Nature tonight put on a display like I’ve never seen.
A massive line of storms filled the northern horizon by sunset, and before long streaks of light criss-crossed its entire length. Bolts zapped outside of their cover every few seconds, while those hidden in the thunderheads snaked like immense glowing dragons through curtains of rain and billowing vapor, something impossible to capture with photos. Despite all this, the sky directly above was still clear. Moonlight highlighted the storm’s edge.
It would have been enough for me if it had stopped there.
It didn’t stop there. After a couple of hours the dragons reached Fayetteville, and the lightning only picked up the pace. Barely half a second passed without a paparazzi-like burst. The roar of a serious downpour got louder and louder as it approached and swept from one end of my apartment complex to the other. Some hail fell. Mostly it was flash after flash after flash. Usually I struggle to get enough decent shots of these bolts. This time they were just about overwhelming.
Thanks for the show, nature. And thank you for looking.
Let’s talk about lightning, a high-power tendril of electric current that, as they say, can be five times as hot as the Sun’s surface — a blast of the cosmic right over our heads. The strongest bolts can have billion-volt potentials and carry enough energy to power a good-sized home for a month. They seem to be propelled by what we call static electricity on a massive scale, but researchers still don’t know exactly how they happen. Lightning also branches into the surreal, with so-called “sprites,” “elves” and “jets” of red, green and blue light reaching tens of miles toward space.
I haven’t had a chance to photograph lightning since a year ago. I’ve gotten better with the mechanics — narrow aperture, focus not quite on infinity, long exposure — but timing is still mostly luck, at least the way I’m doing it. Lots of frames of empty sky Friday night, when I took the photo above up in Rogers. I don’t know if there’s any avoiding that. I was so dang happy to get that photo.
I waited to post it because the forecast called for storms all weekend — maybe I’d get more chances. In the meantime, I went to Fayetteville’s Springfest, with its live music and short dog parade, and to the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks.
The last time I was at the botanical gardens, it had been below freezing for four days, freezing the fountains’ water into forms I’d never seen before. It was a little different this time around.
This is the bleeding heart flower, which apparently has a short Japanese myth attached to it explaining its striking shape.
I finally got another chance at catching lightning Sunday evening, a nice bookend for the weekend. These were shot from my apartment building, if anyone’s worried I was running out into ongoing storms. I wouldn’t recommend doing that.
Stay safe out there, and thanks for looking.
I was resolved to stay near my apartments this evening, though I wanted to take another shot at capturing lightning. I was not disappointed.
The storm wave moved through the area in time to let through the golden glow of the sunset. It combined with the storm’s deep blue, and the sky became a watercolor rainbow of yellow, salmon and purple. I sure do love nature’s light shows. And I didn’t even have to leave my porch.
Thanks for looking!
The wind had slowed but the air was restless. Huge ribbons of cloud swept across the sky, framing stripes of inky black dotted with tiny but fiercely blue pinpricks.
The wind quickened. Chains clanged against flag poles. From the northwest lightning flashed silently, hidden within the clouds’ translucence. Then from the southwest. Then from the south. Flashes like camera bulbs, one after another with hardly any pause between. Still no thunder.
The wind gusted, blowing the first raindrop right in my eye. More drops fell, tapping the concrete and the grass. The first rumble of thunder.
I love storms. Living in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and now Arkansas means no shortage of them, but oh, how I’ve missed them. Their energy always has made me giddy.
But I have a lot more skill with people and buildings than with the unpredictable speed of lightning. I have a few hundred frames of nothing but black. The clouds were torn apart, their depths lit by blue bolts. And there were so many bolts, more than I’ve seen in a long time.
And out in this storm was a crew of highway workers. This afternoon a worker fell from the Interstate 540 bridge over Porter Road. He was conscious and alert when the firefighters and ambulances got there, but his injuries were severe, a fire department captain told me. I don’t know his name or how he is now.
More than 100 road workers die each year in their work zones. Give him your good thoughts, if you’re so inclined, and be careful out there.
Thanks for looking.