It’s 2:55 am. I’ve got the shot composed. Three palms framed vertically. The stillness from just a few minutes ago has now turned to a swirl of wind, stirring up leaves and blowing the palm fronds above. A chilling hissing sound that is difficult to put into words is erratically leaping about in the clouds overhead, an ionic disturbance of some kind, and for the first time tonight, I am truly scared that I am about to get struck by lightning. Seconds later, bolts come firing from above and the booming thunder follows instantly – telling me that I am indeed directly under this storm. Another minute and the sky unleashes the moisture that had been building up for hours, and the rain forces me to retreat to the safety of my vehicle, and then home. But, I wouldn’t be going home empty handed…
Lightning is not something we get too much of here in Hawaii. In my 15+ years of living predominantly on Maui, I have never seen anything close to this electrical storm that we had here this night. In fact, I have never seen anything like this anywhere! It was insane!
I had been enjoying a day off with my wife and we were doing our usual sunset stroll along the beach. To the south, we saw intermittent flashes in the sky from lightning, and the photographer’s-stir within had began. Initially, I reminded myself as to how difficult capturing lightning is, remembering back to chasing it around the Nevada desert for 2 months before making a couple of successful frames, and thought – no, I should just enjoy my one day off without running all around the island chasing flashes of light. This train of thought was completely lost when I witnessed bolts of lightning spiderweb across the entire sky! “That’s it, I gotta go!” There was no way I could resist at that point, and we quickly made our way back to the house, I packed up and headed out.
The lighthouse was my first stop. From here, I watched for 90 minutes as lightning continually bolted and flashed from both sides of Haleakala. There were also bolts striking down out over the ocean and back toward Iao Valley. It was everywhere! And it was consistent, striking every 30 seconds or more.
Once I had captured a successful image, I moved on, following the active flashes toward Hookipa beach, beyond the town of Paia. I took myself to the edge of the most active area and watched many lightning bolts traveling cloud to cloud, following the coast from the south directly at me in the north. It was absolutely spectacular and I was thoroughly buzzed with excitement and adrenaline at this point.
Having difficulties making successful compositions, and moving along with the storm, I found myself heading back to West Maui around midnight. I stopped on the cliffs and made a few attempts at an image, using exposures ranging from 2-4 minutes long. In the cove below, I heard humpback whales breathing and I laughed at how magical this night had become. I kept trying to see them by the flash of light from the lightning, but never did see them – only heard their occasional exhales of air into the darkness of this electric night.
By the time I reached Olowalu, south of Lahaina, I was able to setup and within an hour, had made my second successful image of the night – Satori’s Sword. The rain started to fall and I headed further north to Lauinopoko park, where I found the three palms to compose. Knowing that the rain was coming and I had only 5-10 minutes to capture something, I found my anxiousness and alertness at its highest for the night. Then came the hissing. I am not sure of this phenomenon, but it was one of the most eerie and sinister sounds I have ever experienced. It was as if you could hear the lightning pre-activating directly above, moments before striking down. It almost seemed to be a warning, and I had to muster up all my courage to sit tight long enough to capture Nightstorm. Literally, a minute after this image, the rain began, ending my amazing and electrifying night.
SATORI’S SWORDMaui, Hawaii
Reports the following day estimate 21,000+ strikes in a 6 hour period of time. I had shot 75 frames from 7pm to 3am and was left with three new electrifying images for my collection.
February 23, 2011 Maui, Hawaii