Risk of lightning strike is much greater than you think
FOR most people a severe storm is best avoided, but not for Warwick weather photographer Chris McFerran.
He has spent the past 20 years running towards storms to capture their violent beauty but Mr McFerran goes to great lengths to ensure his safety.
"Safety is something we take seriously as storm chasers,” he said.
Rather than stand in an open field during a storm, Mr McFerran sets his camera up outside and then retreats to his car to take photos remotely.
"A car acts as a Faraday Cage, if the lightning hits it and you're safe in your vehicle, if you're not touching anything metal, the car acts a shield,” he said.
It's necessary to get close to a storm cell to capture sharp images so often times Mr McFerran will be within a few kilometres of where the lightning strikes so insulating himself from danger is the utmost priority.
"I keep a healthy distance from storms, we as humans form a part of the electric field and we're not safe out in lightning,” he said
"Just before the lightning flashes, the cell sends out millions of step-leaders and they search for a target, that can be a belt buckle, any metal on your body, or metal on the camera and tripod.”
These step-leaders can target objects located away from the storm cell.
"Storms can send bolts out 20-30km from the centre of the storm, they call that a bolt from the blue,” Mr McFerran said.
Despite the precautions, there's no way to be 100 per cent safe during a storm event as conditions can change in an instant.
On more than one occasion, Mr McFerran has been caught off guard.
'The most terrifying experience was when I was on the mountain behind the Spring Creek Hotel, the thunderstorms had cleared for the day, they had formed over the Downs and moved over the range,” he said.
"I didn't know it at the time but a storm cell formed above me.”
The cell's inflow was dragging air upwards, creating gusts of about 100km/h and Mr McFerran knew something serious was about to happen.
"I was on top the hill and I ran to my car because the storm was about send down bolts.”
There is awesome power in a storm and the threat to human and animals is very real, and Mr McFerran said it was the close calls that inspired his respect of their potential to do harm.
"I have a healthy respect for the storm, I'm never perfectly safe, if you are out of the vehicle there is always a risk.”