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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