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All-Night Storms and A Goal Accomplished: Amma & Fayette Station, West Virginia - July 18-19, 2003 - 7:30PM - 3:30AM

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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CHASE VIDEO: Thunderstorms over the New River Gorge Bridge at Fayetteville

An overnight storm chase to Fayette County on July 19, 2003 finally yielded success at the New River Gorge Bridge! This night I was blessed with a great lightning/fog show at the bridge that the cameras were able to capture. This was the twenty-fifth storm photography attempt at this location since September of 2001 - and the only successful one out of those 25 trips.

This single photo took 1 year and 10 months, 3,000 miles of driving, and 10 overnight campouts at Fayette Station to capture. It was a very difficult project due to the fact that I live over an hour away from Fayetteville, and also because photogenic thunderstorms at night are not very common in the southeastern counties of West Virginia.

I made the drive to Fayette Station almost every time the forecasts showed a good chance of nighttime storms in eastern WV from September 2001 to July 2003, even camping out there overnight on several occasions. But most nights, the weather did not cooperate. Only four out of the 25 trips to the bridge saw lightning in the vicinity, and on only two of the trips did I even set up the cameras for a storm. And until this last trip, no photogenic lightning strikes had flashed behind the bridge.

FAYETTE STATION, WV - An approaching cold front brought numerous thunderstorms to the Mountain State beginning on Friday evening (July 18) and lasting until daybreak on Saturday morning. Severe weather was reported in some locations, particularly in northern parts of the state.

The drive began on Friday afternoon to attempt to catch an isolated storm moving across Roane County before sunset. The cell had already crossed I-79 as I arrived at Amma, but was an impressive sight nonetheless. The top of the storm glowed orange in the setting sunlight as lightning bolts danced underneath as it moved east into the fog-covered mountains:

The storm was in Clay County moving east-southest, so I drove on to Frametown and then south on Route 19 in an attempt to cut the storm off at the pass and possibly get another shot at it near Summersville. But I lost the race with the storm to Nicholas County, and it was rapidly losing intensity anyway as I approached Birch River. I headed home thinking that the show was over for the night.

At 1:00AM, flashes of lightning continued to fill the sky around Charleston, making it obvious that the storms weren't done yet. I headed out the door and drove toward the nearest set of frequent flashes that I could see to the southeast, taking the WV Turnpike all the way to Beckley.

At Beckley at around 1:45AM, active thunderstorms were visible to the northwest in Fayette County - so I drove north thinking I might have a chance at the long-awaited New River Bridge/lightning shot, which has for the past 2 years eluded me due to uncooperative storms.

Approaching Fayetteville on Route 19 at 2:00AM, the storms seemed to increase in intensity. As I crossed the big bridge, cloud-to-ground strikes became visible on the northern horizon, and I carefully made my way to the bottom of the Gorge and set up the cameras on the small Fayette Station bridge.

While at Fayette Station, two thunderstorms passed directly overhead. The first was the stronger of the two, and despite a nice show of lightning was very difficult to shoot due to heavy rain and high winds. Keeping the cameras and lenses dry was next to impossible, even with a large golf umbrella. However, thankfully, the raindrops stayed off of the smaller lens on the 35mm camera.

Despite the rain problems, I was very happy to finally get a nice storm at the bridge. During the past 2 years, I have made 25 trips from Charleston to the bridge to try and catch lightning over the scene - a long, winding 120-mile round trip each time. But storms are typically in their dying stages when they reach the New River Gorge, if they even arrive at all. Only 4 times in those 25 trips has there even been lightning at Fayetteville, let alone the photogenic type.

I'm giving all the credit of this successful night to the Lord, who made it possible.

Past reports: Past trips to the bridge for the lightning photo project.

Digital Video: Sony DCR-TRV900 3CCD MiniDV, 720x480 NTSC

35mm Camera/Lens/Film: Pentax K1000 SLR, 28mm lens, Fuji Sensia 100 slides.
35mm Exposure: 45 seconds @ F5.6

 

 

35mm Slides
Click to Enlarge


Lightning over the New River Gorge Bridge

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