Storms erupt and lightning explodes: A Tidal Basin storm chase (PHOTOS)

June 26

Cloud-to-ground lightning during the evening of June 25, 2014. (Kevin Ambrose)

The radar loop showed a line of thunderstorms fizzling about 50 miles west of Washington as the storms moved east over the mountains early on Wednesday evening.  Despite the lack of storms on radar, the NAM weather model showed the potential for some potent thunderstorms during the evening hours in Washington.  I headed into town hoping for a good storm shot or two but I figured I could at least capture a sunset image.

When I merged onto I-66 east, near Fair Lakes, I could see in my rear view mirror that the western horizon was clear and the distant mountains were visible.  There were no storms visible anywhere in my view.  I considered turning around but I then decided to focus on a sunset photo shoot.  Sunsets on the Tidal Basin are always nice to view and photograph.

When I arrived in Washington, ball games filled the fields on the west side of the Tidal Basin.  It was a beautiful evening.  A large patch of mammatus clouds overhead, however, signaled there was some instability in the atmosphere and a potential existed for storms to develop later in the evening.


The sky does not look too ominous as the sun begins to set. Mammatus clouds overhead, however, signal that there is some instability in the atmosphere.  This photo was taken at 8:17 pm.  (Kevin Ambrose)

I photographed the sunset from the east bank of the Tidal Basin and waited to see if any thunderstorms developed.  The sky was fairly clear to the west of D.C. and I became doubtful that storms would develop during the evening.  But, as the sun disappeared below the horizon, clouds rapidly began to appear just west of Washington and they appeared to be growing up into the sky at a rapid rate.  One developing cell glowed red from the fading light of sunset.

Within several minutes, low, threatening clouds filled the sky and a brief downpour occurred.  There was no lightning but I took cover inside the Jefferson Memorial to be safe.

About 30 minutes later, the first lightning flash was visible. I began to photograph from inside the Jefferson Memorial.  Most of the lightning occurred just to my south (I was facing north) but I did photograph two nice bolts.  As I photographed, I chatted with a small crowd of curious tourists and I explained how to take timed exposures with a camera to capture a lightning bolt image.


A storm begins to develop just west of Washington and glows red at sunset.  This photo was taken at 8:43 p.m.  (Kevin Ambrose)

There were a few bolts of lightning that produced instant, explosive thunder.  The bolts landed less than a mile away.  I only managed to photograph one of the close strikes as I remained inside the Jefferson Memorial to be safe.

The storms moved quickly away to the east and I took a few shots of the Jefferson Memorial with distant lightning on the horizon before I departed to head back home.

I have included a photo sequence of the evening’s shoot, from sunset to the thunderstorms exiting to the east of Washington, to show the progression of the storms.  The photos are time stamped for reference.


The sky fills with low clouds after sunset as the storm develops and pushes east.  This photo was taken at 9:02 pm.  (Kevin Ambrose)

Storm clouds move over the Jefferson Memorial.  This photo was taken at 9:09 pm.  (Kevin Ambrose)

Lightning strikes ahead of an approaching thunderstorm.  This photo was taken from inside the Jefferson Memorial at 9:36 p.m.  (Kevin Ambrose)

A close strike!  Lightning strikes less than a mile away as a thunderstorm moves east of Washington.  This photo was taken from inside the Jefferson Memorial at 10:05 p.m.  (Kevin Ambrose)

Distant lightning bolts flash across the sky east of Washington as the thunderstorms moves rapidly away.  This photo was taken at 10:20 p.m.  (Kevin Ambrose)

Here are some lightning photos shared with us from readers:


Looking northeast up I-395 from Landmark in Alexandria, Va. (Zane Phipps via Facebook)

Looking northeast up I-395 from Landmark in Alexandria, Va. (Zane Phipps via Facebook)

Lightning over Annapolis (Jennifer Casey Photography via Facebook)

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