On November 21, 2015, following an intense heatwave and prolonged drought here in Mutare, Zimbabwe, a band of moist tropical air originating from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo brought some welcome rain.
Its arrival in Mutare was accompanied by much thunder and lightning. In the evening, spectacular discharges could be observed running from cloud to cloud in the vicinity of a TV transmitter mast on top of a range of hills overlooking Murambi suburb. Two of the most crazy of these are presented in this slow motion time-lapse movie, which was compiled from still frames extracted from a video taken with a tripod-mounted Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 compact camera.
The first bolt initially propagates relatively slowly from the right before passing in front of the TV mast, accelerating, and tracing out a rising parabolic arc which branches and terminates up in the clouds. What is particularly interesting is the very bright orb of light which develops near the beginning of the lightning channel and persists even after much of the rest has faded. It is not certain if this is a manifestation of ball or beaded lightning or is just due to sharp kinking or looping of the lightning path? A faint afterglow of the bright spot is still briefly visible after darkness returns. No visible portion of the lightning appears to have struck anything on the ground.
The following discharge, which is further away, climbs upwards to create a beautiful persistent, radiating branched display. Both bolts appear to move slowly which is often the case for cloud-to-cloud discharges known as Anvil Crawlers.
The video frames used to prepare this looped time-lapse first play back at a real-time rate of 25 frames per second, then repeat at three progressively slower speeds down to about 1 frame per second before being incremented back to normal again.
Smart duplication and renumbering of just 26 frames resulted in 7 consecutive sequences with a combined total of 1174 frames which play back at 4 different speeds.
Dr. Peter Lowenstein has contributed many beautiful and fascinating images and stories to EarthSky. Trained as a geochemist, he spent his early years with the Geological Survey of Papua New Guinea, specializing in metals and volcanoes. In 1989, he moved to the Zimbabwe Geological Survey as Chief Economic Geologist and has lived and worked in Zimbabwe ever since. Peter is now retired to Zimbabwe, in a house with a beautiful view in Murambi East, Mutare, where he pursues favorite hobbies including construction of electronic gadgets, listening to music, gardening, surfing the Internet ... and photography.