Just when I thought this Winter was done with my thoughts pondering the delights of heat and brighter Spring days Winter suddenly came back in dramatic fashion in the form of cold spell number three. This cold spell would only be a two day event however it would pack a punch exhibiting just about every type of Winter weather imaginable during a thrilling 48 hour period which brought snow storms, blizzards, icicles, rime ice, gales and thundersnow lightning to various parts of Ireland and N. Ireland. I had seen it coming and had already planned my two day snow chase a week in advance and knew I would be out both day and night on both days to document what could be our last snow event of the season. I had already experienced plenty of snow and had my fill of photo adventures since January and although I convinced myself that I would approach this event with a more relaxed attitude I still ended up jumping into the chase with 100% determination and passion, I quite honestly didn't mean to but once the snow starts to fall some part of me finds it irresistible and I feel this deep unexplained magnetic attraction luring me out time and time again to feel that natural high which only comes from driving out into the unknown and experiencing nature first hand.
The Met Office had yellow warnings out for snow, high ground blizzards, ice on the roads and even lightning. A deep Atlantic low swept the area hard with gales on Saturday which prompted an extremely rare ESTOFEX level 2 convective outlook then in its wake cold air gradually began to feed in from Canada. By March 1st/2nd the cold spell was already underway with rain turning to sleet and snow rapidly as the colder air moved inland. The charts were showing numerous snow showers moving in on a very unstable Wly flow with N and W areas most at risk with upper air temps of -40 degrees C over a warmer sea so you can pretty much guarantee convection would take place which very steep lapse rates, these were prime ingredients for updraughts and Cumulonimbus development. With several troughs ahead of another cold front it looked like there would be plenty of lift for ocean-based cells capable of thunder/lightning with precipitation in the form of hail and snow which would get driven inland with a much greater chance of snow with colder inland temps. Early March can also sprout its own inland convection thanks to growing solar heating so thunderstorms and thundersnow were also possible here as well as over coastal areas and with plenty of shear it looked like organization was likely in the form of multicells. My photo plans would be both daytime and night with daylight hours concentrated on snow scenes and night time on longer exposures and costal convection.
After overnight snow showers Roisin and I woke up to a nice dusting of snow over Maghera on March 2nd then we immediately set out for a drive to see what was on offer. We drove over Glenshane Pass which looked beautiful as always then took a narrow road across the countryside to the west where we got treated to a fun drive around tight bends and waving hills with glorious snow scenes all around us, it really was stunning with trees and fields all covered in a glistening white blanket. While in the middle of nowhere I happened to glance in the wing mirror and saw remarkable cell approach from the W over the Sperrins so I found a spot in the road and pulled over for a look. This Cb was covering the entire mountain range with a huge solid white anvil with nice structure on its E side with visible knuckles and streamlines under the incus which looked truly awesome in the blue sky, I love dynamic weather like this with storm clouds and clear skies all thanks to a clean Polar Maritime Air Mass.
I got a few images however trees and powerlines obstructed the view so we drove on for a while until we found a section of road which offered us a wide open view then I was back out in the nasty wind chill for more images, this time I found a nice field so I climbed over the gate and ran up the hill through the virgin snow, got down on one knee in commando fashion and got better images with my new Samyang 10mm F/2.8 lens, as I was snapping I could hear the wind in my ears and Sheep 'baaaahhhing' behind me, I was in my element and loving this day already. Here's one of the 10mm images showing the strong anvil sheared to the E with a core of snow falling through the downdraught, moving L to R. The radar indicated that this cell had formed over the ocean to the W of Donegal and had moved inland with several c-g sferics firing during its passage before reaching here, this sight alone of the cell over country snowfields had already made my day.
A quick stop to get more images and video of that big cell, this was the junction to the Birren road, the Sheep came over for a nosey to see what all the fuss was about. The anvil on that cell was very impressive and born from steep lapse rates and several hundred CAPE with -40 degrees C upper air temps with good wind shear, the solar heating was now just strong enough to affect the clouds and aid convection which was very evident for this was the biggest inland snow cell I had seen this Winter so far.
