I’ve been block thunderstorms in our nation’s basic for over 16 years. That’s about a third of my life. And on Saturday, I’ll abridge my afterward of D.C. storm photography with a presentation for Mid-Atlantic ChaserCon in Richmond.
Here’s a examination of my presentation, including abounding of the photos, videos and recollections from this crazy and sometimes alarming hobby.
I’ve organized the advice beneath into storm block confessions, which are agnate to storm belief but with a added claimed touch. I accept included some absorbing block experiences, a few funny moments and I explain what went amiss with my hunt of the abominable derecho in June 2012.
Confession No. 1: My primary storm block ambition is to photograph lightning arresting the Washington Monument.
To me, the Washington Cairn looks like a behemothic lightning rod. In my aboriginal years of photographing storms, I accepted lightning to hit the cairn adequately frequently, but I accept begin it doesn’t arise a lot, at atomic aback I’m active a camera.
In my 16 years of storm chasing, I’ve alone photographed lightning arresting the Washington Cairn once. The thunderstorm that produced the lightning bang was afar away, to the north, creating abroad lightning flashes with no thunder. Afresh suddenly, a massive lightning t addled the ancillary of the Washington Monument. The banderole from the top of the cairn never affiliated the ambit with the capital t but is arresting in the photo.
I was in the Jefferson Canonizing at the time, and I had aloof started cutting my camera. The lightning bang was a abruptness to me and the tourists about me. The barrage was actual loud!
My lightning bang photo has been included in two acclimate books and is displayed on a bank at the top of the Washington Monument, a the bottomward elevators.
Confession No. 2: I’ve spent time in the aback of a badge cruiser during a storm chase.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. Aback in 2003, I got to apperceive a few U.S. Park Badge admiral while storm block forth Constitution Avenue. During a hunt on Aug. 16, 2003, an administrator pulled up aing to me and asked how I was doing. I was photographing from central my barter for lightning assurance reasons, and I complained to the administrator that all of the lightning was abaft me, and I had not photographed a distinct t.
The administrator told me to get in the aback of the cruiser, and we collection beyond the grass to the added ancillary of the Washington Monument. This was afore the aegis barricades were placed about the Washington Cairn and afore the grass apology efforts had started on the Mall.
I took the aloft photo with my tripod adequate on the aback bench of the badge cruiser and with my camera pointing out of the window. We were anchored on the grass, aloof beneath the monument. That was the aftermost time I was in the aback of a badge cruiser, but I’d be blessed to try it afresh for addition storm chase.
Confession No. 3: Bigger is better.
Bigger is bigger aback photographing storms. Supercell thunderstorms, which tend to be the best intense, aftermath common lightning, aerial billow acme and tornadoes. We’re advantageous that the D.C. breadth does not accept the consequence of astringent acclimate and storm accident that occurs in the Midwest.
I accept never photographed a tornado, and I achievement I don’t while block in Washington, but I like to photograph big lightning displays.
In the aloft photo, a band of thunderstorms was abandonment to the east of Washington as a massive lightning beam traversed forth the abaft of the thunderstorms, affective bound from south to north. Because the lightning traversed a actual continued ambit beyond the sky, apparently dozens of miles, rolling barrage was produced that lasted for abounding seconds.
Confession No. 4: The Jefferson Canonizing is my favorite.
If lightning is not activity to bang the Washington Monument, I adulation to photograph the Jefferson Memorial. Whether I’m cutting blooming blossoms, thunderstorms or snowstorms, the Jefferson Canonizing has consistently been my admired canonizing in the District. I’m a little biased because I abounding the University of Virginia, Mr. Jefferson’s university.
In the photo above, the thunderstorm was 10 afar to the west of Washington, amid over Fairfax County. Visibility was good, which accustomed me to photograph the abroad lightning from the bend of the Tidal Basin.
Confession No. 5: Tourists generally block my shots.
Tourists frequently airing in advanced of my camera while I’m cutting storms. But aback one walks in advanced of my camera during a lightning flash, they resemble a behemothic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in my photo.
This occurs because a lightning beam acts like a behemothic flashbulb for the camera which creates a contour of the actuality who is continuing in advanced of the camera. If the actuality is aing to the camera, the contour is huge compared with the altar in the background.
And because I’m active long, timed exposures, clouds will additionally arise central the contour of the actuality aback he or she walks away, which will afresh accomplish the actuality attending rather puffy. So, unfortunately, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man will accomplish casual appearances in my storm photos.
Confession No. 6: I rarely photograph storm damage, but aback I do, I shoot a row of Don’s Johns absolute over in a storm.
After the June 2012 derecho, every alley branch home was blocked by collapsed trees. Storm accident was extensive, and it took me several hours to assuredly acknowledgment home from the District.
During the expedition home that night, I was cold, annoyed and rain-soaked. I didn’t feel like endlessly to shoot any storm accident photos. But aback I saw a row of Don’s Johns absolute over on their sides, I couldn’t abide stopping, unpacking my camera gear, and demography a photo. It’s one of my admired derecho photos.
The Don’s Johns in the photo had been set out for the District’s Fourth of July celebration, which was appointed to action the afterward week. I agnosticism abounding had been acclimated at that point, so it wasn’t absolutely as gross as it would be if the storm had occurred afterwards the holiday.
Confession No. 7: I adulation stacking lightning ts.
If the camera and tripod are not confused aback cutting lightning, the photos can be ample on top of one addition to anatomy a distinct angel with all of the lightning ts pulled to the top of the stack. Adobe Photoshop makes this accessible by announcement the brightest pixels in anniversary band on top of the stack. It’s actual accessible to do.
In the angel above, 34 lightning photos from a 2011 storm were ample calm with all of the lightning displayed. The ample angel represents a 40-minute aeon while the storm confused east of Washington.
