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2017/18 Storm season approaches.

A new season approaches in about two months so I am excited to be out chasing again and gathering lightning data.  Last season was not very conducive and prolonged monsoon rains and cyclones hampered many days chasing.

With an el Nino phase likely to be in place the risk of cyclones diminishes but hopefully this will not suppress storm activity.  We’ve had some good seasons lightning-wise with el Nino in previous years, so fingers crossed.DxO1

Hector 2017 / 2018 project

From the end of November into the first two weeks of December I will be a storm and lightning consultant for a major international film company.  I am humbled to have been requested to join Murray Fredericks on yet another large scale adventure capturing the Tiwi Island’s main event…Hector the Convector in all his power.


2018 Hector project with Netflix.

A week was spent on the Tiwi Islands in a secret location as we shot for an upcoming Nature documentary to be aired sometime in 2019.

Our goal was to chase Hector via helicopter as crew #1 and Murray was on the ground filming as crew #2.

We had wonderful storms for the first days but a lull in conditions meant downtime for the helicopter and ourselves for the third day in.

Our fourth day was an incredible series of flights filming a very large Hector which moved from the central parts of Melville Island and steered north.  The structure of the storm was immense and we captured some wonderful lightning as we hovered in front of the storm.

The images below were taken prior a cyclone which made a direct hit on Darwin in 2018.  Thankfully these shots were filmed and taken it was the only thunderstorm along the entire Top End coast!

Hector Thunderstorms


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( Various images of Hector )

I was fortunate to assist and aid  the esteemed photographic/video artist from Sydney, Murray Fredericks who has been visiting Darwin for the past 6 seasons  camping on the Tiwi Islands in a remote location capturing time lapse and still imagery for his ‘Hector Project’ exhibition which has been showcased in Australia, England and Germany.   Murray was finalising and collecting more unique images of Hector for clients and his galleries using a PhaseOne XF 100MP camera – truly one of the world’s finest professional units.

You can view Murray’s exquisite work here:

Murray Fredericks


Technical text courtesy:  N Andrew Crook – National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

Hector is the name given to a thunderstorm complex that develops regularly over the Tiwi Islands just north of mainland Australia during the transition season (Nov–Dec, Feb–Mar). The Tiwi’s consist of two relatively flat islands (Melville in the east, Bathurst in the west), which together cover approximately 150 km in the east–west direction and 50 km in the north–south direction. Convective activity maximizes during the afternoon indicating the importance of diurnal heating. The storms, which are easily visible from Darwin 100 km to the south, are among the world’s tallest often reaching a height of 20 km.
The regular occurrence of the storms over isolated, basically flat, terrain makes the islands an excellent testing ground for observational and modeling studies. The storms have been the subject of two recent field pro- * The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Corresponding author address: Dr. N. Andrew Crook, NCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307. E-mail: grams: Island Thunderstorm Experiment (ITEX) in 1988 (Skinner and Tapper 1994) and Maritime Continent Thunderstorm Experiment (MCTEX) in 1995 (Carbone et al. 2000).

These field programs successfully characterized the structure of convection over the Tiwi Islands in various flow regimes. They also gave an idea of the functional relationship between convective strength and various external parameters, although the small sample size of the dataset limited the conclusions that could be drawn. Numerical simulations of the Hector convective system have been performed by Golding (1993) and Saito et al. (2001). Golding (1993) used the U.K. Met. Office’s mesoscale model at 3-km resolution to examine two cases from ITEX and was able to simulate the development of deep convection over the islands.

Deep convection develops over the heat source when a moisture profile with positive convective available potential energy (CAPE) is added to the nonlinear model. The sensitivity of the convective strength (defined by the accumulated rainfall and total condensate) to wind speed and direction, surface fluxes, and low-level moisture is then examined. It is shown that the strength increases as the wind speed decreases and as the wind direction turns toward the major axis of the island, in agreement with the prediction of increased low-level convergence from the linear and nonlinear dry models. Sensitivity experiments indicate that the convective strength increases as both the heat and moisture fluxes increase. The strength is more sensitive to the heat flux since this drives the large-scale convergence and sea breezes that generate convection. As the low-level moisture in the upstream sounding increases, the accumulated rainfall over the islands increases monotonically; however, the total condensate reaches a maximum at a CAPE of around 1500 J kg 21 and then decreases thereafter. It is shown that the low-level moisture is an important predictor of the form of convective development. Finally, simulations with a single coastline are performed to show that one of the reasons the Hector convective system is so strong is that it develops over an island where the land–sea circulation from all coastlines can contribute.

Lightning images as we flew around Hector and a behind the scenes video link below.

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Hector behind the scenes video

2015 storm season


 The new storm season arrives in a month or two, so starting to get things in order.  I have a good friend from the UK, Julian Harcombe visiting once again to Darwin.  Julian first came to chase in 2009/10 and he’s certainly excited about seeing some real storm action.

The build-up or transition period from the dry season to wet season is becoming evident with humidity rising each week and daytime temps also rising from the normal 30-32c


You can find live storm photos/videos on my Facebook page at  So look me up and enjoy the best lightning information in Australia and possibly global!

Where to view my images and purchase.

You can order images through the link given below.  All images and video are licensed through this medium.
You can find all my images and video at the link below.

Once on the site, type in Mike O’Neill in the search bar and choose from the list of subject matter ( lightning / photos / video )  The gallery library is updated but be patient, the owner of the licensing site is also a lightning physicist and is busy researching!


Daytime lightning video

Video highlights a daytime thundercloud filmed at 600fps.  Initial +CG and then a resultant BFB or Bolt from The Blue.  Often they are thought to be positive strokes, but they are in fact negative flashes ( dependant on area of initiation).  You will see the multiple return strokes occur.