Flight Through a Tunnel of Clouds (August 2006)
Coming East from Mojave to Texas at 17,000 feet, thunderstorms dominated Northern Mexico. It was becoming night, and the clouds formed a huge black wall to my South, off the right wing. As well, the clouds reached far up into the upper atmosphere, spreading out OVER me like a huge umbrella. Thunderstorms raged maybe 100 miles or more to my south, so violent that lightning strikes were constantly going off, each strike visible, and so far away that each strike was RED, not white. Just like a sunset, the atmosphere filtered out the hi-frequency colors, leaving flashing RED jags across the sky far off the right wing. As well, closer thunderstorms on my left created white strikes maybe 50 to 100 miles off the left wing. As well, the dark clouds arcing overhead formed a huge tunnel that I was flying through… a dark overcast at maybe 30,000 feet, and thunderstorms far off to my left and very far off to my right.. 180-degree turn might be the only escape, but with the tunnel maybe 300 miles wide that would not be hard. At 17,000 feet, the lightning strikes are visible from just that far away since you are above the haze layer. Then, as night set in, I turned on my nav lights… rain being dumped from the far-overhead clouds formed wet horizontal streaks in the air as they raced through the lights on my wing tips… horizontal wet red blurs on the left, horizontal wet green blurs on my right… there was no ability to see individual rain drops, or any vertical motion of the rain, at 200 mph… you would only see horizontal blurs, multi-colored in the nav lights of the airplane. Then, you turn on the strobes, and this is where it gets cool: Each strobe flash locks every raindrop around the airplane in space, motionless, for a moment, burned into your retina, and the strobes in a Cirrus do NOT just flash every second, but instead do maybe 5 flashes in a fifth of a second, and then wait a second, so you would see the raindrops frozen in place all around the airplane as little pure-white dots around the plane five times in a fraction of a second, every second… this while the rain glowed in red and green streaks around the wing tips and black clouds hung 2 miles overhead and the red strikes flashed to the right and white strikes to the left, a hundred miles away.
I took some pictures but they are all black and blurry… the camera just could not capture this stuff at all.