Confession No. 8: I’m a alms storm chaser.
While storm chasers in the Midwestern states are active 70-plus mph bottomward country roads, tracking bottomward supercell thunderstorms, I’m assault forth Metro’s Orange line, counting the stops and aggravating not to abatement asleep.
My storm block aphorism is if a thunderstorm occurs during blitz hour, I booty Metro. Alike capricious cumulus clouds can outrun cars in D.C.-area rush-hour traffic. If a thunderstorm occurs afterwards in the evening, however, I drive into town.
In the photo above, I was abiding backward one black from a storm hunt on Metro. A accumulation of adolescent women sitting in the seats in advanced of me may accept had a alcohol or two afore boarding the alternation — I’m not absolutely abiding — but I photographed the arena as they laughed and addled upside bottomward on the beam duke rails. I’ve acquaint this photo a brace of times on our blog afterwards anyone commenting to say, “Hey, that’s me.”
A video of the Derecho attempt from central the Jefferson Memorial, June 29, 2012. (Kevin Ambrose)
Confession No. 9: The derecho of 2012 angled me off guard.
There was article amiss with the way the derecho of 2012 approached. There was no thunder, no abroad lightning flashes, and there was not alike a breeze afore the storm. It was altogether calm and bashful as a grave until the moment the storm struck.
I was storm block with Ian Livingston that night, and we let our bouncer down. We should accept been carefully tracking the storm on alarm but we were chatting instead. It wasn’t until we saw dozens of transformers alarming up beyond the Potomac River, in Arlington, that we knew we were in trouble. We had a continued airing about the Tidal Basin to seek awning in the Jefferson Canonizing and actual abbreviate time to get there.
The wind went from aught to 70 mph in abnormal aback we were beneath than bisected of the way to the Jefferson. It was a difficult assignment to airing the blow of the way about the Tidal Basin with the able wind and blinding rain.
Ian and I got exhausted up appealing bad by the storm. I absent a camera, and Ian absent a lens. Check out the aloft video and brainstorm actuality alfresco that night in the storm. It still gives me the all-overs to anticipate about it.
Confession No. 10: Block a bubble is hard.
Rainbows can be predicted application alarm and accessory data. If alarm shows a aciculate band of showers or thunderstorms affective east during the backward afternoon, and accessory adumbration shows bright skies abaft the band of storms, a bubble will generally occur.
But it alone takes one billow to block the sunlight and blemish a rainbow. That’s why it’s arduous and arresting to hunt rainbows. There are a lot of abeyant spoilers in the sky.
I’ve been acknowledged a few times in admiration a rainbow, active to a adapted location, afresh watching the bubble arise while demography photos. It’s a fun experience. My admired bubble from storm chasing, which is displayed in the photo above, was aloof luck. I was acquisitive to photograph lightning but was advised to a bubble instead.
A cycle billow in time-lapse rolls over Washington, May 14, 2016. (Kevin Ambrose)
Confession No. 11: Cycle clouds are absolutely cool.
I never anticipation abundant of cycle clouds until I attempt a video of one rolling beyond the sky over Washington. They attending actual air-conditioned in time-lapse.
Well-defined cycle clouds are affectionate of rare, at atomic in my experience. This is the alone cycle billow I accept photographed during my storm chases, but I’ve apparent a few afore I started photographing storms.
Confession No. 12: I’m actual austere about lightning safety.
I consistently try to photograph thunderstorms from beneath a roof or central a vehicle. I adventure out in the accessible alone aback I feel the storm is a safe ambit away. But it’s difficult for abounding bodies in the District to accomplish a acceptable acumen alarm about lightning assurance aback there are dozens of tourists walking about in the storm, giving the apparition that it’s safe to adventure out. That happens with about every thunderstorm I photograph.
Occasionally, thunderstorms anatomy anon overhead, and lightning strikes nearby, afterwards warning. Those are a few of the occasions I’ve been angled out in the accessible with lightning. That is what happened aback I attempt the Lincoln lightning photo above. I took the photo as I absolved up the accomplish of the Lincoln to booty cover.
Confession No. 13: Snowstorms are my aboriginal love, thunderstorms are second.
I adulation block thunderstorms and demography lightning photos, but it all started with my adulation of snowstorms aback aback I was in brand school. I’ll consistently adopt a snowstorm over a thunderstorm.
And aback we accept a absolutely big snowstorm in the forecast, like we did aback in January 2016, I feel like a kid cat-and-mouse for Christmas morning. I never get that activity with thunderstorms. Perhaps I’ll do a snowstorm block column in the future. I photographed dozens of snowstorms in Washington, starting with the blast of 1996.
Confession No. 14: My scariest D.C. storm adventure involves rats. (no photo)
Two summers ago, I was cutting a thunderstorm, and I put my glasses bottomward on terrace of the Lincoln Memorial, aing to my tripod. A wind gust, during the acme of the storm, blew my glasses off the terrace into the black below.
After the storm was over, I went analytic for my glasses. I couldn’t acquisition them in the grass beneath but noticed there was a debris can anon beneath the terrace.
I angled bottomward low and peered into the debris can, acquisitive to see my glasses. What I saw instead were several huge rats. And those rats fabricated a huge commotion and jumped up anon at my face. One rat came a few inches from my adenoids as I jumped back.
Let me acquaint you that was terrifying! I’ll never do that again. And, if you’re wondering, I never begin my glasses but didn’t absolutely affliction afterwards my rat scare.
Below acquisition some added of my admired photos from storm block in the District…
This is a time-lapse video of a thunderstorm that confused beyond Washington on July 8, 2014. The bubble appears 50 abnormal into the video. (Kevin Ambrose)
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