Updated 18th April 2001

Excerpts from a stormchaser's journal...


Entry 12:

Has it really been that long since my last entry.....

It is incredible how caught up you can become with things, since my first 'official chase' logged in my last entry, I have been out to look at a few nicely active storms, seen the most incredible gust front come over Melbourne and head straight at me and I saw Dust Devils that would make some tornado's green with envy at Avalon Airshow.

Sine my last entry I have also made myself a little more prepared for chasing by buying a nice new digital video camera, much to the initial dismay of my wife.  Although she seemed to get over it when I told her she could use it, but only when there is absolutely no chance of any weather, airshow or motor sport activity happening.  I think that was pretty reasonable.

The chase season in the US is just starting up, so it's time for me to fit the old keyboard cover to catch the drool as I watch all the action on the net.  I sometimes wonder why we bother using all the fuel and time to go out after storms when we can get it all on our desktop's, but after watching that gust front come over, I know where I want to be, cowering in my car as the wind threatens to drop power lines on me.  Or standing out in a thunder storm feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up from the charge of an imminent strike and wondering just how quick you have to run to get
yourself and all the cameras back in the car.
Entry 11:

Had my first chase today. Tuesday the 8th of August 2000 will be a day that will go down in the history book's for a number of reasons.

My day started as I got out of work, walking out the door and looking to the East all I could see was clear skies, which was strange as it was pretty dim light outside. It wasn't until I got to my car that I saw why. Thick grey cloud to the West.

I went straight home, on the way I sent a quick SMS to Jane to find out if there was any electrical activity in it, the short reply I got back was 'Heaps.'

Got home, booted the computer (The proper way this time, not with my size 9). While the computer was starting up, I got out the camera, loaded some film, made a quick check to make sure I had everything. Once the computer started, I logged onto the net and looked at the radar, definitely something up, lots of green, red and pink. Went outside to look at the sky, noticed a small patch of mammatus forming over Kilsyth. All the while I was sending SMS's. Then Jane rang and we talked about what we were seeing, talked about stickers (Something I dobbed myself in for at the ASWA meeting), when I noticed some planes flying around over my place. Not really anything special, planes fly around over my place all the time. What was different about this was that they were flying staggered race course patterns, basically, a normal holding pattern used by air traffic control to sequence landing aircraft. Not something you see over Mooroolbark all the time. So I went back in to get the scanner. Switched it on and heard all the standard pilot chatter, pilots asking for flight levels, asking for their landing number, asking why they are being diverted to Sydney???

Then I heard what I was waiting for, an ATC at Melbourne airport telling a pilot that he can't land at the moment because a cell had stalled at the Western boundary of the airport and their weather radar was telling them there was a possibility of wind shear in the area. Tullamarine was closed.

I asked my wife if she wanted to go for a drive to take a look and she gave in after a minute. I got the camera gear together and we hit the road. Just a quick drive up to Chirnside Park and found myself a nice spot on the hill. There was lightning to the North, North West, West and South West. I got the camera set up and started shooting when I got a message telling me that Jane was headed up Mt. Dandenong. Sounded like a good idea, so we decided to go up too.

Got up the top of the mountain and took a few more shots before the rain got too heavy for the camera so I got back in the car to watch the lightning and wait to see who else turned up.

Jane (and her dog) got there and we watched and talked for a while between the cars till we all got hungry, so back down the hill to get some pizza. Then back up again. Jane hardly got off the phone all night, it was while we were on the East side of the mountain when we got the phone call to let us know that there was a Tornado in Sunbury. Obviously those guys at Melbourne air traffic control really do know everything, how else would they know to shut the airport so the planes didn't disturb the Tornado just across the road.

When we went back to the West side of the mountain things had settled down a bit, so Jane said she might call it a night. Someone heard her though, cause just after she said that the was a flash of lightning right over us and a clap of thunder. So there we sat, watching and waiting. Mother nature has a sick sense of humour doing that to us, cause naturally, there was nothing else after that.

So the night was called, good-byes were exchanged and we headed off.

As I was only a minute from home, there was a flash to the North. My wife looked at me with dread in her eyes.

Entry 10:

Attended my first ASWA meeting today. I don't know why, but I had visions of it being a bit like an alcoholics anonymous meeting, "Hi, I'm Joe and I chase storms."

