Sunday, August 14, 2011

A little lightning in Little Rock

Last Monday evening, I was trying to take my usual after-work nap. But I was rudely awaken by some loud claps of thunder. Because I live in an apartment complex, anything loud like thunder results in a loud chorus of car alarms to break out. The thunder and car alarms weren't all that conducive to napping, so I gave up and went to watch the storm pass by.

My poor apartment complex was battered by the storms, with heavy rains and lightning. It has been extremely dry here this summer, and the rain we got that day was more than triple the amount that we had gotten all summer. The storm was also strong enough that the power in my apartment went out, around 6:30.

A bit of panic set in, where I wondered if the loss of power was due to the storms, or because I forgot to pay the electric bill. But a quick look out the window showed that my neighbors were also without power, and they were all now standing on their balconies watching the rain fall down (there isn't much else to do when you lose electricity).

After the worst of the storm had passed by, I was still without power. So I went across the street to get dinner (at Firehouse Subs, yummy). I took my time there, with the distant hope that when I returned the power would be back on. Which, of course, it wasn't. I went up the stairs of my apartment building in darkness, and decided that I didn't really want to just sit in the dark for the rest of the night. I grabbed the camera and tripod, and slowly made my way down the pitch-black staircase and started driving towards downtown.

The storm was still producing massive amounts of lightning. I tried to think of a good place I could quickly reach that would just maybe have a good view of downtown and the distant storm. I decided to visit one of my favorite parking decks, which has a decent view looking towards the east (where the storm was).

I parked on the ground level and took the elevator to the top. I've been busted a few times by security guards while out taking pictures on parking decks, so I'm always a bit nervous. When I got the top floor, I saw someone leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. I don't know if it was security or not, but whoever it was didn't turn around when I quickly walked by. It was probably someone out trying to watch the lightning too...

I quickly set up the camera and started taking pictures. Trying to get a good photograph of lightning is a matter of luck. You have to hope that the storm you are trying to take pictures of will produce lightning, and that it will have lightning in the exact area that you are pointing the camera at. Then you have to hope that the camera is actually in the process of taking a picture during the very brief few seconds when the lightning strikes.

There were some large and bright lightning strikes that hit while I was out taking pictures. But of course, they always hit while the camera was not taking pictures. I did manage to get a few strikes, but they weren't very big ones. Here is the best lightning strike I got...
There is a streak of light in the shot, from a plane taking off from the airport. The storm was already well past downtown and the airport when this was taken, but the lightning still seemed pretty close. I don't know what I would do if I was in a plane taking off, and saw a lightning strike from the window. Probably crap my pants...

I was a bit torn, I wasn't sure where to point the camera. There were still a few good bolts of lightning coming down. But in the sky behind me, the storm had broken up. The sky was a deep blue, with the clouds carrying the last remnants of the storm. I moved the camera over for a few shots...

And then went back to try to get some more lightning pictures. None of those turned out, so I then took a few more pictures from the top of the parking deck.

I drove back home and found that the apartment was still without power. I was displeased to see that a truck from the electric company was parked across the street at the IHOP. Apparently they decided to give up on restoring our power, and went in for some smiley-face pancakes instead.

But I was reminded of the sometimes serendipitous nature of photography. I was pleased with the pictures I took out there (and hoped they were in focus). But if my power hadn't gone out, I wouldn't have even bothered to go out and take pictures of the lightning. Instead I would have just lazily watched a few hours of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia re-runs, and then called it a night.

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