We then had a fantastic drive across Birren road which is the old mountain road between Glenshane Pass and Draperstown and a place not many dare to cross on a bad Winters day, many have been trapped here before or have slid off the road during past snow events, it doesn't take much to get into trouble here since the road is located on very high ground and completely exposed to the elements and never gets gritted or ploughed so we decided to venture across it for an adventure. I stopped, got out, then Roisin got in the driver's seat, she had never drove on snow before so this would be her first chance to do so. We got treated to stunning scenes of snow-covered mountain peaks proudly jutting upward into the skyline on the south side of the Sperrins with narrow mountain roads covered with snow and small wind-blown drifts with valleys below us while the sun blazed above in the company of passing cumulus clouds. Roisin did a fantastic job driving and was loving the challenge and thrill which comes from driving on snow, I had my new Go Pro Hero 4 Silver mounted on the windscreen documenting the drive and occasionally we stopped for a few images for the memory, the above is one such high dynamic range scene with the 10mm Samyang. We made it across the mountain then arrived in Draperstown where we had a nice warm lunch while it snowed like crazy outside for a very long time.
Back in Maghera I was already preparing for my night adventure, I charged the camera batteries, changed into warm clothes, put more diesel in the van then prepared a few snacks while keeping an eye on the radar. It was snowing like mad over Glenshane Pass and Maghera and it looked like it was never going to stop and for a while I wondered if I was even going to make the trip to the coast a all if this kept up, and it did, non stop snow showers packed in with the temps dropping at dusk the snow began to settle, the snow flakes were huge too which was quite impressive and it was fun watching them dance from sky to Earth through the kitchen window as I prepared my sandwiches. I made five brown baps with turkey, stuffing and cucumber then filled a flask with hot water and my canteen with cold water then a few sweet snacks for energy and that was me sorted. The radar showed many cells over the ocean to N and NW with red cores and soon after I got a private message from Paul Martin reporting lightning out W, this was like a red flag to a bull, I wasted no further time on the internet.
I grabbed my lunch and camera gear and walked outside and packed the van, checked the water and oil levels and cleared the windscreen and got ready to depart on a new solo adventure. Darkness had fallen and the snow was relentless however I had faith in my driving ability, I have had plenty of experience this Winter and had deliberately neglected to top up my tire pressure so I would have more grip in the snow. The road N was mental with heavy snow falling over snow-covered roads all the way from Maghera to Castlerock, some drivers were in a panic either driving to slow or too fast and for them it was a nuisance but for me it was heaven, I was loving every minute of it and buzzed with anticipation with what lay ahead. I admit the roads were bad however when driving in snow I always accepted the worst case scenario which is getting stuck and trapped in the snow overnight, if I agreed I would handle that if it happened then I was committed and had nothing to loose so I pressed on with confidence.
I sat on Downhill Beach in the darkness as snow blew horizontally through the air for a very long time and the van shook in the gusts. It was just a matter of waiting for a clearance and better visibility to see what was out there so I used the time to eat a couple of baps while listening to the radio with all the interior lights out as I scanned the dark ocean horizon for signs of structure and lightning. After a long wait in the darkness I considered changing to another location however I was quite comfortable here, suddenly a train raced past behind me with a rumble which shook me from my thoughts, it seemed to awaken me so I started up the ignition and drove back up the hill and stopped in Mussenden Temple car park. The clouds parted within minutes and I was suddenly witness to a clear starry night with superb clarity, I had no idea how long it would last so I decided to make the most of it, I grabbed my gear and hiked up the trail through the snow. The ruins of Downhill Estate looked majestic and imposing with the stars, moonlit snow and decaying snow shower clouds, you can see the mote which surrounds the S and E sides of the ruins in the image, it was easy to see in the bright moonlight however on a dark night it can be a dangerous place for the unweary.
