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.
This mushroom-cloud-like behemoth is one of the year’s first thunderstorms for the area. A series of them moved through this past Wednesday and Thursday, bringing some solid rainfall and a handful of tornadoes. Here in Fayetteville, the storms seemed oddly fractured; I could see this cell just to the south and another to the north, while my apartment complex stayed completely dry. Tornado season has made its entrance.
This first salvo came just as northwest Arkansas’ individual tornado season starts; according to a nifty website called the Tornado History Project, about half of Washington and Benton counties’ tornadoes in the past 65 years happened in either April or May. I’m working on a story now about the area’s history and vulnerability with twisters; apparently Fayetteville has a bit of a local belief that the town’s immune to tornadoes thanks to its hilly terrain. Lincoln, Nebraska, has that myth, too. We’ll see how true it ends up being here.
On the positive side, the storms also mean spring is here for real, dang it. I had to remind myself this week we’re finally past the slips back below freezing. Let me find some wood to knock on.
I went down to our capital for the first time Thursday for work. Little Rock’s like a mix of Lincoln and Omaha. The weather was mostly a flat gray, and I don’t have much to show for the visit as far as images, but the day started with one beautiful sunrise.
One last thing: a crescent Moon and Venus passed near each other in the sky a week ago, a nice bookend to a similar alignment between the Moon and Jupiter back in February. A little reminder to keep looking up.
Thanks for looking,
A cold front powered through this area a couple of days ago, trimming another 20 degrees off of our daily highs. The clouds that came along with it were mesmerizing, starting with these undulating, apocalyptic examples Thursday night that arrived at the end of an already soaked day.
Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to catch the back end of the cold wave, seen here leaving southward. Right above me, the sky was a blank blue; behind me to the north, a contingent of puffy cumulus clouds was moving in.
Later that afternoon I glanced toward the sun in time to see the faint brush-strokes of these cirrus clouds surrounding it, seen here streaming from behind a prismatic clump of lower-level water vapor. Topping it all off, northwest Arkansas was treated to a spectacular sunset last night.
I love clouds. Thanks for the show, nature.