Some people chase ambulances, but Jim Grant hunts the elusive green flash

The green flash.

For years, newcomers to San Diego have been advised to be on the lookout at sunset for the elusive burst of green that sometimes appears just as the sun dips below the ocean horizon.

Jim Grant has made a hobby of finding and photographing green flashes for the past two decades — ever since the professional deck designer couldn’t find a really good picture of one. Today, his Shelter Island home has green flash photos everywhere.

“I got hooked on it 18 years ago. It’s my heroin,” laughs Grant, who grabs his Nikon D7100 and 330-mm telephoto lens and heads to Sunset Cliffs or Ocean Beach on most evenings. He says he has taken more than 200 images of different green flashes.

Grant posts his photos on social media, and occasionally they pop up on local TV weather broadcasts. Last Friday, Grant was interviewed on The Weather Channel’s Underground Weather segment. Their big question: Have California’s wildfires increased the number of green flashes?

Definitely, opines Grant. “Pollution, moisture, smoke — those all play a factor in how big, how large and how clearly defined a green flash is going to be. … Particles get trapped close to the horizon and, when the sun sets, filter out all of that harsh light, and you get a lot of nice greens and blues.”

The Weather Channel aired two photos Grant considers his most spectacular — one taken a couple of weeks ago over the OB pier and the other at 4:54 p.m. on Dec. 13 off Sunset Cliffs as a wildfire was burning across the border in Baja. Sky & Telescope magazine is running a full-page print in its September edition.

He admits that his conclusion isn’t based on scientific analysis but on observation. Along with the frequency, the intensity and duration also have increased. A recent green flash in Ocean Beach lasted as long as six seconds, exhibiting five or six layers of green flashes “like peeling an onion,” he says. “It was really sensational.”

Grant says he doesn’t color enhance or doctor his photos, other than straightening an image and perhaps increasing contrast. He often posts them on his Facebook or Instagram sites where they are passed on to others. He rarely gets paid for his hobby. He says his reward comes when people thank him for brightening their day in Idaho or Kansas or in the hospital or for cheering up their father in a wheelchair.

“I am more than happy to share our gorgeous city with anyone who wants to see it,” he says.

Read more from Diane Bell's column here.

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