Storm clouds were building out W so the magical light would not last long. I hiked at a swift pace across the snow-covered fields around the back of the ruins making a beeline for the Temple. I had forgot to wear my gloves and my hands were killing me in the wind chill and even more so from holding the cold metal tripod, then when I reached the gate which opened into the field facing the Temple I almost screamed in frustration and discomfort for the steal latch was freezing and stuck and wouldn't open, I yanked it and nipped by fingers against the latch which unleashed a sentence of vernacular into the wind then finally I got the gate open, I cursed under my breath and felt like my hand was red with cold and for a horrifying moment I wondered if I had torn off a finger nail but it was just the pain and my hands were fine. Eventually I made it to Mussenden Temple and it was worth the cold and pain to witness this ancient structure alone in the dead of night under the surreal moonlight which lit the Temple, snow, and ocean up like daytime.
What an atmosphere there was this night with the ocean waves glowing white and rumbling away below with the bright snow and stars pulsating from a bed of deep blue while lower in the sky to the N was the pale green enhancement from the lunar opposition effect. A huge bank of clouds appeared over Donegal then Magilliagn with sweeping ghostly curtains illuminated by the distant lights and min's later snow flakes hit my face then a complete snow storm. I began the long walk back to the van completely exposed to the blowing snow and cold wind, I got hammered by nature and my eyes stung as the flakes lashed at my face, the visibility dropped and I had trouble seeing however I kept going and in the snow onslaught I felt like I was taking one step forward yet not getting anywhere, I struggled, gasped and puffed my way through the airborne snow and finally I made it to the waiting Berlingo, my hands were that cold I could hardly press the key fob to unlock the door.
It snowed for a very long time, I warmed up inside and had two mugs of hot soup, not the good homemade stuff but rather some cheap packet picked up at a filling station, however I needed to bring my body temp back up so I gave it a go and was thankful to have anything at all. Well the soup turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, delicious in fact, it was packed full of noodles and rich in flavor, I was able to full the mug up twice with the flask, I have to say that soup really lifted my spirits and replaced the energy I had just expelled from my night walk through the snow. I ate the rest of my turkey sandwiches and was still craving more flavour and warmth so I drove to the local filling station in Castlerock and got myself a wonderful caramel hot chocolate drink from the machine then drove back to the Temple car park and drank it with a smile on my face as the snow flakes slapped against the windscreen.
The sky cleared in seconds and the dark world around me was once again transformed into a moonlit wonder and I was back out in the elements in an instant, I was feeling warm, energized and motivated. Once again I trekked across the snow looking for nice foreground, this time I trusted my instincts and ignored the ruins and made my way down the snow-covered slope to lower ground and found this beautiful tree all on its own with thick snow accumulations on it's branches, the tree was begging to be photographed and the fence lead the eye into the distance towards the N. I have always wanted to do a moonlit snow star trail and for some reason I never got the chance this season before (most likely due to cloud or snow falling in the dark moonless period) and now I had my chance, this clearance was a good one and with the exception of a distant row of cells along the northern horizon the sky was exceptionally clear so I composed the scene at 10mm F/2.8 ISO800 and took 15 sec exposures on continuous shooting mode with the cable release locked in place. It was exciting listening as the camera took exposure after exposure and with a nervous glance I checked the sky however good fortune was on my side as it looked to stay clear for a good period of time, certainly long enough to get a decent star trail done so I let the camera do its thing while I watched the sky and waited, I had a good feeling about this one. Standing still in snow for a long time is not a good idea so I walked away from the camera and began jumping on the spot, stretching and shadow boxing in an attempt to keep my body warm and pass the time then I settled down once again close to the camera and watched the sky, a gentle breeze was stirring the branches which prevented any frost forming on the lens and the moonlight was doing a wonderful job of illuminating the foreground for me.
I watched the sky and waited patiently, to the right a green fireball dropped out of the sky visible for several seconds before burning up with a flare through a layer of moonlit haze above the Estate ruins. I got a text message from Paul Martin informing me of two cells with red cores 20 miles off shore to the NW heading in which could be thundery so I ran to the top of the hill and spotted a very large cell slowly moving in however I still had time to finish this trail and as I watched two bright blue flashes of lightning lit up the sky far away to the N from thundersnow storms near Scotland, I stopped the exposure and took my dark frame, the above image is the result, it was everything I had hoped for - my very first moonlit snow star trail, it was this scene alone which made the night for me.
