Changing Planet

Explorer Takes a Break From Tornadoes to Chase Lightning

Emerging Explorer Tim Samaras is changing gears.

Usually off tracking down the next big tornado, for the next few weeks Tim is switching out his storm equipment for some new gadgets to try and photograph powerful positive lightning strikes called ‘sprites’ responsible for the discharge of upper atmospheric electrical discharges.

“We’re embarking on a new frontier,” says Tim. He and his son have modified the ‘chase truck’ to encompass the new ‘Hemisphere high-speed camera’ that will scan from horizon-to-horizon using a Phantom high-speed camera, looking for that positive lightning strike–and capturing it at 10,000 frames per second.

Inside the newly outfitted 'chase truck'. Photo: Tim Samaras

Here’s were things get tricky. As Tim attempts to capture these powerful sprites on camera, Tim’s colleague, stationed in Lubbock, Texas, will also try to capture the SAME storm- a task never been done before.

“The reason for capturing this data”, Tim explains, “is to study the continuing current of the return stroke by the use of the high-speed camera.  One can take one pixel from the camera, and plot that using amplitude vs time, and actually see and measure the modulating current of the return stroke.  Pretty exciting stuff.”

What if no storms develop? No problem. “We may sneak off and chase tornadoes in and around Oklahoma and Texas”, says Tim.

Learn More

Tim Samaras Catches Huge Kansas Storm on Camera

National Geographic Lightning Fact Page


  • Cecil Miller

    Someone should try chasing the two magnetic poles

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