Despite their enormous size and terrifying presence, it's fair to say most players don't spend a great deal of time thinking about Red Dead Redemption 2's storms. I'd always assumed the storms were simply random weather events that spawned and vanished as soon they passed overhead. Something to create ambience while you travel the world (or a surprisingly calming ASMR soundtrack to listen to while writing). Peel back the cloud cover, however, and you'll discover there's a good deal more to them.
Over on Reddit, one player decided to take a closer look at Red Dead Redemption 2's weather system, and came back with some unexpected findings. After asking members of the reddeadmysteries subreddit for help in tracking down lightning strike spots, "MC_Ulfric" (also known as "InsertRandomNameHere") hopped on his horse to follow the storms himself - across the entire map. This wasn't just a simple sightseeing tour, either, as MC_Ulfric carefully watched where the largest lightning strikes hit the ground, and compiled the data from three storms into a map that shows Red Dead Redemption 2's storms are anything but static.
I Chased 3 Thunderstorms Across The Map And Recorded Where Large Bolts of Lightning Struck from r/reddeadmysteries
I was captivated by the idea of a lone rider out in the pouring rain, making detailed notes about the storm's behaviour in a soggy journal. So I got in touch to ask MC_Ulfric more about his adventures in the Wild West, and how he'd managed to track the storms.
But first, why?
"I started storm chasing just out of curiosity, honestly", MC_Ulfric told me. "One day I was fishing for a legendary fish in a pond near Butcher Creek and saw lightning striking really close to me at the top of a hill, where I found a large blackened patch of grass with exploded trees just north of the creek. I found out the place was commonly known as the 'Why' trees, as the shapes of the trees spelt 'WHY' if you turned the camera just right."
"It sparked my curiosity and made me start wondering if lightning had any deeper hidden meaning in the game," MC_Ulfric continued. "As another redditor commented on the thread, we had to follow a random group of birds to find bigfoot's cave. Why not lightning to another Easter egg?"
One of the main theories to have come from MC_Ulfric's findings is the idea that the storms are pointing towards a hidden Easter egg somewhere near the Colter section of the map - the snowy abandoned town which hosts the game's very first chapter. All three storms tracked by MC_Ulfric began over the southern lakes and rivers of Red Dead Redemption 2, before moving inland to the top of the North-West corner of the map. While the storms could just be following a realistic water cycle, it's pretty fun to imagine they're closing in on a hidden secret. In his Reddit thread, MC_Ulfric noted it felt like each bolt would seem to hit the ground just as he'd reached the spot where the last one had landed, as if the storms were leading the player somewhere.
"Since the beginning of the game I always thought there has to be something hidden under all that snow, just begging to be found," MC_Ulfric mused. "Either in Colter or at the Glacier or the crevasse. Who knows?"
Yet the weather system is interesting in and of itself, with MC_Ulfric explaining each of the mapped storms lasted for about 30 minutes in real-world time. He observed that shorter storms of under five minutes drifted more randomly, and more generally, not many storms travelled North-West to South-East.
The map also reveals some of Red Dead Redemption 2's lightning-strike hotspots, such as the aforementioned Why trees near Annesburg, which explains the cluster of four lightning bolts on MC_Ulfric's map. Wearing a viking helmet on this spot will trigger a lightning strike that kills the player, which is a fun little Easter egg. Perhaps not for Arthur. Setting fire to the Native Burial Site is also known to summon a small and angry storm, but as explained by MC_Ulfric, these scripted events are localised and cannot move.
It seems half the fun is in actually chasing the storms, and I couldn't help but wonder how MC_Ulfric did it - particularly considering I can barely walk five minutes in Red Dead Redemption 2 without being interrupted by outlaws or a grumpy cougar. Not to mention the furrowed landscape makes a simple five-minute walk feel like 20.
"It's pretty easy once you're in the epilogue," MC_Ulfric said. "The two most difficult things are figuring out what direction to move to keep the storm 'alive' and avoiding trees and rocks while still keeping an eye out for the lightning. It makes for some strange controller grip finger combinations.
"[Storms] are predictable and in a way, guideable. Just gotta figure out how to read them. You'll ride one direction and the clouds will get lighter, another and they'll get darker. Gotta keep them dark and eventually they won't go away."
Unsurprisingly for a storm-chaser, on a couple of occasions MC_Ulfric got a little too close to the action. By this, I mean he got hit by lightning and died.
"I was struck by lightning twice. The first time I was in Roanoke Ridge at the Why trees just inspecting the area. I happened to have the Viking Helmet on (which is a trigger there) and boom. Lightninged to death.
"The second time, I was tracking a storm, saw the next strike and marked it, then thought I'd try to get ahead of it and closer to the next area so I rode forward. I guess I made it right on the money where the next one was coming down because, white flash, boom - dead."
The process of recording the lightning strikes also required more modern methods than the old-fashioned journal I'd envisaged. In order to find the exact location of a strike, Ulfric would wait for a flash, then pause the game by opening up the photo mode. This meant the bolts were frozen in place, and he could navigate the free-cam "as high as it'll go" before zooming in on the strike area. "Look for a landmark where you can get to, screenshot, unpause and ride there and mark the map," he explained. "Wash, rinse, repeat."
While MC_Ulfric doesn't know of any other storm chasers - and he appears to be the first to have taken the hobby this far - other Reddit users have told him they've been inspired to try their hand at storm-chasing. MC_Ulfric has vowed to continue his own storm-chasing career, thereby satisfying my vision of a haggard, lonely storm-chaser riding off into a darkened sunset. Or perhaps just digging through piles of snow, in search of gold.
Storm image credit: YouTube channel BeyondOasys.