The clouds were moving in and I figured I had perhaps 20 min's of clear skies before those cells arrived over me so for the second time tonight I hiked across the snow fields, through those bitter cold gates - this time I had my gloves on - and made it to the Temple just in time to take advantage of the last clear skies of the night. Even though my time was cut short by cloud approaching from the W I still managed to get enough images for a short star trail, this is also a new 'first' for me, my first time getting moonlit snow on Mussenden Temple with stars, it felt like a dream standing here in the bright snow, the naked eye view was beyond words and I absorbed every second of it, every sight, sound and scent, the visual awe, the power of nature, the art work of the elements and the peace and sense of history from standing all alone within this ancient location.
This is one of the still images used in the star trail. Check out the lunar opposition glow and the sheared anvils on the horizon heading for Scotland. I'm highly impressed with the Samyang 10mm F/2.8 lens, all these images are wide open at F/2.8 yet look how incredibly sharp the images are from infinity to even quite close to the camera, a truly amazing piece of glass, I now see why prime wide angle lenses are the best. The clouds and snow ended my star trail and I was getting blasted once again by wind and snow, I didn't fancy the exposed walk back through it all again so this time I walked around the dark E side of the Temple and took shelter from the storm. I had my back up against the wall and within min's I was feeling overcome by a very uneasy feeling, I couldn't quite place what it was or why but I just had a bad vibe, the sensation became so potent that I decided to get away from the stone walls and walked with haste back out into the blowing snow and for the final time this night I made my way back through horizontal snow and bitter cold panting through my buff and sweating from the effort and at last I found sanctuary and comfort back inside the van.
I drank copious amounts of water to hydrate then settled back to watch the skies, it became clear that the clouds were here to stay so I decided to call it a night and began the journey home feeling more than satisfied with my adventure and happy in the knowledge that I had obtained a selection of decent imagery which I was very happy with. The drive home was mental with blowing snow all the way home to Maghera and roads covered in snow which got thicker the further inland I drove, there wasn't many cars on the road either and it took all my concentration to drive safely and counter steer from any sudden slides, I had to put the window down to stay awake and after driving 40 miles at 30-35 mph I made it home to a Winter wonderland at my home, I took me until 04.30 in the morning to get both star trail images stacked and completed then I drifted off into a cosey content sleep.
Rua woke me up early on the morning of March 3rd barking in her tone of voice which indicated we had snow, I looked out and sure enough we had a beautiful layer of snow all over the countryside, I got up despite feeling tired from last night's shoot and went outside and played with Rua, she loves snow so I took video of her running about the garden with the Go Pro. What was my plan today?, originally my idea was to lay low and rest for anticipation of a night time convection shoot at the coast later however I couldn't let this snowfall go without doing some kind of photography, who was I kidding, I would be driving out somewhere in it, but where? and what could I do different this time?, I ate breakfast feeling indecisive then checked the latest models. The sky was blue and sun shinning which was great for Winter photography however Sat24 showed high level cloud to the W already moving in and further more an active cold from the NW was surging inland, it had already generated thunderstorms and thundersnow over W and NW coastal areas and once inland it would hit with gusty winds and more snow showers so that magic light would soon be gone, it was tempting to hold back until later on however the cold front was getting my attention due to good shear for funnels/tornadoes and even supercell traits so the front was worth keeping an eye on, yet I was still undecided and restless so I had another brew in the hope the caffeine would make me come up with a plan.
Suddenly my phone rang, it was my Dad, he asked me what I was at and said he was up Glenshane Pass doing snow photography for a calendar he's currently working on for next year and would be there for a while longer if I wanted to join him, I said I would be there within 15 min's. I was excited by the prospect of meeting up with Dad again for another snow adventure, each time we have met up this season we have seen something cool or severe however on those previous occasions I had rushed out of the house wearing minimal clothing because I wrongly assumed we would be spending most of the time driving and only taking short trips outside to shoot, I was wrong to think that for each time we met up we ended up in severe cold, bitter winds and deep snow for a very long time and I felt the cold bad and kicked myself for not being properly prepared. This time I had learned my lesson and spent a little longer putting on an extra layer and wearing my best Winter jacket and thermal waterproof trousers and face buff. I drove up Glenshane Pass and was shocked at how deep the snow was, I passed a house at the side of the road with a wall which had two large stone pillars at the end and the snow drifts were at the top of the pillars which made them 5ft high, and this was only 3/4 way up the mountain. Half way across the pass I spotted Dad's van in an isolated back road surrounded with snow and I parked up for a chat.
