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How to Record Thunderstorms

New York Times Magazine: How to Record Thunderstorms
“Find a quiet place and be patient. Prioritize your safety.” Illustration by Radio

I was contacted in March 2022 by The New York Times to discuss the ins and outs of recording thunderstorms for the Magazine section of their Sunday edition newspaper. Not a very technical article, mainly for beginners, that’s OK with me. It’s wonderful that a field recording article ended up in the Times.

How to Record Thunderstorms
April 5, 2022

“You have to be patient because you can’t control thunderstorms,” says Frank Bry, 59, a sound effects recordist who creates libraries of sounds that he sells to video-game, television, movie and white-noise production companies. Bry has four collections of thunderstorm recordings collected over 30 years from his home in rural northern Idaho. Know that the landscape around you will shape how thunder sounds. Bry lives near a large lake surrounded by mountain ranges, resulting in a volume and resonance he calls “bodacious.” Still, he covets the way thunder peals over the deserts of New Mexico. “I’ve heard pretty phenomenal thunder recordings from there,” Bry says. “The sound is crisp and dry.”

To get professional-quality sound, find a quiet place, without traffic, train horns or airplane noises. Cities are nearly impossible; sound waves bounce off buildings in erratic ways, and thunderclaps can set off car alarms. Thunder is most prevalent in the spring and summer months. “I am thrilled beyond belief if I get five good sounds out of a summer,” Bry says. Anytime you’re dealing with lightning, prioritize your safety. “No lightning strike is worth your life,” says Bry, who sets up two pairs of stereo microphones under fir trees 75 feet from his house. He runs cables inside, where he remains sheltered with his recording device.

Thunderstorms are often accompanied by rain and wind. To avoid wind distortion, cover your microphones in faux-fur sleeves called Windjammers. Protect your equipment from water by building a shelter out of absorbent fabric (raindrops hitting plastic or wood shelters create audible plinking sounds). Bry drapes wool-blend moving blankets in the branches above his microphones.

Download radar and lightning-tracker apps. Bry uses one called My Lightning Tracker Pro, which he has set to alert him whenever a thunder system develops within 30 miles. Even with apps, sometimes you’ll miss a storm. “That can be heartbreaking,” Bry says. Try to let go of your disappointment. The atmosphere is wild and turbulent; each year there are some 16 million thunderstorms worldwide. You’ll have another chance.

Read Article (paywall): How to Record Thunderstorms

April 5, 2022