Spectacular Cirrus Sunset Over Cookstown - June 18th 2022

Is it just me or has the Northern Ireland Summer so far looked and felt more like a day in Autumn?, May was fine, not brilliant, but it had its moments, however once we moved into June the weather seemed to take a dive. We had several hints of high pressure forming which came to nothing and instead we have been getting showery rain, weak fronts and an overdose of grey skies with hardly any clear nights at all. The NLC season has been poor too, I witnessed two weak displays, and truth be told, they were not even worth the diesel to shoot, however it was still good to see them all the same. There have been better displays seen from UK however we have been clouded out for every single one of them to date.

June is one of the three prime convective months of the year, I look forward all year until Spring and Summer comes so I can shoot NLCs, enjoy warm temperatures and chase thunderstorms, and here lies my next complaint, sorry I'm on a rant here, I need to get it out of my system. With the exception of May 16th which was a fabulous multicell storm day, which so far has made May for me, the rest of the set-ups have been terrible. We either get weak CAPE like Winter, or its too cloudy for solar heating, or the tops are capped, which is happening a lot, or the CAPE is gone after 15.00 before prime heating, it has also been breezy with 20mph surface winds or stronger associated with cells, which means they are fast moving and very unlikely to be photogenic during the warm season here.

That being say I did witness an amazing rotation event over Lough Neagh during one of those rubbish set-ups with extremely strong low level shear. I watched three bases spinning like crazy over the lough at the same time with a fourth area over the shore, all swirling fast and lifting at the same time, it was incredible to watch, I was expecting a vortex event but nothing dropped from them at all. I felt certain that had their been stronger CAPE this day and better updraughts I'm confident in saying their could have been a multiple waterspout event over the lough at close range.

Back to June 18th, I was lamenting on how disappointing June had been so far, a frontal system of rain had just passed through and it was now dry, mild and somewhat humid outside for so late in the day. I was checking the sky from my backyard in Cookstown and examining an extensive fast moving shield of rather complex high level cirrus cloud, I thought this might have potential if the sun could light it up, but the entire sky was grey and there was no sign of the sun, maybe for another location someone might get a good sunset show, so I went back into the house. I was on chat when John Fagan came on saying there was potential for a good sunset, so we both decided to keep an eye on the sky. 15 min's later I glanced to the E and saw the low sky glowing pink, however the rest of the sky was grey, it looked like the sun was making its way through a break in the W however it just wasn't enough. 15 min's after that and more of the E sky was pink and the nice light was spreading, I decided it was nice visually however it wasn't camera friendly for me so I went back inside.

I was upstairs doing chores and as I walked across the hall way I noticed the inside walls were glowing orange and pink, this really got my attention, so I opened up the skylight in the roof and looked outside and was thrilled by what I saw. There was quite frankly, a rather epic sunset sky show unfolding! I took a few phone snaps then caught myself on, this was worthy of proper images. So I grabbed the full frame DSLR and ran outside with Rhua trotting along behind me wondering what was going on. I was stuck in the neighbourhood and I knew I had no time to get in the van and drive out to a nice location, the show would be over by then. So Rhua and I ran across the road and ventured into a freshly cut field which offered a better view of the sky. What a show this was, the sky was covered in a network of huge banners of cirrus extending across the entire sky and it looked like it was on fire with pinks, yellows and orange colours which were astoundingly vibrant. I was using the 15mm wide angle but because of the low light and that I was hand holding the camera I had to up the ISO to 400 with the aperture more or less wide open at F/2.8, this was looking west.

Turning around to face the NE which was my favourite scene in the entire sky, the NE and SW sectors were spectacular as these cirrus banners seemed to converge at the horizon. The NE was actually quite dark, however the orange clouds looked like the glow from a distant forest fire. What blew me away was the structure within the cirrus streamers to the NE, look carefully and you can see fine filament structure blown into fine streaks due to high altitude winds, at times the lines seemed to cross one another, they reminded me of the synchronic band structure within the dust tail of great comet McNaught when it was in the southern hemisphere during 2007.


Facing NW, between the orange and pinks were purple tones which contrasted beautifully with the warmer colours. These orange bands were moving at very high speed across the sky, that was obvious visually, the charts did show a strong jet streak over us at this time which was powering the clouds aloft. At the surface where I stood with Rhua beside me, it was mild and calm and pleasant.

Due W, zoomed into 30mm using the Tamron 15-30mm F/2.8, I also shot some video however the footage never captured the colours like the still images did.

SW with converging streamers, I noticed that the grass and the skin on my arms and Rhua's fur were glowing orange which was quite surreal. I wish I had been out at a better location to get foreground for this impressive skyscape, or the colours reflecting in a lake which would have taken things to the next level. That being said, I will happily take a field any day.

Rua was enjoying herself sitting in the warm grass with tongue hanging out and rolling about.

Swinging around to the NE once more.

Then back to the W, I was enjoying this show for a good 20 min's before it began to fade. For the first time in all of June I actually felt a buzz again from nature, after days of grey skies and nothing interesting happening this suddenly appeared out of nowhere and from what I saw on social media it looked like much of the country had seen it too, there must have been a hundred sunset images on my news feed alone, it was great to see so many people out enjoying the sky.

Video footage of the sunset and short vlog from the field. As I write this on June 28th the month is almost at an end and with the exception of this sunset there has been nothing of interest to photograph. Despite my rant at the beginning I'm always an optimist and know from personal experience that nature will balance herself out, so it's my hope that July and August will produce good sky action, I'm ready and waiting.


Martin McKenna

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