Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Lightning Season in West Virginia

September 1-2, 2000

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A low pressure center was hovering just south of West Virginia, causing the rare phenomenon of west-moving weather to prevail during the last days of August. On September 1, storms began to pop up around the Appalachians, moving east to west.

Friday: 4:15 PM. I'm standing on a small ridge in Teays Valley, watching a small cell sparking away at about 6 miles to the south. It's slowly moving northwest toward me, and I'm debating whether or not this one is worth trying to shoot.

The answer arrived.

I'm looking south when a sudden bright flash to the west and north catches my eye. I turn around fast to see the last few return strokes of a massive bolt slamming the ground about 2000 feet behind me. Sizzling thunder from the lightning's branches instantly rips through the air, followed less than 2 seconds later by the earsplitting bang from the main lightning channel.

I said out loud, "OKAY! Time to get in the truck!"

It was barely raining, so I had no trouble aiming the camera out of the passenger window looking south. A few minutes later I turned facing west, and caught a few strikes, all less than 1 mile away.

After about 10 minutes, the lightning was moving off to the west. I quickly headed west on Route 34 and caught up with the core of the storm just east of Hurricane. I set up facing west at the Museum in the Community entrance, where I subsequently missed the best strike of the year. This extremely bright, close blast about 1000 feet away hit just inches out of my frame of view, which I wasn't too happy about. I won't complain though, because in the past God has blessed me with actually letting me catch a few strikes that close, and closer (June 1995, June 1994, July 1997, and May 1998). You miss some, and you catch some. It's all part of the game.

Later that evening, I continued following several more storms that had developed in eastern Kanawha County, but they all had stopped producing lightning by 8:30 PM.

Saturday: 5:00PM. The east-to-west moving weather pattern in WV is beginning to shift. Widespread showers and storms have developed in eastern Ohio and Kentucky and are slowy drifting south-southeast.

The action reaches the Charleston area around 6:30 PM as several tiny but potent cells move over the area. The storms are too small to block out the sun completely, so the sky remains too bright to photograph the lightning. Finally at 7:00 PM, a more organized line of storms approaches the Dunbar-South Charleston area from the north, darkening the sky and producing bright cloud-to-ground lightning.

I drove to Southridge Centre, and set up facing south with the Charleston National Weather Service doppler radar tower in view.

The storms were trying hard to keep going, but they were losing their electrical edge as they approached Southridge. Sporadic ground strikes slowly gave way to anvil crawlers and intracloud flashes by 7:30 PM. A cell to the south gave one last 5-minute fireworks display of ground strikes at around 7:40 PM, but was too far away to shoot with the camera. By 9:00 PM, the skies were dark and quiet. Rain continued to fall through the rest of the evening.

Update: As I was sort of expecting, the lightning shots caught on Friday afternoon unfortunately didn't come out, due to overexposure from the bright sunlit sky.

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