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Updated June 25th 2016

Beautiful Rope Funnel Cloud - June 24th

Friday produced a prize funnel cloud catch for me. 700-900 CAPE and LIs of -3, NWly flow, slack winds, convergence zones and hence a risk of heavy showers, thunderstorms, funnel clouds and weak tornadoes. After midday the sky from Maghera to the W and NW looked as mean as hell, heavy, and sporting eerie dark blue colours, a big cell was sitting in that area so on an instinct I decided to head out for a look. I parked just outside of town on a hill with a good view across the hills, I was only there 15 min's when a funnel cloud formed from a lowering under the dark base at the flanking area of the cell. The time was approx 12.40 UT and for the next 10 min's I got treated to this beautiful rope funnel cloud, I attached the 100-400mm lens and captured the following images.

It was long and spectacular hanging over the mountains to the NW, in the view finder I could see it rotating and changing shape

The upper portion of the tube appeared translucent and at times seemed to be composed of fine vorticies inside the main funnel

What a beautiful sight this was, I took a lot of images and several video clips, I had it in view the entire time in good clarity over beautiful sunslit fields with black storm clouds out of frame to the left, the scene was perfect, I was bathing in warm sunshine and dry the entire time with not a breath of wind, I was truly in my element. My mate Conor McDonald also observed it from Maghera then he drove out the road for a meet up where we had a good chat about the sighting. We ended up chasing all through the back roads, watched more bases and observed further rotation.

Video of the rope funnel taken with the DSLR and 400mm lens, the funnel itself was miles away over the mountains to the NW so for the moment I'm not sure of its exact location. The storm cell it dropped from was also a mean sight which I have images of too however I will save these and more funnel images for the report in which I will go into more detail about this exciting day. The last 48 hours have been good to me with dramatic storm structure on Thursday then this rope funnel cloud on Friday, I will have two detailed site reports to do so please bare with me.

Storm Structure! - June 23rd

This turned into a great local storm chase! - I was watching that strong cell over Omagh then monitored it on radar as it moved NE when it crossed the Sperrins as it grew stronger and stronger, I heard thunder from Maghera and had a last check on radar which showed quite a long lasting incredible core, this cell was intense and organised. Went chasing up Glenshane, got into the core, blinding torrential rainfall, rumbles of thunder and small hail stones, main road saturated and flooding at the sides, embedded in the pecip to the west was strong rising cloud motion followed by obvious rotation which looked like it was going to produce a funnel or more, area of interest became hidden in rain so I let it go. Same cell was back building with a new line of convection forming producing precip so chased after it, ended up on Glenshane Road punching more cores and flooding then on the other side was the meanest storm structure I have seen in years, massive solid clouds seemingly well sheared from the precip, dramatic as hell with two areas of rotation in close proximity to this structure, followed it out to the roundabout, watched a massive line of new cells crossing the sky in front of me, all with solid highly textured clouds with large globules on the flank, very beautiful structures. Mid level cloud cleared to reveal three beautiful white updraught towers above the base exploding upward in real time catching the lowering sun, I mean amazing real time expansion given the modest CAPE values, chased east onto Newferry road then Bellaghy then as light dropped I returned back home - very rewarding chase with lovely visuals and photogenic storm clouds!

This was earlier in the day, massive convective line extending from the border to Maghera and beyond sporting red and white radar returns, it produced a rumble near Dungannon but no sparks here however it looked ok approaching me over the fields outside Maghera, after this passed through with torrential rainfall I thought that was the weather done for the day.

Then the atmosphere recovered and it became warm and humid again and I began to think there would be more storms. I watched a cell building near Omagh, it tracked NE over Glenshane Pass and was exhibiting shear and a very intense core so I chased after it, drove into mad rainfall, flooded roads and rotating clouds embedded in rain. New cells formed to the rear of this so I gave chase along Glenshane Road, punched a rain core and this came into view, I pulled over as quick as I could for stills. This is 10mm wide angle, this is not a gust front, it's a sheared updraught base of a storm with solid cloud structure, look how well vented the precip is from the updraught base, there were two areas of rotation observed.

Meanest storm structure I have seen in years hands down, I had my Mum out chasing with me today and she was amazed by the clouds also, very dramatic stuff and extremely photogenic, this storm really made my day and storm season so far. I have a lot of images taken from this day's chase and some video also which I will feature on a report in the near future. Thanks for reading.

Video footage of this updraught and a second cell later on the same stretch of road using the DSLR and 10mm lens.

Drone Cargo Ship Intercepts - NEW

Last week during fine weather I managed to intercept and film three cargo ships passing through Lough Foyle on an overcast but dry day with a NEly breeze. All three ships were less than one mile distant and made for a wonderful subject matter from drone filming. This is the 'Beaumaiden' - you can see two men at the rear and figures inside the cabin, of note is the pod of Dolpins on the upper right side at 3mins 30 secs which I never noticed at the time.

Flag: Netherlands

Gross Tonnage: 2545

Size: 88m x 12m

Built: 2008.

The 'Philsum St. Johns', check out the strange cargo onboard, are they engines?, any ideas then please let me know as I'm currently baffled as to what they could be.

Gross Tonnage: 1662

Size: 82m x 11m

Built: 1993

Flag: Barbuda.

