Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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Sandy Creek Lightning: Sandyville, WV, - June 12, 2001 - 9:45 PM

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The small but great enemies of lightning photography struck hard tonight - raindrops.

The forecast was partly cloudy for this night, with a POP (Probability Of Precipitation) of 20% - which usually means nothing. However I looked at the Doppler radar image at 8:15pm, and saw a very nice line of storms in Ohio moving into workable territory near Parkersburg. So I packed up and headed north.

Just before the Silverton exit on I-77 in Jackson County, the line of cells quickly appeared to the north. I exited the highway and headed east toward Sandyville to find a setup location.

When the storms finally arrived, the frequency and visibility of the cloud-to-ground lightning was astounding. These are the best of photogenic storms. However, a testimony to the difficulty of actually coming away with a good portrait of a bolt, despite the perfect conditions, was well displayed this night.

I set up the cameras in a field of tall grass beside a narrow gravel road about 1/2 mile off the main road. As the storms slowly approached from the north, two nice CG bolts came down for the cameras (second photo at right). Soon after that, another center of electrical charge would become active right above me, and lightning began striking to the left, to the right, in front of, and behind me.

I could have faced any direction and caught at least one of these up-close strikes. And finally, one cooperated with me and slammed into the ground about 1500 feet away (first photo). I knew I'd caught it. What I didn't know is that a few malicious raindrops had congregated on the lens just a few moments prior, causing the lightning's bright main channel to diffuse out into a trail of ugly glares all along it - and subsequently ruining the picture.

Catching a close bolt is rare, and it's disappointing to lose such a great shot. But there will be others in the future.

This was the closest I've been to lightning outside, and I don't think I will do anything like that again. Just too risky. In a ten minute time frame, there were at least 8 strikes where the thunder was less than 2 seconds after the visible flash - and hitting in all directions.

Camera/Lens/Film: 35mm Pentax K1000 SLR, 28mm lens, Fujichrome Sensia II 100 slide.
Exposure: 5 to 15 seconds @ F5.6/F8

Video - 637KB


[ click above images to enlarge ]

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