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Christmas Day Storm Chase in the Northern Rivers: Sunday 25th December 2005
Report compiled by Dave Ellem

While it’s always nice to think of getting a storm for a Christmas present, the reality is that the family gatherings on the day prevent most chasers from heading out after storms, so there aren’t too many chasers keen for storms on December 25th! However this year I had a whole afternoon free, and the prospects of a local chase on one of the best days of the year was quite exciting! Due to the rush of the day, I only got to look at LIs and 700hPa winds from the GFS model, but that info still gave me an idea that there was a chance of storms in the far N of the Northern Rivers, and that with the good 700hPa shear, they should be moving. A SE change had moved through early in the morning, but it was shallow, and surface temps would still likely be above 30C inland.

I had lunch with some relatives at their home in McLeans Ridges. Around 2pm, despite the terrible haze, I could see storms developing to the W and NW. I continued to watch from the pool as cells continued to bubble away, being particularly interested in a cell W of Casino. I couldn’t resist not knowing exactly what was happening, so I asked to use the net to check radar, and sure enough, a few cells were gathering in that area.

As a thick anvil began to spread overhead from the W and thunder became audible, I could not resist heading out on chase, given I did not have to be anywhere till 6pm. My brother and his brother-in-law were keen for a chase, so we headed out around 3pm. The whole drive was filled with nervous excitement. The thick moisture haze was keeping everything very featureless, so the usual hints as to the storm’s severity were missing. However, a rather thick anvil was pushing out to the E in an impressive fashion, and made me feel a little more confident that the storm was worth the drive out.

The lack of lightning on the trip out had me a little worried, but as it turns out, there was no lack of lightning – the haze was preventing any view of it! As we got closer, more frequent ‘glows’ could be made out through the haze, and by the time we reached the Summerland Way, the CG fest had began! With the storm well to our WNW, seeing pulsating CGs occurring on the eastern side of the car was quite a shock!! By the time we were in Kyogle, flang after flang after flang was pounding the town, and we all commented that we had retina burn from the strikes (where you can close you eyes and still see the bolt)! I cannot recall seeing so many CGs occurring ahead of a storm before in the Northern Rivers. At times there were branched CGs hitting in front of the car every 3 seconds, and pulsating for at least a second. Anvil rain was preventing any view of the storms updraft region, but it was so obvious by the very frequent, pulsating CGs popping out well ahead of the storm that it was indeed intense.

We really wanted to get ahead of the storm, so we pressed on along the Summerland Way out of Kyogle. As the anvil rain began to clear, more and more structure was coming into view, and it looked pretty impressive, with quite a nice circular updraft region ahead of the intense precipitation.

Not far out of Kyogle, a few hailstones that we estimated were about 3-4cm in diameter began to fall on the car. I was really taken back as we seemed too far away from the updraft region of the storm. The hail we were coping was well SE of the core. I wondered if we should stop, worried that larger stones would be falling near the core, but we still felt we could get far enough N in time to beat it. I continued to photograph through the window of the car the nice circular looking base, with a line of cloud feeding in from the SE towards it.

Short video clip of driving towards the storm - 2.25mb (WMV format)

We finally emerged out of the anvil rain, and stopped to grab a few photos of the cell now not too far to our NW. It still looked impressive, and there was no shortage of powerful CGs pounding the ground under the updraft region and beyond.

Back in the car and on to Wiangaree. As we were driving I could make out very heavy precipitation being propelled N just behind the updraft region, and it looked quite violent. I was increasingly worried about the risk of hail and large trees being blown down.

The storm was quite close now, and the CGs were still so intense that every 10 seconds or so you’d be able to hear the deep BOOM of the nearby bolts from inside the moving car.

Just outside of Wiangaree I decided it would be irresponsible to head further N and risk getting caught in the storm, so we pulled into a sheltered petrol station to wait out the storm.

We sat in the car as there was so much lightning that it was far too dangerous to be anywhere else. Soon very heavy rain commenced, along with gusty winds and eventually hail. There was a fair bit of hail – not enough to turn the ground white, but enough for it to be obvious. It was mostly 1cm in diameter though, with maybe the occasional 2cm stone. After about 10 minutes we decided to head up the Lions Road a bit to see if there was larger hail. There were some trees down along the road, and the hail seemed to continue for quite some time while we were driving. Really solid updrafts were visible at the rear of the storm and some amazing lightning was still taking place very close by, but despite all this, we could not see any hail bigger than what we’d already received ourselves. Outflow winds were quite strong at one point, gusting to the 80-90km/hr mark and really shaking the car! We had to be back home by 6pm, so we had to turn around and head back. I guess it is possible larger hail fell further N than where we drove too, but we’ll probably never know. The anvil structure and mammatus of the storm as it tracked into SE QLD was spectacular right from Kyogle to Wollongbar.

It had been a fantastic Christmas treat to chase such a high energy severe storm, and helped make the day one of the best Christmas Days I can remember!


From Bureau of Meteorology

  • Grafton local scale loop 0230z to 0630z 25/12/2005 (1.30pm to 5.30pm local time)
  • Grafton medium scale loop 0230z to 0800z 25/12/2005 (1.30pm to 7pm local time)
  • Brisbane local scale loop 0230z to 0900z 25/12/2005 (1.30pm to 8pm local time)

    Satellite Images

    From Weatherzone

    25/12/2005 02z 25/12/2005 03z 25/12/2005 04z 25/12/2005 05z 25/12/2005 06z 25/12/2005 07z 1pm to 6pm local

    Analysis Charts

    From Bureau of Meteorology

    Brisbane sounding at 11am 25/12 local

    25/12/2005 06z

    GFS Model Analysis

    From NOAA 25/12/2005 06z analysis

  • Liftex Index
  • CAPE
  • Relative Humidity surface
  • Relative Humidity 850 hPa
  • Relative Humidity 700 hPa
  • Relative Humidity 600 hPa
  • Relative Humidity 500 hPa
  • Relative Humidity 300 hPa
  • Temperature (C) surface
  • Temperature (C) 850 hPa
  • Temperature (C) 700 hPa
  • Temperature (C) 500 hPa
  • Temperature (C) 300 hPa
  • Winds (knots) surface
  • Winds (knots) 925 hPa
  • Winds (knots) 850 hPa
  • Winds (knots) 700 hPa
  • Winds (knots) 500 hPa
  • Winds (knots) 300 hPa
  • Winds (knots) 200 hPa

    Document: 200512-07.htm
    Updated: 12th January, 20056
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