East coast bonanza, what a chase!

We knew this day was coming, Stephen Burrows and myself saw in the models very cold air due over New Zealand this particular weekend and with it brought the potential of thunderstorms. As the day grew near we were more certain then ever, some situations just stick out like a sore thumb and you know thunderstorms are going to happen.

A southwesterly change was due in the evening somewhere down south, we left Christchurch about midday and headed all the way down to Oamaru. The plan, to wait there and then chase the storm as it headed north up the coast. Once there we went to McDonalds in Oamaru for some tea and then had a look around the area, the skies did look unstable and things were fairly calm. It wasn’t majorly warm or anything but the upper air coming in was very cold so it didn’t matter to some extent if the surface temperature was a little cool, sea surface temperatures would’ve been enough to help the convection. The storm motions allowed them to come on land as they headed up the coast aswell.

We headed to a lookout which tourists often use to see penguins coming up the beach at the end of the day on the southeastern side of Cape Wanbrow, we did indeed see some of these critters coming ashore and shimmying up the hill into the bush where their burrows / nests are. Nothing much looked like happening at this point but it would be a great place to come back to when things started coming up from the south. We headed back to Oamaru to scout for different locations and found a lookout overlooking Oamaru and sat there for a while till things looked like heating up. As it got darker we noticed some distant flashes that looked to be coming from a thunderstorm that might’ve actually popped up somewhere inland behind Timaru, it looked relatively weak thinking about it but it did bring doubts for a brief time that maybe the action would start firing further north. Steve noted that behind us it looked like something was coming up from the south, we couldn’t see overly well behind us due to Cape Wanbrow being in the way so we drove back to the lookout we were at previously.

When we arrived there things started looking serious, we could see this dark edge forming and coming up from the south. Something had to start firing soon and then boom! Lightning! Cg’s and Ic’s started shooting out of the cloud, it wasn’t majorly active but it was moderately frequent. I was trying to manage my video camera and digital camera at the same time but still managed to do okay.

Steve also got a few shots of lightning, this one here is the same as my second one from the right above except he caught the second Cg that came down at that point in time.

As the gust front got closer we had to get on the move, we drove around the other side back to the lookout above Oamaru. We continued to see some flashes and hail started falling up to 13mm in size but it was too much above us at this point, with the hail falling we couldn’t really do any photography either. We could see the storm was now moving so we were off back north to Christchurch! We managed to chase this thing back through Timaru and perhaps just beyond, at this point the storm seemed to leap frog us perhaps due to this cell dying, then another cell developed just south of Christchurch as the surface southwesterly change moved through. At some point along the way north of Oamaru I managed to get a few more lightning photos but they were a little distant, still you’ve got to try. Also managed to get infront of the gust front at one point and took a photograph of lightning within the cloud lighting it up, a little hair raising at times as I was conscious about the fact lightning is very dangerous and this storm was right infront of us.

At one point when we stopped at St Andrews just south of Timaru and lightning was going off overhead. I got my video camera out and Steve tried to do some photography. Some lightning must’ve gone off strait overhead and for a brief moment Steve felt static in the air, I managed to capture the moment he feels it on video however I had an external microphone and IĀ forgot to switch it to on so the video is silent!! Arghh, so all you see is him putting his hands in the air slightly and backing away from his camera. So that was literally a hair raising experience!! I didn’t feel anything for some reason however.

After we went through Timaru the lightning seemed to die down and we didn’t really see any more for the rest of the chase home to Christchurch. Christchurch most certainly did get a thunderstorm though as the southwesterly change moved through, hail up to golf ball size was reported in Burwood which is about 4cm across. Huge!! Makes you wonder if we should’ve just stayed in Christchurch eh? haha. But it is the way it is, we got some great photo’s and had alot of fun along the way. Here is some movie stills taken by Jon who was filming the wild skies in North Linwood at the time, quite amazing seeing some large hail illuminated by lightning flashes as it falls.

And a photo here showing the size of the hail he got.