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