The 'Federal Severn', the first two I knew about from marine traffic websites however this one was moored in Derry with no sign of leaving, I had been watching it for two weeks. After filming the previous two ships I got a phone call from a Ship Spotter who informed me she had just left harbour and would appear at Magilligan Point within half an hour. I waited and waited and waited, spotted her approaching, and just when I was going to fly a heavy shower arrived over the ship despite being dry on either side, I couldn't believe it, I couldn't let the opportunity pass so I launched and flew through the rain with the drone, camera, and tablet getting soaked, I made it to the ship for a nice close look as it crossed the point heading out to the Atlantic, mission accomplished, however I would love see see her again in better weather under a blue sky.

Gross Tonnage: 24196

Size: 190m x 28m

Built: 2012

Flag: Marshall Islands

Ballintra Thunderstorms & Lough Neagh Epic Lightning Display Report - NEW

New Chase Report

On June 6th I did a solo chase to Co. fermanagh then into Ballintra where I intercepted two lively thunderstorms with high sferics rates and rich thunder on the hills in the middle of nowhere with the second storm sporting a nice shelf cloud, I arrived back home after 10 hours on the road only to be hitting the road once again to intercept a plume-type elevated thunderstorm which originated in Wales, crossed the Irish Sea, then impacted E. N. Ireland after dark. I met Conor McDonald ad John Fagan at Ballyronan Marina and three of watched the best night time lightning display since 2005 with three hours of lightning ending in close range bolts over the water which delivered monsoon style rainfall and a freak audio phenomena through the darkness which left us all thrilled. One page report with 17 images and 2 video clips. - REPORT.

Drone Footage of Hot Air Balloon Flight Over Drumlamph Report - NEW

I have always wanted to film hot air balloons with a drone and that chance finally appeared one beautiful warm Summer's evening on June 8th 2016 when in the process of walking through Drumlamph Woodland near Maghera. By chance and with amazing luck a formation of seven hot air balloons rose from a field adjacent to the woods close beside me, I got my Phantom 3 Adv in the air and managed to obtain beautiful footage of the balloons in transit across the western sky at golden hour. The climax happened when one of the balloons eclipsed the sun over a backdrop of the Sperrins and ancient Drumlamph woodland. One page report with 1 image and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Multiple Thunderstorm Intercepts Near Home Report - NEW

Chase Report

One of two reports covering three days of storm chasing during a dramatic thundery outbreak producing high CAPE and active electrical thunderstorms across N. Ireland for several days in a row. On June 7th 2016 the cap broke during the early afternoon resulting in explosive updraught development across my home area. Conor McDonald and I went chasing locally and made multiple thunderstorm intercepts across Benbradagh mountain, Maghera and Knockloughrim. The storms were slow moving and producing rich lightning strike rates with many rumbles of thunder tapping into over 1000 CAPE of energy on a warm and humid Summer's day. One page report with 11 images and 1 video clip. - REPORT.

Type 4 Noctilucent Cloud Display - June 3rd

I observed my first NLC display of the season on June 2nd however it was a tiny faint manifestation at type 1 brightness so I decided to refrain from posting the images here. However on the night of June 2nd/3rd a stunning NLC apparition suddenly appeared in the bright twilight sky just after 23.00 UT. I drove into the Maghera countryside and parked on a hill overlooking an isolated farm house offering a perfect view of the show. Over the next couple of hours I got treated to a superb display, in fact, in all my years of NLC observing I don't think I have witnessed such a bright or complex display in early June like this one. It quickly intensified to type 4 brightness (the scale goes to 5) and could clearly be seen illuminating the fields and haze below which hampered my night vision - always a sign of a top quality display. During astronomical darkness it was 20 degrees high and over 80 degrees in length and sported a complex concoction of NLC structure - soft and hard edged bands, waves/herringbone, whirls and lacunosus holes.

The occupants of the farm house were fast asleep inside while outside the NLCs reigned. I had the DSLR set up with 24-70mm lens and began shooting hundreds of exposures with the intention of making a time lapse. The only sounds on this gorgeous night were of a distant sheep and the click click click from my camera's shutter. I watched as the naked eye star 'Algol' in Perseus and 'The Kids' within Auriga were engulfed by the alien clouds causing these stars to dim significantly, the real time motion of the NLCs could easily be discerned without optical aid.

Between 00.30 and 01.00 UT the display lowered in height yet seemed to glow with an unnatural intensity sporting stunning electric blue and green colours above a bed of orange horizon haze. The brightest section of the display revealed exactly where the sun was located below the horizon (right of house in the above image). I stopped shooting the display after 02.00 UT when it began to fade and the twilight sky brightened. I have to admit to being shocked at the difference 24hrs can make from that feeble first sighting to this majestic wonder all within a manner of hours, it was as if a switch had been flicked. I wonder if this early treat is a sign of greater displays on the weeks ahead?, keep watching the skies and keep checking back here for the latest images.

Full time lapse video of the June 2nd/3rd type 4 NLC display outside Maghera filmed with the Canon 600D and 24-70mm F/2.8 lens, this is composed of 600 or more exposures, you can see the motion of the NLCs with respect to the stars and tropospheric cloud which makes for a fascinating comparison.

If you are new to Noctilucent Cloud observation then check out the Nightskyhunter NLC article presenting a little of the history behind this mysterious phenomena and how to identify NLC brightness, structure and make valuable naked eye observations - read more.

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Image Reports

N. Ireland Storm Chasing Reports

Astronomy is not the only subject I'm interested in. One other such area is severe weather which will be playing a major role on nightskyhunter from now on in conjunction with my other astronomical pursuits. Check out my new N. Ireland Storm Chasing section and view the chase reports and images which detail not only storms but other phenomena such as a moonbows, noctilucent clouds and aurora displays.

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Martin McKenna