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We watched this for a while before turning our attention to the cell out to sea. By now, it was just on the other side of Garden Island and closing in fast. We could see the rain curtain and the wind was really howling. I fired a few shots off before retreating to the car. And then it was on us. BANG. It hit with so much force that my car (2.5 tonne 4WD) was rocking and shaking.

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8th May 2013 Winter Storm from Matt Fricker on Vimeo.

For a moment, there was a complete white out and the noise was deafening. And then, as suddenly as it had started… it was past. Within a minute or two, there was a patch of blue sky.

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We made the decision to go for a drive out toward Serpentine to see if any damage had been done. As we moved east, we could see lots of small branches and leaves over the roads and there was plenty of water on the sides of the road and in the paddocks. By now, our cell was out past Pinjarra. We found a safe place off the road and pulled over to check out some new cells that had  crossed the coast and were chasing us!  I took this 360° image just west of Serpentine. Click here to open the image viewer on a new page.

Although I prefer to head out and chase storms in summer, winter storms and cold fronts can be exciting to witness up close. Having said that, these storms can be dangerous and property can and does get damaged. Remember to stay safe, clean out your gutters and keep those yards tidy.

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17 April 2013

Chase Date: 17th April 2013

During the afternoon, I was watching the cumulus clouds growing over the Perth hills. They went up and down for well over an hour, building intensity and then collapsing, as if they had run out of energy. Some storm chasing friends were also watching, and for a while there was some excitement about what might happen. But by 5:30ish, the clouds over the hills had all but dissipated.

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But it was the system off the coast that really got my attention. For most of the day we had been watching a growing collection of lightning strikes on the radar. As the system moved closer to the coast, it intensified. Some of the other chasers had already set off to get a better look. All the modelling suggested it would cross somewhere near Preston Beach. So off we set. Connor (my son) and I jumped in the 4WD and headed south. The plan was to go to Pinjarra then make a decision from there. All the way down we could see the flashes off the coast. There was even a small cell out towards the east, probably near Boddington.
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As soon as we got to Pinjarra, it was obvious that we needed to keep going south, so we pressed on to Waroona. Turning right down Coronation Road, we headed west. We found a great spot at the intersection of Coronation Rd and Dorsett Rd, so we set up the camera and waited. But not for long. The lightning in this system was intense and often. Some of the flashes were so quick that they blinded us, like looking at a welding arc. Some CG (cloud to ground) strikes lasted for seconds, pulsing several times. I counted one strike that last for 3+ seconds. A couple of locals puled up to see if we were OK (one of the things I miss about living in the country) and they had no idea that this storm was even coming. They raced off home to get the washing in and put the horses away.

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This was not the best lightning to capture and because we were so close, I didn’t get as many shots as I had hoped for. But what we lacked in shootable lightning was quickly made up for by what happened next.

As the storm front approached us, we could feel the wind speed increasing. The colour of the clouds seemed to change from black to grey to an eerie dark blue. It was apparent that this storm was about to get nasty. So, with lightning almost constantly lighting the whole place up like daylight, we packed the camera away and jumped in. I even managed this shot from inside the car.

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We continued down Dorsett Rd towards the Forrest HWay. And then it hit. The rain was so hard that I had to slow down to 40km/hour just to see in front of me. It reminded me of the torrential rain I saw when I lived in Broome. We headed west towards the Old Mandurah Rd, where we turned right and made our way north toward Lake Clifton. All along the road there were leaves and small branches. The gutters on the side of the road were flowing and in some places, the road was covered in runoff.

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It was both exciting and a little nerve racking at the same time. The radar image below show the intensity and size of this system. I have marked our estimated position (related to the photo above) to give you an idea of what we were experiencing. When the storm front went over us, we were at the position marked X.

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At Mandurah, we made the call to head home as the storm was rapidly moving away to the  east. Photo wise, this storm wasn’t all that good for us, but it was an amazing thing to witness up close. I haven’t heard if there was any damage done by this system. I hope not. Winter storms can be very dangerous and must be taken seriously.

I hope you enjoyed this report. Until next time…

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16 March 2013

Chase Date: 16th March 2013

After picking up a couple of friends and fuelling up, we headed out of the city towards Northam. The plan was to get out past town, park on top of a hill and check out what was happening to the east. As we headed out, I started to think that perhaps I had read the radar wrong. Perhaps the forecast storms had dissipated. But it was a nice day for a drive and we were all keen to get out and take some great photo’s anyway.  The wheatbelt is a fantastic place for a photographer. There is no end to interesting views, plants, animals and man-made objects to photograph.

As we neared Northam, it became clear that there were indeed storms forming and one in particular grabbed our attention.  The excitement level went up a notch and we made the call to head straight for the cell in front of us.  We drove out to Cunderdin and then headed north toward Wyalkatchem.

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Half way between Cunderdin and Wyalkatchem, we stopped on top of a ridge to survey the situation (photo above).  From Wyalkatchem we headed east. The storm in front of was growing in size and every now and then it would form a ‘cap’ as it pushed through various layers of colder air.  But this cell was moving to the SE fast and we soon realised that were not going to get in front of it.  So we pulled over to check out another storm that was forming to the north east. I love just pulling over on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. You can find all sorts of interesting things to photograph.  The following photo is a view of the storm that had outrun us.

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We also got some great shots of the setting sun from this location.  There is something special about wheatbelt sunsets.

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From here, we set off into the growing darkness towards Nungarin, turning north along Karomin Road. As we raced toward Mukinbudin, we were surrounded by storm cells lighting up the sky with internal cloud lightning.

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We soon found ourselves on top of Gnammamoning Hill, about 10km’s SWS of Mukinbudin.  With an unobstructed view from the side of the road, we set our cameras and got ready. What developed in front of us was nothing short of awesome.  With the lights of town as a perfect focus point, we were able to capture hundreds of images of this very large system as it passed just north of Mukka.  The following sequence is just a few of those shots.  The storm seemed to stall for about an hour. I think this was due to the strong easterly. I also think there might have been some rotation. This is yet to be confirmed.

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After about an hour, the storm changed shape and started heading in a SE direction again.  It picked up speed and the rate of lightning started to drop.  For a moment, we though it was going to head closer to our position. We had a brief discussion about our escape plan, but after a while we realised it was moving away. As it passed directly east of our position, I got these amazing images, which give you a sense of the scale of this system.

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It was time to head back to Perth, so we packed up our gear and headed due south toward Merredin.  All the way we had the most awesome light show off to the east.  At Merredin, we fuelled up and grabbed a feed for the trip home.

I hope you enjoyed this chase report.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many.

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