The 27th May had held promise of thunderstorms and for some there had been. Unfortunately for me I was never in the right place at the right time. The combination of busy Friday evening roads and storms that were lasting no longer than a few minutes put pay to me finding success. Luckily, the 28th May also showed hope and this time I could get myself in position before the storms developed. I had driven a long way from Derby to Bristol and so decided stopping over and chasing the next day was the right thing to do. I did not want to go home with nothing! It was not the most comfortable night sleeping, I managed about two hours laid across my back seat. I was not going to let this deter me from another day of chasing though.
Waiting for the first developments
Despite a few distant flashes overnight from weak storms over the south west Midlands there was little storm activity close by during the night time hours. I had stayed over near to Warminster in Wiltshire at the side of country road near to Heytesbury. As dawn broke I could see glimmers of blue in the skies above, but the land was shrouded in a thin mist and temperatures were at a cool 10c. I decided to drive into Warminster and get fuel for the car, fuel for myself (breakfast) and then headed back to Heytesbury to take a short walk around the fields there.
It was around 10:30am that the mist started to clear and the sun came out. Once the sun broke through the temperatures rocketed, by midday they were up at 20c. This isn't that high but with high humidity too it was feeling very warm and sweaty. By midday I had travelled west and stopped in the pretty little town of Mere for some lunch. Thinking the risk looked higher further west in Somerset I took a drive westwards to a picturesque little village called Redlynch just south of Bruton in Somerset. This was a great setting to watch the cumulus clouds in the skies above develop and so I stayed here for a couple of hours, taking another walk as I waited for something to happen.
It took a while for the first showers to develop. When they did they were light and did not seem to be showing signs of developing any further. I knew that at around 4pm it was too early to be worrying about another bust day but have to admit the slightest worry was creeping in. By now I was sat not far from Martock. My plan was to stay close to the A303 as this would provide easy access west or east to intercept northwestward moving cells.
Ilminster Pulse Storm
A short while later I heard a rumble of thunder to my west. I could not see a storm on the radar and with my views somewhat obscured by houses, I could not see a storm either. Even so, I knew what I had heard and so headed for the A303 westbound. The next radar update showed cells had erupted along the A303 and the one I was hearing was just to my southwest and heading in the direction of Ilminster. By the time I reachd the A303 I had a view of dark skies to my southwest and was certain this was the storm I had heard.
As I approached Ilminster the rain was getting heavier and soon I was under the cell I had been chasing. By this stage I had not seen any lightning but the rain became torrential and the radar showed it was still intensifying. A bright flash of lightning then filled the sky followed immediately by a bang of thunder which I heard despite being inside the car and driving under now torrential rain.
For the next few minutes I drove through a torrential storm with small hail and some gusty winds. I did not see any more lightning but could see on the radar that there was lightning being detected. I was soon ahead of the storm, the advantage of having a fast road against a slow moving storm, and was able to park up not far from Combe St Nicholas to view the storm moving in.
As the storm rolled towards me there were a few feint flashes of lightning and thunder. What was surprising is how loud the thunder was despite the lightning being rather weak and the storm seemed a distance away. Unfortunately, just minutes after setting up to film the storm move in it died out as quickly as it had developed. Frustrating, but most of its action had been happening whilst i was in the car. Even so, I was satisfied that I had at least seen something.
Checking once more on the radar I could see there were now numerous heavy showers and storms. They were pulse storms and were firing up at one location before dying suddenly and firing up elsewhere. Chasing these storms was going to be difficult. I decided I needed to follow the main line of showers as they very slowly headed northwards in the hope I could be under one when it pulsed up into a storm. Luckily I had decided to head in the right direction for what was about to develop.
Bridgwater & Quantock Hills Storm
Sitting not far from Taunton and nearby the M5 I saw on the radar that a storm had erupted and was heading towards Bridgwater. Another cell had erupted near to Minehead. These cells looked good on the radar and I knew I could get into the one near Bridgwater very quickly by using the M5.
Moments later I was heading up the M5 with a dark grey, brown sky ahead and the occasional feint flash. Once I arrived at Bridgwater I could see a well formed storm to the southwest with more feint flashes. In order to film the storm I needed to be closer to it but not under it and so I drove west and came to rest near the village of Cannington.
With my camcorder set up looking west I was now witnessing an active thunderstorm. The storm had a very defined precipitation core and there were frequent flashes of lightning from it. The lightning was feint and all the flashes were intracloud but the thunder was loud and the storm had the look of a strong storm. I expect underneath the storm the lightning would have been brighter and the rain torrential. I was getting a fantastic view though, despite the now low light causing problems trying to focus my camcorder.
Driving westwards towards the Quantock Hills I could see more frequent flashes of lightning. It was now very dark despite the time only just approaching 8pm. I pulled up again to the film the storm from a different angle, I was now in front of it rather than alongside it. The storm was exhibiting the same characteristics, frequent but feint flashes of lightning and beautiful sounding thunder crackling across the sky. The rain was light where I was, which meant I could stand and film the storm without getting too wet.
My plan was to now drive into the storm, but as I approached it appeared that it had reached its full potential and was now in its dying phase. Luckily it did not die as quickly as the previous storms, and I was able to spend a short while driving underneath it as it dropped a couple of bolts. These were the only CG bolts I had seen during the day with virtually all of the lightning having been intra cloud up to this point. As I chased the storm over the Quantock hills it finally died out, although was still producing some heavy rainfall.
During its strongest phase this storm was producing torrential rainfall, as can be seen from the radar grabs below. I have no doubt there were hailstones in there too considering the bright echoes being returned. I had stayed outside the precipitation core in order to be able to get some visibility of the storm.
As I was following the storm I could see the amount of water left behind on the roads and the resultant flooding. Another storm had broken out further south and my plan was to drive back towards Taunton in order to intercept this one, but this was not possible as my route had been completely blocked by deep floodwater. Some roads had been turned to rivers.
In all a very good day for storms over Somerset. They were pulse storms and this made spending any time with them and getting the footage more difficult, but they were also slow moving and so I was able to get to them with relative ease. For a day in May I was satisfied, some good storms to quench the appetite before the arrival of summer.
Archive photos of floods in Buxton, Derbyshire, from 1973 and 1998, along with video of '98 event
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