Wow, What a Show
03 September 2008 | Neiafu, Tonga
We've been in Neiafu, Tonga now for about 10 days, and are really enjoying it. Nancy will probably give the full accounting later, but suffice it to say this is an easy place for a good meal, a cold beer, and good company. The trifecta.
With so many great anchorages within an easy day's sail, we actually hadn't expected to spend so much time here in the main town. At first, it was easy to extend our visit one or two days at a time...a nice dinner tomorrow, a boat race the day after...always a reason to stay just a little longer. Then, word spread that some weather would roll through. Nothing serious, just some elevated winds, with increased swell in the outer anchorages. OK, we'll stay 'til it settles. Add 3 more days to our tab, please.
So, the winds do what they are supposed to...increase to 25, with higher gusts. No problem, we are on a mooring ball in the lee of the island. The swell, it ratchets up to 20+ feet. Yikes, except we are in a very protected area called "Bay of Refuge". The water inside is as flat as can be. We're feeling pretty smug that our lot in this "storm" is as comfortable as it is. Our thoughts go out to those boats underway, or in less-than- desirable anchorages, but they'll be fine. In the meantime, how about another meal ashore, or a dominoes tourney?
Then the unexpected. Lightening, and lots of it. Seems the Southern Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, a very unstable, moving-target of convection cells, has bumped into an occluded front. The front is where a cold mass, and warm tropical air, are mixing. Mixing, but not moving. As in parked. Over us.
Result...the normal electrical phenomenon of the convergence zone is boosted into hyper-drive by the stalled front. Huge volumes of warm and cool air are swirled about each other, ions of opposite polarity separate, and the whole mess wants to send its' now unstable electrical potential to the earth to neutralize the charge. Lightening. Butt loads of it. And, of course, in the middle of the night.
At one point, I tried to count how many strikes were occurring. The best I could reckon was about 10-15. Each second. Every second. Its no exaggeration that in the 3 or so hours of this electrical storm, we saw thousands of strikes. Now, when I say strikes, I don't mean a perfect bolt ripping jaggedly from the sky. These discharges were atmospheric. With only a few exceptions, they did not reach the water, but instead spread laterally through the mass of clouds. The entire sky burned purple-white. Picture a pitch-black cave, with hundreds of highly-caffeinated paparazzi, each shooting off their flashbulbs as fast as possible. Then triple the effect. Yeah, something like that.
I read somewhere that, at any given moment, the earth is struck by something like 2,000 lightening hits. I'm pretty sure that Tonga gave the rest of the planet the night off. What a show.