Light show at Half Moon Caye
Having recently returned from Belize, I will be posting some stories of my recent experiences in that awesome country, and especially from Half Moon Caye at Lighthouse Reef, in the Caribbean Sea.
There is nothing like a good thunderstorm for evening entertainment at Half Moon Caye. But this one was unlike anything I had seen before. Not because of its intensity, but because of its duration, and the strange shapes and patterns it drew in the night sky.
Thunderstorms at sea more commonly happen at night than during daylight hours. This is because the sea cools down so slowly, compared to land, and it is usually the temperature difference that is the final trigger for the electrical activity. Vertical air movement builds up a static charge between cloud layers, and when the charge is great enough, electric currents will connect the charged layers with explosive results.
We were expecting a weak cold front to arrive in the evening. All day the clouds had been building, and winds were unusually light. As darkness set in, the clouds started to pulse with light. This went on eerily, for hours, with no thunder, none of the crash and boom you associate with a proper thunderstorm.
When the storm finally reached I was sitting with my good friends Doug and Jan Kilburn and my new friend Robert, sipping single-malt scotch. For three hours, the light show danced overhead, in great, branching streaks. Lightning was so frequent as to be almost constant, but when a gap appeared we were plunged into utter darkness. Then it would start up again and entrance us with its weird shapes.
Lightning that hits the ground (properly called Ground-to-Ground or GG), usually follows a main lead, hundreds of times brighter than the many leaders that don’t quite make the connection. This is what we think of as a “bolt’ of lightning. But this storm was all within the same cloud (Intra-cloud or IC), an intricate branching of leaders, all of roughly equal brightness, that etched the sky with what looked more than anything like the roots of a great tree.
Perhaps the single-malt helped, but this was definitely the best light show I have ever experienced. And what better place to view such a show, than here, on Half Moon Caye.