July 3, 2000
I missed most of the action this night because, in typical West Virginian style, I took the back roads home.
I had just spent the weekend at Virginia Beach, VA with Bill 'Lightningchaser' Coyle and his wife Amy. We had hoped for some stormy weather while I was there, but it was just sunny and warm. Great for beachgoing vacationers, but not so great for storm chasers.
I was wading in the Atlantic Ocean at 7:00am Monday morning, and 15 hours & 500 miles of back roads later I was standing on Brooks Overlook on the New River in Sandstone, WV at midnight trying to photograph the dying remnants of a huge storm system that was moving across southern West Virginia.
If I had taken the Interstate back from VA, not stopped in Richmond to see Church Hill Tunnel, and not stopped in Roanoke to see my old pal Norfolk & Western J #611, I would have been home in time to be in the middle of a large storm that rocked Charleston at 7:00pm that evening. So my country-roads expedition cost me that one. Oh well. Can't catch all of them. At least I got to see 611 again after about 7 years. By the way, she doesn't belong in that ol' museum - needs to be back on the rails of the Blue Ridge like she was meant to be. But that's another commentary, and this site is supposed to be about lightning so I'll save it for later.
I was in Narrows, VA at fellow Appalachian storm chaser, railfan and Christian 'Huck' McWilliams' house at 7:00pm watching the storm on doppler radar as it went over my house in Charleston. Got treated to a good meal, railroad photo albums, and great hospitality by Huck and his family, so the day wasn't a total loss.
After leaving Narrows, I knew I was going to drive through what was left of the storms right around Beckley. When I did meet up with them, they were still flashing at a pretty good rate. Not able to find a suitable setup spot in Beckley, I drove down to the New River and took Route 20 to Sandstone. Brooks Overlook has a breathtaking view of the valley and mountains to the southwest, which I've always thought would be a perfect lightning scene. And now I had an excuse to drive there, since I was already in Beckley.
I was only set up for about 15 minutes before it started looking promising. Lightning was getting closer, and it wasn't raining. But that didn't last. Through some of the flashes, I could see the approaching heavy rain on the mountain across the river. It arrived a couple minutes later, sending me and the camera in the truck and forcing the windows up.
I waited for it to let up, but it never did. The only thing that did let up was the lightning. It was now past midnight, I had been driving more than 15 hours, it was dark and rainy, and I was still 90 miles from home. In other words, not a pleasant feeling.
I finally made it home around 1:30am, at which time I quickly commenced some well-deserved slumber.