Australian Weather Calendar
January: Pedalling to the pyrotechnics
Perth science teacher Matt Titmanis was going to give the Australia Day 2012 fireworks a miss as pretty run-of-the-mill photography—until dark storm clouds loomed after temperatures reached 41.0 °C. As the thunder rattled overhead, Matt made a last minute decision to go. He knew he would never make it in his car in holiday traffic so he slung his camera gear on his bike and pedalled 10 km to the South Perth foreshore. He arrived just as the first lightning and fireworks coincided. With a bit of plastic mostly covering his camera—and frequent pauses to dry the lens—he shot many 10-second time lapse images on tripod. He suspected he had been lucky, but was not sure until he pedalled home, soaked, to download his shots on his monitor. The best of his lightning/fireworks shots ran on the ABC and many a website.
Matt, 29, had only taken point-and-shoot snaps while completing an Agricultural Science/Commerce degree and working as a science communicator, before investing the Prime Minister's 2009 stimulus package money in his first digital SLR camera. After discovering the lure of landscape photography in western Canada he returned to Perth, realised 'teaching was it', did a Diploma of Education and now teaches high school science. His spectacular Australia Day image makes a dramatic teaching aid when he lectures on electricity.
Developing cumulonimbus clouds accumulate a negative charge near their base and a positive charge near their top. Lightning occurs when this voltage difference overcomes the insulating effect of air. Strokes can occur within a cloud, between clouds or between a cloud and the ground. Air expands explosively as it is heated to around 30,000 °C by lightning—we experience this as thunder.
The Bureau's automatic weather station at Mount Lawley, just to the north of Perth city, recorded 3.6 mm with this thunderstorm.