Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Lightning Season in West Virginia

February 20, 2002

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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I never thought I'd have two entries in the storm logs by the end of February, but this winter has been anything but ordinary.

By Wednesday morning on the 20th, the NOAA SPC had included the western part of the state inside of a 'SLIGHT RISK' zone for severe thunderstorms - meaning that storms were almost definate, with a small chance of some of them being severe. So, I was watching the developing situation closely as the day wore on.

By mid-afternoon, a good cluster of cells had formed in central Kentucky and was headed towards our beloved state. At around 5:00pm, the tops of the cells were visible in the western sky, as seen here in this view from the Nitro Marketplace shopping plaza in Cross Lanes, WV:

As the sun set, flashes began to appear out of the growing darkness at 6:30pm, and by 7:00pm numerous vivid cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were already piercing the western horizon in Dunbar, WV. Church was about to begin, and some of us stood outside and watched the show. The scanner reported that a severe thunderstorm warning was issued by NWS for the Huntington area around 6:45pm, no doubt referring to one of the storms we were watching.

The cloud bases were high and largely rain-free between the lightning and our vantage point, giving us a perfect view of the fireworks. Lightning of this quality was unprecidented for February, and even though I was stuck in town with streetlights and powerlines all around, I set up the camera anyway in the few minutes I had left before church. I caught one of the strikes from the parking lot at Dunbar First Baptist Church - a sharp cloud-to-ground flash about 10 miles to the northwest. It was so distant that I didn't even hear its thunder, and it didn't make the 'lightning shot of the year', but nonetheless a winter lightning catch of any kind deserves a place on the site:

After church at 8:20pm, the storms were still flashing a few miles to the east - so I headed east on Interstate 64 to Chelyan, then east on Rt. 60 for about 35 miles trying to catch up to the cells again. They just plain outran me - after chasing at 70mph (I-64) then 55mph (Rt. 60) for 30 minutes all the way to Gauley Bridge, I wasn't any closer to them than when I left. At 10:30pm, I turned around near Belva in Fayette County and headed home.

Hail reports were numerous, with 1" stones falling near Huntington. The next morning, two of my co-workers enthusiastically described the sensation of getting pelted with marbles of ice after getting home from work in Putnam County Wednesday night.

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