It was actually pretty good, got to meet some new people with similar interests. Got to see a cyclone go through the place, Tropical Cyclone Jane. It always amazes me, the amount of things people can do in such a short space of time to get something organised. The meeting was a real eye opener, I mean, I have always been interested in weather. From watching clouds form and dissipate to standing right under a thunder storm watching the most impressive light and sound displays imaginable.

But the rest of the guys at the meeting were the best, showing how a jet stream starting over India interacts with weather patterns over Melbourne, most impressive. The main thing that got me was that they actually made this stuff easy for me to understand. That's something that many before have failed doing.

The best part of the meeting for me was seeing Jane cringe with terror when one of the guys asked me how I got interested in weather and I replied "Well, I saw Twister at the pictures......"

Entry 9:

Doth mine eyes deceive me?  Will wonders never cease?


Standing at work today, having some lunch outside.  Watching some nice thick black cloud rolling over the Dandenong Ranges, when out of nowhere I hear music to my ears.  A nice big clap of thunder. Major creamage. I didn't see any flash, but the thunder was enough to keep me going for the rest of the day.

At the end of the day I decided to go for a bit of a drive to see what was about.  I ended up going out towards Yarra Glen looking at some particularly nasty looking clouds, nice and low, thick and grey.  But the best bit was to come.

As it was only gonna be a short trip, I headed back towards home through Lilydale then over to Chirnside Park, all the while watching a couple of nice anvils forming to the south.  Back to Mooroolbark from Chirnside, I got some hail, only small, about 2mm, but it was enough.  I didn't think it would last too long, but it stayed with me all the way back to home.  I had forgotten how much even the small hail can hurt until I felt the little stings on the back of my ears as I brought the rubbish bins in.

As this was happening I was keeping a certain web master up to date with what was going on via SMS, when out of the blue I get a phone call to let me know about some snow that had fallen on the Dandenong's!

Well, I guess this means that SDS is over for the MSC this year.



Entry 8:


What a perfect night for an eclipse, still, clear, cold air.  No atmospheric distortion to speak of and the moon is looking incredibly vivid.

I was driving back from Ballarat on the night of the eclipse.  I couldn't believe my luck, nice dark skies with no cloud in sight.  My wife and I were keeping an eye on the moon as we drove back to Melbourne.  Watching the Earths shadow slowly move across the moons disc.  By the time we got back home to Melbourne's east, the moon was about 3/4's eclipsed.  I have never set up my camera so fast.  Got the 1000mm lens on the tripod with caps off to let it cool down before putting the camera on so the glass doesn't fog up on me.  While the lens was cooling, I loaded some film into the camera, got the shutter cable sorted out, took out the battery and gave it a quick warm up in my arm pit.  Must have looked pretty weird doing that!!!

Once everything was setup and right it was time to mount the camera, hard to do in the dark while trying to hold a torch in your mouth.  You just cant get the torch to point where you want it when you want it, one of Murphies laws.

So there I was, marvelling at the range of colours that the moon went through during totality, taking a few snaps.  Then I decided to move from out the front to the side patio of our unit.  First mistake.  See, the heater was going pretty hard due to the lowering temps. outside, so as I went through the unit the lens started to fog.  Quickly I got the camera back outside and gave it a few minutes to re-cool while I went back in to get the feeling back in my extremities and have a bit of a constitutional (you know how it is).

Back outside, check the lens, no fog.  Back to taking photos.  Strange, seems harder to see the moon, ahh well, just adjust the exposure time a bit to get some more light through.  After a while I finished the roll of film, so I packed up the camera up and sat outside to watch the moon for a bit.

The next day I took the film in to be developed, I made sure to tell them that it was photos of the moon and told them not to cut the negatives.  Nothing worse than getting photos back and finding the negs have been cut right through the middle of that perfect moon shot, don't laugh, it has happened to me before.  Actually, do laugh, the lab that did it gave me $50 worth of film as compensation.  ROFLMAO.

Get the film back the next day, only to be told that they couldn't print any shots from the roll, very under exposed.  ???WHAT?????  Under exposed?  I did everything right.  Exactly the same as I did last year for the partial eclipse.

