Colorado Lightning Storm

This spectacular video of a Rocky Mountain thunderstorm is courtesy of Kai Staats, ©2016. You can enjoy more of his work at:

For all you photographers out there, here’s Kai’s comments:

This is not technically a video, but a time-lapse. Each frame was shot at 5000×3000 pixels, 10-20 seconds exposure. There were 3 segments total. I imported all 3 sets of stills at their native, full resolution. I then exported them to ProRes HQ files, yet retaining the 5kx3k size. I then reimported the ProRes video into a 1080p timeline in Adobe Premiere. This gave me quite a bit of flexibility for a subtle zoom, centering the action, or panning.

And his technical specs:

Camera: Canon 60D
Lens 1: Tokina 12-24mm, f4.5-5.0, ISO 1200, 20-30 sec
Lens 2: Canon 70-200mm ISII, f3.2, ISO 640-800, 10-20 sec
Variable time-lapse speed factor: RT = 13 s × 30 fps × 10–20 s/frame 300–600X

This video was captured from a ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Colorado Springs. As a work of art it stands on its own, but there’s some interesting science worth noting:

  • Rapidly rising stars during the opening scene immediately confirm this is a high-speed time-lapse video.
  • Cloud motion is rapid, even allowing for the time-lapse. Those vertically expanding clouds are cumulonimbus.
  • Both cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning are visible. For more about lightning, see my July 21, 2014 post.
  • The yellowish glow on the clouds is light pollution from the Colorado Springs metro area 65 km to the southeast.

Large metropolitan areas like Colorado Springs store massive amounts of heat energy during the day in the top layers of concrete roads and asphalt parking lots, as well as in ceramic tile roofs. In densely developed cities, this can account for as much as 60% of the total surface area. Warm humid air from irrigation, lawns, and pools contributes the raw material for formation of cumulonimbus clouds.

In the last century, as these areas continued to grow, meteorologists began to see how these heat islands could literally make their own weather. I’ve seen it happen over Phoenix many times.

Lightning storms are one of Nature’s striking (no pun intended) phenomena. They are at once beautiful and intimidating. You don’t need to understand the science to appreciate them, but a little science never hurts. In Arizona we see comparable storms during our monsoon season, but storms of this magnitude occur maybe only 2-3 times each year.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ September 19 Vandenberg Launch

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September 19 Vandenberg Launch