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                   Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 11:59PM

Logan, WV lightning

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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HD CHASE VIDEO: Dashcam lightning from May 28

My May 28 chase day continued into the night, with a jog down Route 119 to Logan to intercept a potent cluster of storms moving across extreme southern WV. This was a 'classic' chase reminiscent of ones I've been doing since the mid 90s - no TV video tasks in mind whatsoever, just my still camera and hopes of coming home with some lightning shots. I had originally intended to drive about halfway to these storms to set up for 'distant cumulonimbus illuminated by lightning' shots. However, low clouds and fog were hindering visibility (as if the mountains didn't already make that difficult). So, with the flash rates in the storms maintaining good frequency, I chose to cover the rest of the distance to them.

As expected, I encountered precip just north of Chapmanville before lightning channels became visible. After that point, I never got out of the rain until after I started heading home at the end of the chase. Lightning started peeking out of the clouds north of Logan, but I wasn't yet as close as I wanted to be. So, I started doing 'blind' handheld exposures through the windshield rather than waste time trying to find a setup spot. I did this all the way to just south of Logan, and continued after turning around to catch a potent cell crossing the highway just north of town. This particular storm was very active, with a CG every 10 to 20 seconds in generally the same area. I caught a few through the windshield as I drove toward them. The heavy rain and streaking traffic kept these pictures from being anything other than illustrative. I posted the dashcam video of this first strike, which hit a ridgeline tree about 3/4 mile away, with many return strokes and an orange glow at the channel base. Neither the video or the still picked up the orange coloring at the ground.


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I caught up to the lightning about 5 miles north of Logan. Unfortunately all of it was imbedded in very heavy rain, and I was pretty close (within a mile). So, setting up outside was out of the question. It was completely dark, with no artificial lights and only a few passing cars. As a result, I simply shot handheld out of the driver's side window, which worked rather well. I had never tried that before, but I think it's actually a viable option in these conditions. The scene's silhuette is not going to expose until lightning flashes, and as long as you're being reasonably still, multiple return strokes won't make the foreground boundaries blur. I think the only time this won't really work is if there is a fixed light source somewhere (like a streetlight or tower beacon) that will 'give away' the fact that you're handheld.

Again, the lightning was pretty close here - closer than it looks. It was a decent barrage, about 10 hits within a mile in about 5 minutes time. On the DSLR, I was stopped all the way down to F13, anticipating a very close hit and not wanting it to overexpose. F13 will really 'pinch down' any non-extremely-close lightning bolts, which is why these look rather thin/anemic despite being less than a mile away. I think some of these would have 'blown out' (whited out) on the exposures had I been at F8. Notice the falling raindrops frozen in time by the lightning flashes (it was pouring rain). I included the thunder sounds of these that the dashcam recorded. I never tried setting up my big HD camera, as my hands were full and it doesn't do nighttime lightning well anyway.


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Again, I posted some dashcam video that shows the first 'driving' CG shown above, as well as the thunder from the bolts in a few of these photos.

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