Except for one thing.  See, my 1000mm lens has a speed of f8.  But on a 2x teleconverter it become f16, half the light to the film.  That combined with the fact that during a total eclipse of the moon, the moon reflects not even 1/5 the amount of light it does when its full.  That, onto 100asa film, means an exposure of quite a few seconds.  Quiet a few seconds on a 200mm lens is no problem, only a couple of seconds on a 2000mm lens means a moon shaped like a football.

Learn something new everyday, unfortunately, you have to loose a couple of old things to fit the new things in.  At least I got to see a beautiful eclipse.

Now, where is that Photography for Idiots book?


Entry 7:

Ever played that game where you make pictures out of the clouds? I had a go at it today. Sitting outside having a stick of nicotine, watching the clouds float by, there's a bunny, a sheep, here comes an elephant. It's incredible the forms clouds can take, a German shepherd jumping through a ring of fire, Colonel Klink complete with monocle.

It's funny how it works, my year 11 physics teacher had the best way of teaching atmospheric dynamics. He would tell us to think of the atmosphere not as a gas, but as a liquid, simply because that's what it is. Not many people in that physics class had trouble understanding how the air moved and how it interacted with the things around it. Everyone knows that variations in pressure, humidity and temperature create clouds, but what causes them to take the form of cute farm yard animals and funny T.V. stars.

I believe that there is a higher power at play here. How else would you see the giant car chase from The Blues Brothers played out before your eyes by some wandering strat-nim. Or the sinking of the Titanic performed by a big puffy cumulus. The creation of these clouds remains a mystery, I wouldn't have a clue how it happens. Hey, I'm no scientist, I only brought up the subject in case someone else could shed some light.

Meanwhile, I'm back to the clouds. A nice cum-nim looking like a Cessna, a sail boat, mother natures face laughing at me, I wonder if that's a sign????

Finally, off in the distance, coming over the horizon, a formation of nimbus pigs flying my way..

Entry 6:

Possibly one of the best things for a storm chaser living in Melbourne's outer east is that the weather here gives you plenty of time to look at what's happening in other places on the net.

Being only new to the whole storm chase thing, I thought I should have a look around the web to see what's what. Naturally, I started on the MSC's site and went from there.

The first thing I noticed was that compared to most other places, Melbourne weather seems very unexciting. Also, weather satellite pictures look very pretty, but don't really mean much to a person that just likes looking at lightning. I went to the Melbourne Web Cam page, the radar page and a few others to see what I'm getting myself in for this coming season. Read a heap of chase reports, both from Australia and overseas and looked at some pictures and videos. Generally got a feel for chasing and what to keep my eyes open for.

I have to admit, after seeing twister and watching T.V specials about severe weather, I had this image in my head of spending a full day following a supercell around, taking photos, getting into tight corners and all the other Hollywood stuff. Now I know that it is pretty much spending hours driving in circles with a couple of minutes stopped having a coffee and smoke trying to figure out why we are in Sale and the clouds are over Ballarat.

But there is a good side to it though, it gets us away from the computer and the B of M's weather radar that shows the 100+ front right over the centre of Melbourne.


Entry 5:

The weathers not doing much at the moment so I thought I would write down so of my more memorable moments before I forget them.

As I said in my last entry, most of my weather watching happens at airshows. Avalon airshow has always been one that brings out the best in the skies. The 1992 show saw torrential rain for a week before turning the whole airport into what could be described as mud wrestling minus the Wrestlers. The airshow organisers had to bring in 10 tons of wood chips so you wouldn't have to walk in the mud and then they hoped no planes would sink up to their wings.

1995 saw the first of what was to become a regular storm right in the middle of the airshow, one whole day lost to rain and hail.

1997 was probably the best so far. I was standing next to the runway at Avalon on the Wednesday watching and F-16 getting ready to take off for its display. For anyone that doesn't know what an F-16 looks like, imagine a big jet engine with a seat strapped to the front and a couple of triangular pieces of aluminium taped to the side for lift. Any way, this plane was sitting on the runway, about to hit the gas when my attention was brought to the south end of the runway. Looking out towards Geelong and Port Phillip bay, we saw a huge cloud build up heading our way. What we couldn't see was the incredibly strong gust front that was preceding it, that is until it reached land. As soon as it hit the beach it started picking up sand and dust until it was a solid mass of brown about four kilometre's wide and maybe 150 feet tall. Obviously the F-16's pilot had seen it too, as all we heard on the scanners was an American accent say "Ahh, Avalon tower, I might just sit and wait for a bit."

