St. Elmo´s Fire on Mt. Hoher Sonnblick
On November 28, the webcam of the Meteorological Observatory on the 3106 metres high Mt. Hoher Sonnblick in the Hohe Tauern Mountains in Austria could catch this unbelievable St. Elmo´s Fire. This photographic webcam, a Canon EOS 1100D, was installed by radio hams and takes one picture every 10 minutes.
Weather observer Hermann Scheer describes the meteorological situation as follows: “The day the pictures were taken ist was snowing, and there was a stormy southwesterly wind with wind speeds around 60 kph. There was no thunderstorm near. I did not notice any discharges, but I could clearly hear the crackling noise on the tower outside, which is always a sign that there is a certain voltage applied. When I went to the platform with my camera the first time, I could not catch St. Elmo´s Fire quite clearly and did not really notice how strong it was. Later, during the second photo shooting, the camera on the tripod began to sparkle, and I also noticed the tension in my short hair. Then I saw St.Elmo´s Fire on the suntracker. The interesting phenomenon lasted for about one hour.”
A high field strength under conditions with falling snow and strong wind is not very rare, as these example diagrams from a day with similar weather conditions show (1–2). When there is enough tension generated by wind friction and high humidity, an electric current begins to flow between the charged air and the point of the instrument. The air becomes ionized generating a flickering, pale blue light that looks like a flame. St. Elmo´s Fire is probably reported so rarely because only very few people look for it on mountain tops under such weather conditions, and during thunderstorms there are no people there.
But even if St. Elmo´s Fire is very beautiful to see, it is in any case a warning. If you see St. Elmo´s Fire near, it is probably a hint that a discharge is imminent. So, if you see it, you should look for shelter immediately.