Australian Weather Calendar: Cover 2019

Cover 2019 Photographer Rowland Beardsell

Lightning through the lens

Rowland Beardsell was watering his Adelaide garden as the sun was setting, keeping one eye on the sky where a storm had started to develop. When he saw lightning he dropped the hose, grabbed his camera and jumped in the car to drive to nearby Seaford beach. A keen weather photographer who specialises in lightning, he knew that time was of the essence. In fact, as he saw some impressive flashes through the windscreen, he worried he might arrive too late. Luckily there was more to come—including the spectacular sunset lightning featured on the cover of this calendar. Rowland set up his camera in a hurry, not wanting to miss such a remarkable scene, 'Normally you don't get those colours with lightning—it's quite rare'. Capturing the shot was a technical challenge, partly because the sudden, unpredictable nature of lightning bolts makes framing your photo tricky (or an exercise in luck), and partly due to the dynamic light at that time of the evening. 'In the moments around sunset the light's constantly changing and you have to be adjusting your settings as you lose the light.' Still, if anyone knows their way around weather, it's Rowland. His lifelong passion for the weather doesn't just play out in his photography, it's also a career choice—he works as a full-time weather observer for the Bureau.

The science

Snaking through stormy skies, lightning like that in this photo is one of nature’s most spectacular displays—but it can also be spectacularly dangerous. The high-voltage show is caused by an electrical discharge that occurs within a thunderstorm cloud, between clouds, from clouds to the ground and even from the cloud top into the atmosphere. In the cloud, there are millions of tiny ice crystals and super-cooled water droplets rubbing against each other as they move up and down. This causes a positive charge to develop at the top of the cloud and a negative charge at the bottom. When they discharge, a powerful electric current races from the cloud to the ground and that's when we see lightning.