Saturday night’s extreme lightning show north of Washington, D.C.


Storm/lightning as viewed from the National Mall (Kevin Ambrose)

Around 7 p.m. Saturday evening, the severe thunderstorm watch had been dropped, and it appeared the D.C. area was in the clear for the evening.  But, suddenly just before 9 p.m,  intense thunderstorms erupted along a line stretching from northern Montgomery County to Baltimore. The storms put on a dazzling lightning display that could be seen all around the D.C. area.

The lightning was frequent and intense, flashing like a vivid strobe light at a night club. Most of the lightning hopped around within the clouds rather than bolting to the ground.


Storm/lightning as viewed from the National Mall (Kevin Ambrose)

“There were a lot of flashes coming out of the top of the storm, from the anvil, and a lot of dancing back and forth [within the clouds],” said NOAA’s Scott Rudlosky, a lightning expert. “It was an interesting spectacle.”

The Washington, D.C. Lightning Mapping Array (DCLMA), which measures the radiowaves emitted by the lightning channels, recorded off-the-chart levels between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Lightning output measurement from the D.C. Lightning Mapping Area Saturday at 9 p.m.
Lightning output measurement from the D.C. Lightning Mapping Array Saturday between 9 and 10 p.m. (NASA)

Earth Network’s Total Lightning Network showed flash rates of over 100 per minute according to Mark Hoekzema, its chief meteorologist. Notice how the lightning rates explode from zero to over 100 flashes per minute in just a little over 10 minutes!

Lightning rate data Saturday evening from northern Montgomery County (Weather Bug Lightning Network, Earth Networks)
Lightning rate data Saturday evening from northern Montgomery County (Earth Networks)

Extremely unstable air due to steamy temperatures and oppressive humidity levels likely led to the high lightning output.

NOAA’s Rudlosky explained the quantity of lightning was also related to the duration of the storm.

“That front just stalled out as it was approaching,” Rudlosky said.  “So storms trained over the same region.”


Composite of Kevin Ambrose’s lightning images Saturday night (Kevin Ambrose)

Readers captured amazing photos and videos of the lightning storm, many from areas well south of the main activity, photographing the lightning looking north.  See some great examples below.

Photos


Storm/lightning as seen from Annapolis (Jennifer Casey Photography via Facebook)
Storm/lightning from Washington Monument (Daniel Reidel via Facebook)
Storm/lightning from Washington Monument (Daniel Reidel via Facebook)

Storm/lightning from Court House, Va. (Samer Farha via Flickr)

 


Storm/lightning from Brambleton, Va. (Tom Turley via Facebook)

 

 

 

Videos

By @irenerojas via Twitter

By A.J. Wojciak from Falls Church

By Perry Winslow, Jr. from Bailey’s Crossroads via Facebook

By @super_christina via Twitter from Glover Park

By @greg_scanlon via Twitter from Dumbarton Bridge

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · July 22, 2013