Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Electrifying! Catching the spectacular storms of Northern Australia #EarthOnLocation

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For the recent BBC2 series ‘Wonders of the Monsoon' we needed to film the power of the weather and how it influences wildlife, people and landscape. As you'd expect, it's an incredibly difficult subject, always changing, always on the move and despite our best efforts, it's never easy to predict. When we needed wet weather it wouldn't rain at all, when we wanted to film a drought story it was torrential. Storms in particular have a mind of their own, and like filming a wild animal, it pays to study your subject, learn its temperament and have patience - and get the experts on board!

Fortunately there is one place in the monsoon region where spectacular weather is pretty much guaranteed - Northern Australia. Here, at the Southern end of the Monsoon region, some of the worlds most powerful storms can be witnessed, and the best time to see these is in November and December. We teamed up with world renowned photographer Murray Fredericks to try and capture unique footage of the powerful weather events. I hope you'll agree that the results are some of the most incredible shots of storms ever to be seen on Television. Here is how we managed to catch and film them.

You can watch our 'behind the scenes' film below. 

The Chase

To track them down we were dependant on storm chasers Jacci Ingham and Mike O’Neill who used radar and their local knowledge to monitor over a million square kilometres, an area four times bigger than the UK. The storms could have started to build anywhere at anytime, and so we had to be ready.

Storm clouds build over Western Australia
 Our tough off-road vehicles that kept us moving 

The Heat

Whilst searching for storms we also stumbled across a seasonal side-effect of this dry time of year - wild fires, probably triggered by lightning strikes. The plumes of billowing smoke can be seen from many miles away and up close the heat is tremendous.

 A huge plume of smoke from a distant wild fire
 Cockroaches attempt to escape the heat by climbing high 
 Murray Fredericks films a wild fire

A Spectacular Setting

It wasn’t just footage of the storm itself that the team were after. It had to be a storm in a spectacular setting in order to reveal the whole story of the buildup and the seasonal impact of these weather systems on the landscape. We needed to get ahead of a storm and we needed to get up high.

Double rainbow over a boab tree, Western Australia
 Storms building over the Kimberley region, Western Australia

Wall of white

We were capturing time-lapses to speed up the action and reveal the storms as they developed and moved towards us. It can be a slow process and once we had a position we needed to leave the cameras running, and without water on the lens, for at least 10 minutes. We’d have to wait until the last possible moment, until the rain was upon us, and then we’d run for the car. This allowed us to capture beautiful shots of rain washing over the land and a wall of white obliterating the view and sweeping towards us.

 A wall of white obliterates the view - within a few minutes the rain was upon us

An Electrifying Moment

Getting our cameras drenched was one concern but we also wanted to film lightning and we were fully aware of the dangers, so we had to have our wits about us. One evening, after a few days with little storm activity, we managed to get ahead of a promising build-up, it looked like the perfect opportunity to film lightning against the reddish evening sky. As the sun set the flashes started to build, becoming more and more powerful, it quickly became the most spectacular storm I’ve ever seen. It moved much faster than any of us had anticipated, and suddenly it was on top of us. I could feel the static in the air. We had to grab the cameras and run down the hill for the safety of the car. It was an electrifying moment.

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