Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message

Tower lightning near St. Albans, leader initiation captured: May 8, 2009

ABOVE: Upward (ground-to-cloud) lightning repeatedly hits the WVAH-TV tower near St. Albans on Friday evening.

EXPEDITION VIDEO: 5 strikes in 20 minutes to the WVAH tower: Watch Video

Click any thumbnail on this page to view a larger version.

ST. ALBANS, WV - Many times I hear people say that they won't put their faith in Christ because there are too many things they don't understand. However, I don't know exacly why some medications or treatments for illnesses work - I just know that they do. I don't understand completely how a tornado works, but I know that they exist. And I can't completely explain God and why He does things the way He does. Understanding God and everything He does and allows isn't a prerequisite to faith - if it were, no one would be a Christian. I've been a Christian for 16 years, and I think there is probably more now that I don't understand than when I started! All I can say is that I've seen him make a difference in my life and the lives of those around me who have put their trust in Him. I would encourage you to not let the impossible prospect of 'figuring God out' keep you from the most important 'life step' you can make. Check out the message. (link goes to John MacArthur's web site).

So, on to the chase. I went out today expecting three possible subjects - flooding, high winds and lightning. I did not want to decide too early which one to focus on - though I made the flood potential the priority for the day. As the large complex approached from the west, the flooding and wind damage threat for the I-64 corridor diminished. Heavier storms were posing a larger flood risk to the south, but it was going to be getting dark by the time that area would see the worst of it. Sure enough, I found out later that southern WV and southeast Kentucky were hit hard with significant flooding overnight.

Due to the lack of instability (thanks to all-day cloud cover) in the Charleston-Huntington area, the storms rapidly collapsed after they crossed the state line. I made the last-second decision to head up to the WVAH tower for upward lightning shots, a little too late as it turned out. I watched the tower get hit four times as I approached it and while I stopped and set up my cameras. I was finally set up with both the HD video and DSLR cameras, both zoomed in as close as I could to the tower tip. After that point, five more discharges occurred to the tower. I caught all five on HD video, plus one return stroke and four of the bead-outs on the DSLR.

Here are the DSLR catches:

Here is a closer crop of the better bead-out shot pictured above. The glowing particles near the tower tip are 'arc welded' shards of metal drifting away. The rest of the glowing areas are the decaying lightning channel:

(The following images from this point forward are video grabs.) I love shooting up-close video of upward lightning, as it allows small-scale features to be seen that you won't see at a distance. For example, the HD video camera managed to capture leader initiation on one of the discharges on May 8th. The following three images show leader initiation, then the full channel carrying higher current, followed by the shower of metal sparks 'arc welded' from the tower tip:

On the next sequence, this discharge is shown connecting to a metal rod on the tower a few feet below the top. I have now documented this happening with upward discharges several times. Upward flashes initiate below the tower top on one out of every 10 to 15 flashes observed.

The next two images show a discharge channel shortly after initiation (before it begins carrying higher current), followed by the beginning of the bead-out stage of the flash. Notice how far the channel drifts sideways due to the wind, and the blue 'spot welder' color at the connection point:

This sequence shows the high current stage and bead-out of another flash. The extensive looping is due to the perspective of viewing part of the channel straight-on rather than from the side.

Here is one more shot of a channel shortly after leader initiation, again before the channel 'brightened' with higher current:

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