Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Close Lightning Strike to Tree - May 19, 1998

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Not to digress too much, but I have to say that I'm not a 'religious' guy. In fact, I cringe at that label that implies all I do is carry my Bible around all day, go to church on Sunday, and sing 'Kumbaya' around a campfire every chance I get. If that's what following Jesus was all about, I wouldn't waste my time. Faith in Christ is much more than that, a very real thing that takes you from the road to hell that you deserve to the road to heaven that you don't deserve. So much so that I gave my entire life to Him, all my ambitions and all my future - and I live to tell others, including you, about the second chance that is available to you. Whether you consider yourself 'religious' or not, salvation is no fairy tale - you really need to hear the real story.

I was very happy when I watched this bolt slam into the hillside in front of me. I was even happier to know I actually had my camera aimed in the right direction this time.

"Got it!"

This lightning flash strikes a tree, then with a fiery orange glow jumps to a nearby house on Westview Drive, just off of Greenbrier Street in Charleston at 4:00AM on May 20, 1998.

This daytime view superimposed over the lightning channel shows the channel path down the tree and over to the house.

If you zoom in and look closely just to the right of the lightning channel near the ground (see inset at right), a small upward leader is visible rising above the trees. Nearly all cloud-to-ground strikes are accompanied by one or more of these small discharges that are induced by the downward-moving stepped leader that precedes the first return stroke.

There was an interesting twist to this strike. Before I moved into my house earlier in the month, a couple had just moved out. After getting the photo developed and comparing it to the daytime view out of my window, I was able to find exactly where the bolt hit ground- the house on Westview Drive. I drove over to the house and left a small note along with a copy of the photo, basically saying that their house had been hit by lightning last night and that I had caught the whole thing on film, and if they wanted a free 8x10 enlargement to give me a call.

Well, the next day I get this message on my answering machine - from the people who just moved out of my house:

"You're not going to believe this, but that was US!"

In addition to losing their television and a phone from the strike, their roof had a hole burned through the shingles, and a large limb of the tree had to be removed due to the damage.

This small but highly electrified storm moved through the city at 3:30 AM.

Lightning-to-camera distance was less than 1/5 of a mile (about 1000 feet). The very loud thunder came less than a second after the flash. In other words, a little close.

The two photos at right were captured during the same storm, at distances of about 2 to 3 miles.

BELOW: Daytime view of ground zero. The second photo shows the lightning superimposed over the scene, displaying the path to ground. Click on either photo for enlarged versions:

Daytime view Superimposed

Camera/Lens/Film: 35mm Minolta SRT201 SLR, 35mm lens, Kodak 100 ASA.
Exposure: 10 to 30 seconds @ F8

Order

[ click above image to enlarge ]

 

Upward Leader

Web Links
See three great upward-leader shots from photographers Johnny Autery, Michael Fewings and Mike Zwiefel.

 


Radar from May 20, 4:00AM

 

 

[ click above images to enlarge ]

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