There is a group of intrepid Greek storm chasers who travel across the country, and the world, to capture breathtaking images of unique weather phenomena called Transient Luminous Events, or TLEs.
Photographers Dimitris Sagiakos, Panagiotis Tsouras, Christos Doudoulakis, Tasos Palamidas, Thanasis Papathanasiou, and Akis Lyras, some of the most prominent storm chasers in the country, produce striking images of storms and other weather phenomena, like TLEs.
TLEs are electrical weather phenomena that illuminate clouds during thunderstorms. They are often short-lived and involve upper atmospheric lightning.
These events have names pulled straight from a fairy tale of fantasy novel — red sprites, blue jets, elves, trolls, and gnomes — and were thought to be hoaxes for many years.
Sailors and pilots had long described seeing flashes of colorful light in the night sky after thunderstorms, but their accounts were dismissed by scientists, who believed that the accounts of such phenomena were tall tales.
This belief reigned until scientists from the University of Minnesota actually captured TLEs on film in 1989, which caused the scientific community to acknowledge the existence of the sparkling lights, which are also referred to as upper-atmospheric lightning.
Since then, scientists have studied TLEs, and have determined that the beautiful streams of light, which unlike lightning which strikes down to Earth from the sky, actually reach up toward space.
TLEs have been found to be the result of electrical discharges in the atmosphere very high above thunderstorms and storm clouds.
Red sprites, other TLEs subjects of Greek storm chasers’ photos
Sprites, also known as red sprites, are the most common type of TLE, occurring high above cumulonimbus clouds — those present during thunderstorms — and are located between 50 km (31 miles) to 90 km (56 miles) above the surface of the Earth.
Triggered by the discharge of lightning between the ground and the thundercloud, they often appear like fiery red or orange branches reaching into the sky.
Although they are a stunning sight, red sprites are not actually very rare — it just seems that way because often, no one is out looking for them during storms.
In order to see red sprites, there must first be some large thunderstorms with intense lightning, which occur most often in Spring and Summer.
Sprites can only be seen during storms at nighttime, however, when skies are clear and there is not much light pollution. Also, the storm should be located about 160 km to 321 km, or 100 to 200 miles, away, so the sprites are visible above the clouds.
Sprites occur above lightning, so don’t be distracted by the lightning bolts shooting down from the sky. And be patient, since sprites are only visible about once every 200 times that lightning strikes.
Apart from sprites, there are many other, even more rare, TLEs. “Blue jets” are blue lights that look like smoke and occur only during hailstorms. These are rare, and mainly seen from great heights, such as in airplanes.
“Elves,” or Emissions of Light and Very low frequency from EMP Sources, are disk-shaped spots of light that appear high in the atmosphere.
“Transient Red Optical Luminous Lineaments,” or Trolls, are spots of red light that occur near the tops of clouds after strong red sprites appear.
“Gnomes” are the most difficult TLEs of all to see, as they are very small, quick flashes of light that appear for mere seconds on the top of a large storm cloud.