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Right Click: Freak Thunder & Lightning On St Helena

Fantastic display of lightning off the coast of St Helena Island. Taken from Alarm Forest; Jacob's Ladder (string of lights) to lower right, the single bright light on the ridge is in Half Tree Hollow. Picture captured with a 30sec exposure at 23:42 on 30 October, 2016.

Fantastic display of lightning off the coast of St Helena Island. Taken from Alarm Forest; Jacob’s Ladder (string of lights) to lower right, the single bright light on the ridge is in Half Tree Hollow. Picture captured with a 30sec exposure at 23:42 on 30 October, 2016.

Electrical Storm Gives Islanders A Spectacular Show | Sharon Henry

As photographers, every now and again we capture an image where the detail behind the ‘click’ is almost more interesting than the photo itself – this is what ‘Right Click’ is all about, revealing the story behind the picture.

I thought the likelihood of a thunderstorm occurring on St Helena was near to zilch, like the chances of lightning striking the same spot twice – not likely.  But it did on Sunday night when the skies lit up with the most spectacular light show the island has ever seen.  Although readers overseas might be blasé about such things, on St Helena it’s unbelievably BIG news.

A Bizarre Trick or Treat

It began around 8pm with sporadic sheet and fork lightning out to sea, north of the island, accompanied by soft rumbles of thunder.  News of this unusual weather spread like wildfire; TVs were muted and people stood at windows for a better view.  Given its rarity and because it happened on the eve of Halloween some felt it too ominous and scary to watch.

At first we thought it a glitch; a passing atmospheric quirk that would soon peter out so Darrin resisted grabbing the camera.  But it grew in intensity and closer in proximity, becoming too bizarre a photo opportunity to miss, especially for our Project 366.

The shot he captured is our most fantastic entry so far, using a long exposure and a tripod.  The distinct line of Jacob’s Ladder proves it is indeed St Helena!

I love a good fireworks display and thunderstorms are no different.  Apart from hearing the whimpering of neighbours’ dogs I felt electrified (pun intended) watching bright veins of light penetrate the night sky.  Loud thunder claps echoed overhead and even rattled the house at times.  The lightning lasted until around 4am, having moved off to the west.

This is a combination edit of approximately 12 photos, taken over a half hour period from 9.15 - 9.45pm, showing the range of lightning strikes off the coast of St Helena during that time.

This is a combination edit of approximately 12 photos, taken over a half hour period from 9.15 – 9.45pm, showing the range of lightning strikes off the coast of St Helena during that time.

All that drama but no rain, making our thunderstorm more so of an oddity; shouldn’t thunder and rain go hand in hand?  Apparently not.  Save for a few sporadic drops the reservoir levels remain woefully low, prolonging our current drought situation.

The last time a thunderstorm occurred around St Helena was possibly 35 years ago on the 9 June, 1981, (source, ‘St Helena 500’) emphasising how unusual this event was.

When the new church spire on St James was fitted with a lightning protection rod, a mandatory safety precaution, I admit I scoffed at the idea.  “Quite unnecessary” I thought, “we never get lightning here.”

Well I’ve eaten those words. Thunderstorms CAN happen on St Helena.  What next – snow?

Flashy fun facts: 

Astraphobia is a fear of thunder and lightning.

Rain that doesn’t reach the ground is called virga.

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