We discussed the snow event and chatted about photo potential and I could sense that Dad - like myself - was unsure exactly what he was after. After some thought Dad decided he wanted wildlife and in particular a Fox in the snow, I liked his thinking as I too had always wanted to get that scene on camera so that became our motivation. As we chatted I excitedly pointed to the top of the mountain in front of us saying ''look at that!'', even at this great distance from the mountain we could see snow being lifted from the peak and blown at high speed across the mountain, we knew there was a blizzard up there however it was too far up and we would probably get stuck if we tried so we went back to the fox idea. The sky darkened with thick cloud, our light was gone and snow began to fall over the main road so we decided to go out and look for some action. There was no point taking two vehicles so Dad and I got in the Berlingo then we headed off across Glenshane Pass.
We got off the main road and ventured across exciting back roads adjacent to Glenshane where the snow was even deeper, we drove at a slow pace scanning fields for Foxes and hunting for tracks, we both agreed there was so much beauty everywhere that it was difficult to know where to point the camera. A few miles later we stopped to take a few images, Dad was shooting a nice river flowing under a stone bridge with snow while I spotted icicles hanging in a long row from the rusted roof of an old derelict stone building, the icicles were 3ft in length, that was a surprise to see as I didn't think it was cold enough for icicles, the van was reading 3 degrees C, still it was impressive seeing them. We drove on and eventually came to the same junction where Roisin and I had been the day before, the sign pointed to the L indicating Bireen Road, which is the old treacherous back road from Glenshane Pass to Draperstown, at a casual glance we knew we could be in trouble because it had deeper snow with drifting and it looked slippery as hell, so we took it and climbed in elevation over this famous old mountain road which in places was barely wide enough for a single car. Once we reached maximum elevation everything change in an instant, the van was reading 0 degrees C and the wind raged just as the cold front arrived on top of us.
We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a full-on blizzard, there was no warning at all, one minute we were driving on a mountain road and the next we were being attacked by nature full force. The snow started blowing hard across the road from R to L and in the distance it looked like the road came to a sudden end as if a white wall had been erected, this was a complete white out, we drove onward at a slow pace then stopped within it hoping that there was no oncoming traffic, because if there was we would never see them and vice versa, the snow-covered road and white blowing snow simply blended into one entity. I felt giddy with delight, I love blizzards and this one was phenomenal and completely unexpected. Severe gusts of wind would rip across the exposed mountain road carrying with it great veils of snow which streaked across the mountain then up over the road side and fence to the R and onto the road in great curves like huge waves of snow flowing over the ditch and across the road and over us, the speed was terrific and I said out loud ''holy s**t!!!'. I needed to document this so we stopped in the middle of the road and I began to film through the windscreen, I was blown away by what I was seeing, there was hardly any detail in the scenery thanks to the white out and a foreground element was needed so Dad decided he would go out into it and get footage. So here's my Dad out in the blizzard preparing his DSLR for filming.
Severe gusts hit again and Dad become engulfed in airborne snow blasting across the road from R to L, he was in position and battling the elements while getting the camera ready then he gave me the thumbs up.
Deep crop from the above image showing my Dad in his element with his Canon 600D and 10mm F/3.5 lens held low to the ground filming my approach through this madness.
The blizzard intensified even more and at times Dad was like a ghost who disappeared from view then re-appeared again as the snow seemed to 'sandblast' the road, this image and the images which follow capture accurately what I was seeing with my own eyes.
Dad returned and now it was my turn, I wanted to film the van in the blizzard so I grabbed my DSLR with 100-400mm lens and opened the van door...''holy s**t!!!'', I couldn't open the door at all, the wind was so strong on the driver's side it felt like a huge force was pressing against it into me, I was shocked at how brutal it was and for a moment I didn't think I could get out, then with all my strength I opened the door against the wind while yelling ''arrrrggghhhh'' then slipped out through the smallest gap I had created and I was out in the storm. I ran along the road and turned back for an image using this brief let-up in the wind to get my focus and exposure settings sorted, you can see Dad leaning out the passenger side with his Canon filming in HD and if you look carefully you can see my Go Pro Hero 4 Silver (silver box) mounted in the middle of the windscreen filming as well.
