The Storm: My experience as a photographer in a lightning storm.

Essay by nk08College, UndergraduateA, October 2008

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As I stepped out onto the balcony of my grandfather’s tall, rustic cabin, the smell of wet dirt hit my nose. As I gazed down the mountain and across the valley, I could see dark and ominous clouds were quickly rolling towards us, heavy with rain. The straight line winds produced gusts that were as powerful as a tornado. It was about 8 o’clock on that Montana summer evening, and even though night did not officially come until 11, night would arrive early as the clouds overshadowed and blotched out the last of the sun’s bright orange glow. A powerful lightning storm was approaching and it would show an impressive display of its might that I would not soon forget.

The thunder roared loudly, shaking everything within range of the mountain. The sound echoed down the mountain and into the valley. My dog stood next to me whimpering hopelessly and pacing back and forth nervously at the sound of every clash of thunder.

Inside, my family also seemed nervous because Bird’s Eye, a small mountain community, is one of the most lightening prone spots in the country. Despite this fact, I enthusiastically stood out there, leaning against the balcony rails with my digital camera in hand, hoping to capture the mighty bolts of lightning that cracked the sky.

There were hundreds of strikes happening every second. With every strike came the risk of death and yet I continued to stand there waiting to take the perfect picture. Just as soon as the strikes came, they disappeared. The atmosphere was electrifying. There was so much static in the air that my hair began to stand and my camera began to malfunction. The smell of wet dirt and rain intensified as the powerful gusts of wind blew in my direction. The mountains across the valley became less visible as the torrential rains, looking like a wall of thick fog, approached faster. I was still not satisfied with any pictures that I had taken. I began to nervously fumble with my camera and accidentally took a picture.

Suddenly without warning I felt a powerful jolt, and I was thrown up against the sliding glass doors of the balcony. In a powerful display of its might, a bolt of lightning hit the ground about 100 yards to my right. Flames from its impact engulfed the surrounding pine trees. Stunned at what had just happened, I quickly opened the door and stepped back inside of the cabin with my gaze fixed on the fire. After realizing the timing of the picture I had taken, I looked at my camera to see it was no longer working. I removed the memory card and rushed over to my laptop to check the last picture.

My camera had caught a split second picture of the lightning just as it touched the top of the trees. The bolt was wide, covering the tops of 3 trees. As I looked up from my screen, I could hear what sounded like applause. The rain was pouring down and dousing the wildfire by the cabin. My parents and grandparents gathered around the computer astounded at the image I managed to capture. For a photographer, an experience like this would have been rewarding. But for me, it almost meant life or death. Later that night, as I looked out the doors one last time, the lightning had not disappeared but rather remained behind the clouds, restrained in its movement.