April 19, 1995 - Examples of Using Lightning and the Blue-Green Powerline Flash to Spot Tornadoes at Night

Example of Using the Blue-Green Powerline Flash

and Lightning to Spot Tornadoes at Night

April 19, 1995

Spotting tornadoes at night is challenging.  However, nature and man have provided the storm spotter with ways to see tornadoes at night.

Lightning often illuminates tornadoes at night, but lightning flashes are brief and the spotter must have a good idea of where to look in order to take advantage of the brief glimpse provided by lightning. City lights may provide illumination of a wall cloud or tornado at night.  Power line flashes that are not accompanied or preceded by a lightning strike may indicate damaging winds, either from a tornado or from a downburst. The following images provide an example of what to look for when spotting severe weather at night.

Looking west over Grand Prairie from the Gospel Lighthouse Parking lot at Illinois and Loop 12 in western Oak Cliff. The tornadoes formed on the nose of an RFD gust front just south of a mesocyclone associated with a bowing HP supercell. Two tornadoes crossed Loop 12 and moved east into Arcadia Park and Oak Cliff. The tornadoes produced F1 damage along parallel paths about 1/4 mile apart. These power flashes occurred on the east side of Mountain Creek Lake. I was operating on the 146.880 MHz RACES net in Dallas, providing real time reports of the developing tornadoes. (Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)
A blue-green powerline flash produced by damaging winds, illuminated the wall cloud.
Lightning illuminated the developing tornadoes in the next five images.
I abandoned my spotting location at the edge of the Balcones Escarpment as the tornadoes developed condensation funnels to the ground. The video camera was mounted on a tripod between the two front bucket seats in a Plymouth Voyager minivan. The image to the left is a frame from video with the camera turned toward the driver's window, looking west as I drove north on the Loop 12 service road. An almost perfect V-shaped funnel is visible above the bright light located just right of the lower center of the image and to the right of my face. The tornado was just on the other side of the highway, moving east. I drove north to I-30 and then east to escape the advancing storm and to find another spotting location farther east.

Copyright 1995 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.

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Last revised: November 30, 2008