I found a good spot, got down on one knee with the the long lens resting on the crook of my left arm and began taking still images and video clips while I waited for the blizzard to hit once again, at this moment we were under a 'normal' snow storm, however I didn't have long to wait for the arrival of the severe winds again.
Roar....crazy winds blew the snow sideways at high speed from L to R, I struggled to hold the camera steady but I gave it everything I had to stay upright and get the images and video I wanted. Hazy sunlight was filtering through the blowing snow causing extreme white out conditions, this was a real blizzard and the kind of truly severe Winter weather that I hunt for, I was loving every second of it.
Insane blizzard and the finest example I have witnessed since the extreme Glenshane blizzard of 2010, this was without question the highlight weather event of the Winter for me and the most extreme daylight blizzard I have experienced to date, this is why I took the extra time out to wear proper out door clothing before meeting up because this is the kind of adventure my Dad and I end up in! While I was shooting stills through the viewfinder I watched the van completely vanish from view which was utterly amazing, I got video footage of this severe moment which you can watch below. Dad and I spent a good hour on this mountain road while getting blasted like this the entire time and after a period of careful driving we realised we could be in serious trouble if we kept going as the roads were drifting bad and the van was starting to spin so we turned around and made our way back down the mountain and pulled over for a well deserved hot brew and sweet bun from Dad's flask. We then got back to Dad's van then the two of us went for a drive through the countryside, Dad in front in his van and me behind in mine, we drove through a Winter wonderland across Ranaghan mountain, Slaughtneil and Drumlamph, it was a great memory with the CD on and the sun returned and when I put down the window I could feel its heat on my face which was a wonderful feeling, this was a day of contrasts and transition with the warmth of the early Spring sun above a cold Winter landscape. We never got that fox however the blizzard was the ultimate catch and I have yet to work out if we had caught it or the other way around. An unforgettable day of action however it was already 16.30 and the sun would soon be setting and a night photo shoot was planned at the coast so I headed back home to charge the batteries.
After the blizzard I managed to get some dinner, darkness had fallen and I was radar watching while deciding whether or not to go out. Sferic activity had been fairly quiet however all the ingredients were there for ocean storm cells, 200-400 CAPE, LIs between -2 and -3 with NWly flow and -40 degree C uppers in a clear post frontal maritime air mass and with strong wind shear and low level shear/turning any storms would be organised with a chance of funnel clouds and waterspouts. I was waiting for a sign from nature and had adopted a more passive approach to the hunt because I was feeling exhausted from the last 24 hours of photography and exposure and excitement during that amazing blizzard, I felt I had experienced enough and had obtained sufficient images and video to call the chasing a complete success however I couldn't rest, this would be the last night of the cold spell and the last of the unstable air because from tomorrow onward we would see a return to settled, cloudy and high pressure boring weather so I decided that I might as well make the most of it, and besides, I find it hard to resist moonlit convection. At 19.00 nature gave me the sign I had been waiting for, ATD sferics had just plotted night time c-g lightning bolts off the Antrim coast. This time there would be no food or flasks, I would just have to get what I needed on the road to save time, my Mother wanted to join me for a trip to the coast, I said ''are you sure?'', I made sure to pre-warn her that we could be sitting around for hours in the van under rain and might not see anything, however she still wanted to go so we got ready and hit the road.
