Russ Grayson


From the south, a storm darkens the sky

(above) The storm front approaches
Randwick, Sydney, late afternoon, 5 March 2014...

"GO GET the washing off from the line", said Fiona's urgent voice on the phone. "There's a big storm coming in from the south... you should see the sky...".

I open the back door and see across the southern skyline the black and greys of what looks like a severe storm coming it. On the edge the clouds are ragged but the storm front coming overhead is a sharp-edged, rolling, uniform medium grey that looks like a breaking swell seen from below. Will I go look at the Bureau of Meteorology's radar trace to see how extensive this approaching storm is? No, best to go get those clothes off the line.
(above) Recording the storm
It's just as well I do and, having done that, I do what any sane person does at the approach of a powerful storm, I extract my OMD5 from its bag, flick the switch to check there's electrical juice in the battery, check there's a card in the machine, open another bag, retrieve my little iRig mic, plug it into the jack of the iPhone, tap up the iRig app and find a sheltered spot on the rear stairwell that gives a reasonable view of the darkening sky. Now I'm ready to record the storm's sound and photograph it's arrival.

Then it happens... the first lightning bold forks earthward somewhere in Randwick's southern reaches.
The thunder's bass tones are superb... sometimes there's a bright flash followed by a ripping noise that travels across the sky and concludes in the deep rumbling tones of thunder that reverbs away into the distance as a series of diminishing audio copies of itself.

Now, it's gone. No white noise of falling rain, no bright blue-white flashes of lighting, no thunder ripping through the heavens.

It is still. There's barely movement in the leaves. Birds start to call and a couple lorikeets land in the upper branches of the eucalypt. Not even a sound from the chooks over the back fence.

In the south, below a flat, light grey of cloud cover, the sky has turned the palest of yellows. Evening approaches. Birds call. Leesa phones back.
A few minutes pass and I click away with the Olympus at the clouds rolling in overhead... then a sudden wind rises and the tree branches sway wildly... a flock of birds heads northwards, at speed, away from the gathering tempest... then everything blurs into a uniform greyness as the first drops fall... and soon they become more intense. It's a downpour.

In the middle of all this, Leesa Burton calls and disrupts my audio recording. I put her off, trying to frighten her by saying that there's a big nasty storm heading her way.

Now I photograph less and concentrate on my audio recording. There's the loud white noise hiss of heavy rain that forms a constant background... sudden zaps of blue-white lightning followed quickly by a loud peal of thunder. I watch the sound meter as bursts of thunder push the audio trace into a pattern of sharp jagged lines that fall back again to the background level of falling rain.