Hector the convector

With the build up season in the far north of the country almost upon us I thought I’d put up an image of one of the most studied thunderstorms on the planet. The Tiwi islands 80km offshore of Darwin is home to a unique set of atmospheric conditions that the relatively small area produces thunderstorms with such regularatory that scientists and meteorologists interested in tropical convection can base their studies from Darwin. This storm will develop daily in almost the same spot over the coming months. With almost clockwork development it has even earnt itself a name – Hector. Hector the convector in fact ! These convective updraughts race up to and through the tropopause sometimes reaching astonishing heights of 70,000+ft !  With the highest ever recorded being a staggering 92,000ft !  When you consider most commercial airliners will fly at 33,000-40,000 ft depending on atmospheric conditions… It’s quite mindblowing really.

This image was shot from the Cox Peninsula west of Darwin looking out over the tepid waters of the Beagle Gulf-Timor sea, Hector is boiling away at approximately 50,000ft.

hector convector

‘ Hector the convector  –  Canon 5D2 ’

~ by Tony Middleton on October 1, 2009.

23 Responses to “Hector the convector”

  1. Having spent some time in darwin during the ‘build-up’ and seem some of the storms it produces, ‘Hector the Convector’ is a very apt name!

    • hi Tim,
      Very true, whilst they may not getting the most severe storms up there the convection is impressive to say the least ! 🙂


  2. I am convinced that Hector is a living breathing thinking thing, that is an awesome cloud systems! Love clouds, they are the magic touches on the sky during the day – at night the stars take over.

    • It’s pretty cool that storm would get it’s own name hey ! You are so right about clouds during the day – if there is to be clouds at night, then they need to have decency to be lightning active 🙂 in which case they rule over stars (for me)… you can always combine them though !


  3. Wow, 70,000+ would be pushing it into the stratosphere? what affect does that have on the cumulus when it gets that high?

    • hi Tom,
      The effect is the same as it is down here… At lower latitudes (closer to the equator) the tropopause etc sit higher in elevation than they do at higher latitudes such as ours. The potential energy and energy within these updraughts is enormous and it pushes them rocketing up to incredible heights. Once they reach the tropopause (like an inversion) the updraughts ‘flatten out’ and spread in to an anvil – similar to what you would see at home… Just twice the height ! I’d imagine that the strongest storms in your area may occasionally nudge storm top heights of nearing 45-50,000ft. (once every few years). Whilst most convective summer storms would be in the 30-38,000 range. SEQ/NE NSW is a very explosive area under the right conditions and it too can occasionally see storm tops in the 70,000ft range.
      below is a link that may be of use or interest..


  4. Hey Tony, I got your email, don’t worry mate I wont delete it, Anyway I love this time of year and you are right the clouds are now starting to form in the area lets hope its a great wet this year being my last year to see a full wet season as I hope to be moving in just over 12 months.

    And you’re right the weather patters are like clockwork, I am betting you took this shot around 4.00. I will be in Darwin for 3 days next weekend shooting a wedding and lets hope on the days I am not working I see some cloud action off the coast.

    • hey Casey,
      How did you go ? I haven’t had a chance to be online over the last week or so… Still pretty early in the season so convection will be very isolated and inconsistant and you’d really need a bit of a low over the kimberley or strong pulse coming through and everything t be ‘right’ to get anything of note for this month… not long though ! more heat and humidity to come first… hehee

  5. So much I don’t know about this earth, but that sounds like one impressive cloud system. Like scientists studying it I am sure you could happily photograph the system every day for its duration and not get bored of it!

    • The more you know – the more you don’t or want to know though Michael ! As for me watching this all day… It’s good to see some action in the sky for sure…But I doubt I could photograph Hector everyday, There are a lot juicier and spectacular storms that happen elsewhere in the country (just not in the exact same spot daily – but that helps keep it more interesting)

  6. Nice image mate and a good lesson in Meteorology as well…thanks!


    • hi Mark,
      cheers mate – I don’t tend to want to rave on too much but there is/will be bits in posts like this from time to time. 🙂

  7. When you write all the details behind this shot it much more than your average cloud build up. Darwin is definitely the place to be to shoot these kind of events, usually around December isnt it Tony.

    • hi Matt,
      Whilst Darwin seems to somehow have a reputation for big storms this is very misleading… Yes they get plenty of storms, more than elsewhere in the country, yes they can reach astonishing heights ! But to be honest many of these are more ‘garden variety’ and rarely reach severe criteria or can more often than not be out in no-man’s land with no roads etc to enable a good look at them. Personally I think other parts of the country can provide a lot better and spectacular thunderstorms and photo opportunities.

  8. Geez Tony you sound like a weather nut as well! Are you from WA? Or Perth for that matter? My best mate and I often go photographing storms around Perth and beyond in summer as well the odd trip up to Pilbara and Kimberley.
    The weather and indeed thunderstorms never fail to impress! You might have inspired me to pop a storm or two on my blog!

    • hey Dave,
      I’ve followed/chased storms for many years – I figure that if there is a storm or lightning show on nearly everyone goes to the balcony or window for a look at the power of nature…So to see that more I learnt more about the weather so I could be in that position more often.. so that’s a simple take on chasing I guess.. I’m in Vic, predominantly (but sort of have a habit of moving north during winter – lol)
      There are number of chasers based out of Perth, of which a couple of the guys have some spectacular shots – you may know them ? I’d post a link or two but I lost them all when my laptop died a couple of months ago…
      I hope you put up a few storm shots -I’d love to see them… Your blog is looking fantastic and I’ll try to get some time to comment in the coming days.

  9. with the distance to the island and the angle of view you have here you could measure the height of Hector – an impressive sight

    • Very true Cain – you can also look at atmospheric soundings to predict or see how high the tops might get… usually I end up just going by 15yrs of experience and usually find myself within about 5000ft. 🙂

  10. that’s a very nice cloud formation
    thanks for sharing tony always like your photographs

    • Thanks Chloe – I’ve been a bit slack with my blog lately and I was away for the last week and a half…so hopefully I’ll be able to check out what you and everyone else has been upto over the coming days. I might even find the time to post something new as well ! 🙂


  11. Hey Tony, Thanks for stopping by my wordpress and commenting.
    I love the surf images, and “Hector”
    I have added you as a link to my wordpress. Look forward to following your posts
    cheers Adrian Wayte

  12. Hi Tony, thanks for your comment on my tulips – it was the teseelar tulip fesitval in the dandenong ranges. First time I’ve been, amazing sight though 🙂 This is a very ominus cloud formation, I didn’t get to do any storm chasing this winter at all 😦

  13. hi Adrian,
    Glad you like them mate…next time i find some time to update my blog i’ll add yours in as well – cheers.

    hi Katie,
    Yeah I’d like to get up there someday and check it out – though I guess it’s on the list with 5billion other things at this stage… 🙂
    Spring and summer will hold the best chances by far for seeing some storms and hopefully some good lightning..so don’t despair. A good starting point would be to find yourself a good local vantage point/lookout (ie a beach or Mt Dandenong, shopping center roof car park or something similar) generally a west to north view would be preferable. And if you see a storm coming either visually or on the bureau radar get there and try your luck. (seeking shelter if lightning is close of course ! )
    Any questions/ further tips just email me if you like.

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