Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Putnam Twilight: Hurricane, WV, - August 9, 2001 - 8:30 PM

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You read it in the paper almost every day - someone is arrested, charged, and convicted of a crime against the laws of their country, state or town. "Good," you might think. "They got what they deserved." But do you know that you are in more serious trouble than any criminal that ever stood before a jury on this earth? But that's not the end of the story. Someone has stepped up to take your punishment for you - if you are willing to make one simple step. Sound like a dramatic Hollywood production? No, this is no movie plotline - this is for real.

Just after 7:30pm on Thursday night, a cluster of small thunderstorm cells developed near the tri-state point of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio and began drifting northeast. Central Putnam County was directly in the path of the largest cell. I knew about a great vantage point on a ridge just north of Hurricane, so I headed west from Dunbar on I-64.

After a short trek on the rough, steep gravel road, I arrived at the ridgetop location. I love this spot - with its clear, unobstructed views across nearly 360° of the horizon, it's a rarity in these parts and a perfect place for lightning photography. The original storm was just a few miles to the southwest and dying quickly. I could see its heavy rainfall approaching several mountaintops away, a feature that would end the photo session if it arrived too soon. Thankfully, the heaviest rain stayed to the west of me.

It was now about 8:30pm. The sun had set, but the sky was still too light for unlimited exposure times. I finally gave up on the first storm as the wall of rain moved closer without a single cloud-to-ground strike to be seen. Raindrops were beginning to fall, and I had to get out the umbrella to shelter the camera. Scanning the sky again, I turned around just in time to see a beautiful ground strike hit in the mountains several miles to the north from a brand-new storm that had just developed. I quickly turned the camera around and began a sequence of 5-second exposures that ended up in a catch of two CG flashes about 5 miles away (photo at right).

The developing heavy rain shaft is visible just to the left of the lightning channel on the right. The strike on the right occurred in clear air, resulting in its crisp exposure. The left-hand bolt, however, as is typical with most Appalachian lightning, occurred inside the heavy rain and was therefore more diffuse and concealed in its exposure.

A minute or so after this exposure, heavy rain covered the entire northern horizon and blocked my previously unobstructed view of the lightning. This storm continued producing frequent CG strikes, so packed up and drove north on Rt. 34 for the next hour trying to play catch-up. But the storm was moving much too fast for me on the wet and extremely curvy 2-lane road, and I ended up stopping a few miles south of Kenna to try and photograph the storm from a distance. The cumulonimbus tower was rising through clear air, with stars visible in the night sky around it - and I was hoping for one of those 'positive flash' strikes to come out of the side of the cell. It didn't happen.

I was thankful it was still early in the evening (9:45pm), which meant I'd get a full night's sleep tonight. After watching the storm for a few more minutes, I packed up again and headed home.

Camera/Lens/Film: 35mm Pentax K1000 SLR, 28mm lens, Fujichrome Sensia II 100 slide.
Exposure: 5 seconds @ F8


[ click above image to enlarge ]

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