Stunning Morning Fog Inversion With Glory Over Cookstown - October 18th 2022

September and October have been very quiet month's for sky action, I hadn't flown my drone in a couple of weeks due to poor weather, it has either been too windy or too wet and on the calm dry days which did present themselves the sky was flat grey and not enticing me to get in the air, so I had been patiently waiting on good light or something photogenic to happen. October 18th looked promising, between two areas of low pressure and active frontal systems a brief transitory ridge of high pressure was building bringing with it light winds and bright sunshine. That was the first box ticked, I noticed the high humidity levels in the wake of the front so it looked like there could be mist or fog potential during the morning period, something which was supported by the local forecast, that was the second box ticked.

Fog can bring a variety of interesting photo opportunities, not only is it atmospheric and creates mood for landscapes, it can also offer a range of atmospheric optical phenomena such as fog bows, lunar fog bows (if the Moon is bright and at the correct altitude range), Glorys and Brocken Spectres, however the most spectacular fog phenomena is of course the fog inversion, if this can happen and you can get above it then amazing scenes are waiting to be captured. I woke up on the 18th feeling in the zone and contemplating a local shoot, I looked out the window and could see nothing but street lamps due to dense fog. The forecast had been correct however the fog was too dense so I decided to wait longer and monitor it. This can be a gamble, you could go out and see nothing, or you could hold back and suddenly the fog could burn off with the sun and your chances are gone so you really need to be ready to move or just commit and get on location.

By late morning the fog had thinned somewhat but still had plenty of substance, and at times I could see the sun through the veil with blue skies above, now the fog looked white instead of dark grey so this was the moment I had been waiting on. I grabbed the drone, DSLR and my Dog Rhua and headed off on a drive. I wasn't sure where I was going, I just drove slowly along the roads looking for fogbows however I saw none, it was still too dense, then on a whim I decided to head outside Cookstown and try Killymoon Castle. I had visions in my mind of the castle and grounds in glorious sunshine with bands of mist surrounding the castle and river mixed with early Autumn colours, so I drove with haste and arrived on location.

I arrived at the car park, the fog was too dense to see the castle, that plan went out the window, however I noticed the fog clearing overhead, a large gap had formed in my area so on an instinct I powered up the drone and flew it straight up through that clearance, suddenly the drone cleared the fog bank and emerged above it into a wonderful new world. While below was dark and damp, above was a landscape of vivid sunshine and blue skies, it was like a transition from Purgatory into Heaven. The drone was now looking down on the fog inversion, from this perspective it looked like a blanket of white cotton extending for miles.

I panned the drone around on it's axis and there was a Glory in plain view. A Glory is caused by the play of sunlight within water droplets in the fog, it always appears at the anti-solar point and can only be seen from elevated vantage points which is why they are more commonly seen from hills and mountains, although it all depends on the altitude of the fog of course. You need to be at the outer fringes of the fog or above it entirely, so the drone will always have the superior view.

I panned the drone around 360 degrees just to get a feel for the entire scene when suddenly this came into view. I don't know about you but I thought this looked quite epic and dramatic. The only made made object visible above the fog inversion was the tall chimney which belongs to Cookstown Cement factory. The white 'smoke' isn't actually industrial pollutants, this is simply steam/hot air being vented from the refining process. The sight of that solitary object poking through the Heavenly fog conjured up imagery of man versus nature or a beacon from some Alien civilization on another world. Anyway, this became the unexpected focus of my morning fog shoot, in fact, this was better than anything I had expected to see. I began shooting aerial still images and video sequences.

Long story short, I ended up doing five flights from four different locations to get the scene I wanted. I could only fly so far towards the factory before the drone was beyond VLOS or entering dense fog, which is of course forbidden, so in order to get the sequence I wanted I had to drive to several different locations to get the distant then closer scenes. I got the distant sequences from here and Tullyhogue Fort, then I drove closer to the factory to take advantage of breaks above to get the factory at close range. I then planned on editing these scenes together for the final video. This one was taken less than half way there, drone skimming the fog.

This was a cool moment, finally close to the structure with the factory barely visible below with an added bonus of a Glory to the lower right. You can see just how extensive this fog was, going almost all the way to the Sperrins.

These were my favourite scenes from the morning, I did an orbit around the chimney and as I did so the light and contrast on the fog became very atmospheric, especially when facing the sun or with the sun close just outside the field of view.

I won't lie to you, I was in awe as I watched this on the tablet screen, it just goes to show to always take the gamble on a photo shoot and trust your instincts. When you are out you just never know what you are going to see, and quite often it can be something different from what you were expecting, this is exactly what happened to me this morning. Also consider the luck involved too, if the fog had been a fraction higher the chimney would have been concealed, if it had been lower the scene would have been a lot less dramatic, everything was perfect.

Deep crop from another image, feels weird seeing those birds flying below the drone, it gave the impression I'm up at a tremendous height, which of course I wasn't, however I like the mood from this.

Flying back

I returned to Tullyhogue Fort and quickly walked to the top carrying all the camera gear, I was hoping the fog had dispersed somewhat so I could get the fort surrounded by creepy fog, however it was still hidden, that plan didn't work so I just put the drone straight up once more through a clearance and got another round of colorful Glorys, that's Cookstown visible in the break.

Panning to the right, a tsunami of fog with glory with Slieve Gallion in the distance.

Cool fog structures on this one, almost like the spiral arms of a Hurricane wrapping around the 'eye'

I noticed the fog was starting to thin, the sun was getting stronger and an Ely breeze was picking up and things were changing rapidly, I knew the fog wasn't going to last long, I thought of Killymoon Castle once again, this could be the time to get that scene I had imagined. So Rhua and I walked back down from the fort to the car park as quickly as we could then drove around to the car park walk. When we arrived most of the fog was gone and the sun was shinning, that's how quickly fog can vanish.

I got the drone over to the castle anyway, a brief transparent bank of high fog drifted past the drone's camera and I got another Glory with the castle, not the scene I wanted but I took it. You see the shadow in the middle of the ring?, that's a Brocken Spectre, usually you will see images of a Glory with the shadow of a person inside, but since the drone is the 'person' you can instead see the shadow of the drone inside the ring.

Final image of the day before the fog vanished. I ended up meeting several workers in the area who took a big interest in the drone so I showed them some views of the castle and the Mavic 2 Pro flying around which they really enjoyed.

Full drone footage of the fog inversion with factory and Glorys, best viewed at 1080p. This was a fun morning which turned out much more productive than I had hoped for. Now I just need a good aurora and Autumn convection before the Winter season approaches.

I should mention there were a lot of thunderstorms on the nights which followed, we ended up getting a warm Summer set-up in Autumn, a plume on a Sly then SEly flow which brought phenomenal thunderstorms across the Irish Sea, West Atlantic and Southern Ocean, those in the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and West Wales got treated to some of the best lightning in years. All of this was too far from me and the low visibility and associated fronts and troughs didn't make it worth a long drive. However I did watch lightning one night over the Irish Sea to the east of Belfast which was really cool to witness all the way from Cookstown. Thanks very much for reading.


Martin McKenna

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