Of course, when all this was happening, I was half way through changing film in my camera. Looking at the fast approaching wall, I decided that I didn't have enough time to put the new roll in before the dust filled the insides of my pride and joy and sand blasted my lens, so I had no choice but too put my camera away and sit it out. Talk about your lost opportunities.

I was told later that the view from the other side of the runway was incredible. They didn't seem to get as much of the dust over there and had sunshine the whole time. Bugger.

1999 saw a very big cloud form directly above Avalon on the Thursday which proceeded to dump what seemed to be about 100mm of rain on us. I made the mistake of going for a walk when I thought it had eased up. Lesson 1, never second guess mother nature, she is always full of surprises.

I did however, manage to get my first photo of a sun dog at this airshow. I was following a plane through the sky when I noticed something flash by in the viewfinder, I looked back and saw the sun dog and took the photo, which naturally didn't turn out the way it looked, but it still looks good anyway.

Hang on, something actually went right. About time.

Entry 4:

Sitting at Locksley Airfield today in between glider flights, I was watching some nice anvils forming to the north up past Benalla. Wishing I was up there catching some of that lift, I got to thinking about how I got interested in weather. I love flying and aviation in general, I go to a lot of airshows (way too many to be healthy some might say), go flying as often as I can (not often enough) and can usually be found lurking around Lilydale Airport most weeks.

The thing with airshows is that they are outside and usually occur around the same time as some of those explosive cumuli build ups that you see on the telly. Because of this, I had to find something to do with my time when the airshows got suddenly stopped by formation passes of the B of M's display teams. What else could I do, stuck outside with my cameras and all that film that had to be used.

Although these two interests are closely knit, they don't really go together for me. When I want to go flying, it's storm-chasing weather. When I want to chase storms, you couldn't ask for better flying weather. I have found the best way around it is to go to airshows, that way I get to see planes flying during breaks in storms.

I mean sure, aviation and meteorology are close buddies, but the thought of jumping in a little Cessna and flying straight into an anvil would be like getting into a rally car fitted with slicks and driving on mud at 100km/h. It would be fun but not conducive to a long and happy life. Even the big boys in their 747's don't do stupid things like that.


Entry 3:

Driving home from work today I saw some menacing looking clouds low over the Mt. Dandenong ranges. Thick, grey, looking like they could turn nasty at any minute. From where I was in Kilsyth, I could see some rain falling at the northern end of Mt. Dandenong. Probably giving Mt. Evelyn a reasonable soaking. Normal Melbourne weather some might say, but what made this more impressive was the setting sun shining through the cloud and illuminating the western side of the mountain and bringing out the forms of the clouds.

So, it was off home for me to grab my camera gear and head back to Kilsyth for that award winning shot. Got home, checked the cameras. Made sure the batteries were good in both, film loaded properly, no jams, tripods in the car, everything I need is in the bag. Grab the scanner just in case, you could be surprised what you can find out about the weather by listening to pilots flying into and out of Melbourne. Don’t listen to the emergency services though, everyone knows that illegal, don’t we?

Back out to the car, just in time to see the sun has slipped a lot lower than I thought it would have and clouds in the west are now blocking what light would be coming through.


Entry 2:

Sitting on my couch watching highlights from some motor races I am suddenly woken from my delirium by a loud rumbling. Being the storm chaser that I am, in a reflex action, I reach down beside my couch and grab my camera bag. It only takes two steps to get from the couch to the front door, is that close to a world record? Out the front door I take one step to go down the front stairs. Fingers deftly selecting the key for the garage without even having to look. Garage unlocked and open in under two seconds, car unlocked in less. Camera bag placed on front passenger seat, unzipped and open. Two pentax's loaded with film, ready to go. Car started in around 1/20th of an ignasecond (Now that has to be a record, still in talks with the Guiness people). Slam the car in drive and pull out of the garage just in time to notice that complete lack of clouds and old weather in general???????????

I walk back inside dejected, thinking that the rumble I heard sounded awfully like a tip truck going over the drain cover in the road outside my place. My wife said she didn’t have the heart to say anything, she said I looked so excited.


Entry 1:

Now that I am listed on the Melbourne Storm Chasers web site, I thought I had better take this serious and start a journal. Being on the web site is cool, I am now an official amateur storm chaser. (Or should that just be an official amateur?)

Back to MSC