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                   Thursday, April 18, 2019

Double Gateway Arch lightning leader strike - April 18, 2019

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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After 9 years of defeats, my Gateway Arch nighttime lightning strike photo quest continues into 2019. This night, I was closer than ever to getting the shot. A three-minute burst of close cloud-to-ground bolts in the middle of a thunderstorm downpour highlighted an otherwise dull showing of visible lightning over downtown at around 2AM Thursday morning.

The storm started with a disaster. For the first time since I started shooting St. Louis storms in 2010, I was ejected from my longtime photo setup location (in Luther Ely Smith Square in front of the Arch) by National Park Service rangers. My 9-year spot had come under NPS jurisdiction after the Arch grounds renovations, which means it is now closed after hours and patrolled by rangers. I was forced to retreat to the sidewalk along 4th street, my camera shelter and equipment sticking out like a sore thumb to any prospective criminals that happen to drive by. Such a major setback adds to the long list of tribulations and heartbreaking misses endured throughout this endeavor.

After the closest of the barrage of bolts hit an unknown spot to my right (likely the top of the Drury hotel or somewhere nearby), I hoped to see a few branches from it show up on the frame when I opened the file on my computer at home. I was pleasantly suprised to instead see not one, but two lightning "leaders" reaching upward from the top of the Arch toward the bolt in a valiant attempt to grant me my long-sought after shot. The main bolt had chosen another path, meaning my journey for the shot will continue on.

As for the setup location quandary, I'll be checking with the NPS to see what options I have. Being a sitting duck on the street like that isn't a safe long-term strategy, at least not without an armed escort.


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