We arrived in Castlerock and just had to stop at the filling station to get two cups of that delicious caramel hot chocolate drink as I wanted Mum to taste it. As we sat in the van drinking a terrific hail storm began and for a moment it seemed like Summer storm chasing all over again, the hail was only pea sized but it was hard and falling very fast making quite a noise as it drummed on the van roof and the shelter above the fuel pumps, once it passed I looked up and saw mid level towers with crisp tops, the clouds looked beefy and mean, the hail and towers were a great sign and there was no question that convection was present in the darkness. We raced to Downhill Beach and parked on the concrete slip way, turned off the lights, and watched. We sat there for a long time under overcast skies, rain, and periodic hail showers with not a hint of light or sky, it was obvious that this night was very different from the night before and that visibility was going to be a major issue, I just hoped we got a break in the clouds for a few exposures to make the trip worth it. We had a night time walk on Castlerock Beach then drove back to our original location at Downhill. Remarkably the sky cleared as we arrived and the waxing gibbous moon appeared from behind the parting clouds and lit the coast, ocean and sky up so magnificently it seemed like twilight. The clearance revealed a nice cell to the N in front of us, here's an image of the cell with my Mum in the frame for a sense of scale, the cell was moving L to R with curtains of hail falling to the ocean below. The anvil was in the process of dissipitating however new towers were growing in its wake with other cells visible to the NW behind Donegal with forming anvils. I was happy to have something to shoot and even though the cell didn't spark it still looked a nice sight lit by the moon with stars beside the anvil canopy.
It clouded over again so we had to wait for an hour before the next clear gaps appeared however when they did we witnessed another cell growing over the sea which became more and more impressive by the minute, the tower grew and formed an anvil which become very well sheared in the NWly flow, you can see the anvil strongly leaning over towards the beach even though the base was a good distance away over the ocean, the bright well defined white anvil looked beautiful in the company of the stars, this was a multicell with another updraught in front to the R which was hidden by cloud, it grew into a large hail storm which then passed over Portrush as we watched, I really thought it was going produce sparks rite here in front of us however it remained electrically quiet, however it was still a lovely sight to catch on camera, check out the snow on the top of the mountains in Donegal lit by the moon.
We were heading home at midnight and in the process of driving outside Castlerock when I spotted more convection worthy of shooting, there were no lay bys in the area so since it was late at night and quiet I drove onto the footpath. Pretty cool scene with big inland cell at centre moving R to L with anvil and moon aloft while to the L where hail showers lit by distant street lights. I looked behind me and saw two blue flashes of lightning over the ocean which suckered us into going back once again to Downhill Beach for the third time this night and after a suitable period of time watching we finally called it a night and drove home through showers of rain, hail, sleet and even snow and made it back for 01.00 UT.
Video clip from our snow drive across Birren road on March 2nd with Roisin driving, all the interior video was captured with my new Go Pro Hero 4 Silver mounted to the windscreen. Check out what an amazing job it did on these scenes of extremely high dynamic range facing the sun with clouds and snow, most video cameras would get the sky or foreground exposed correctly while sacrificing the other however this camera exposed them both perfectly for a great overall sense of balance with superb sharpness and colour rendition, I was filming at 1080p with 50 frames/sec, the footage of the anvil/convection was using my Canon 600D with 10mm lens.
This is the most dramatic footage I managed to capture all Winter, this was the epic blizzard on Bireen road on March 3rd filmed through my Canon 100-400mm lens with the 600D, check out how the van almost completely vanishes from view!!!, make sure to watch at full HD with volume up.
Will this be the end of Winter?, who knows what will happen between now and April however if Winter has come to an end I have to say I really enjoyed it, it has been a long cold Winter however it had its gems with multiple cold spells which have brought there own photogenic wonders, I have experienced icicles, convection, night lightning, thundersnow, drifts, blizzards, Deer in snow and numerous night snow and moonlit snow photo opportunities. I also feel I have broken my own personal record for time spent chasing snow storms, I have covered more miles, spent more money on diesel, been exposed to the cold for longer hours, lost a lot of sleep with back to back day and night hunts and in the process I have gained a multitude of wonderful experiences, unforgettable memories, visual delights and photographic treats which have kept me extremely busy. I love Winter weather and have developed a great fondness for the strange Winter of 2014/2015, some of the solo hunts seem like dreams and the other adventures with Roisin, my Dad, my Mum and even my Dog Rua - who is worthy of a mention for she loves the snow just as much as I do - are priceless. Thanks nature for all the thrills and spills and for this fantastic emotional roller coaster ride, I now look forward to the return of warm Spring days and to wearing a t-shirt once again and get on the road for Summer storm chasing. Thanks very much for reading.