CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - I was on vacation last week. I finally talked my wife into taking a long road trip. The plan was to drive to north Louisiana, then south to New Orleans, back east along the Gulf Coast stopping in Gulf Shores, Alabama and then finally back north to Charlotte. Along the route were a number of stops and overnights to visit old friends and family. She agreed realizing it's important to maintain our long-held relationships. Heh heh! I immediately started rounding up all my camera and video equipment salivating at the chance to photograph juicy summertime thunderstorms over the Gulf Coast states. Oh of course, I was, uh, looking forward to seeing my In-Laws too!
Off we go on Saturday the 13th under this dome of high pressure getting ready to blast the southeast with 100° heat. As we headed down I-85 into SC and toward GA my hopes for afternoon storms were dashed as it looked and felt more like we were crossing Death Valley. Somebody queue up the sounds of vultures circling above. I refused to give up though, we were covering nearly 800 miles that day and surely I'd get out from under the dome.
Crossing into Alabama sure enough, I spotted huge anvil clouds, a sign of mature thunderstorms. Checking my radar on my WBTV app, it was perfect. The storms were moving north toward Birmingham and we would intercept them there. As we moved into the city limits, my wife was driving, and I had my camera pointed out the front window with my lightning detection device on top – it looks like a radar gun. Lightning anyone? Sigh… The storm had died, and was little more than a sprinkle as we passed through it. The only thing I captured were some strange looks from drivers around me wondering what the heck I was doing?! Anyone with a camera and radar gun bundled into one probably doesn't have their best interests in mind.
Sadly, that was the most action I caught all the way into north Louisiana, down into New Orleans, and for three days along the Gulf Coast where I just knew I would see some sea breeze storms. Nope! Nothing. I couldn't even find a rainbow in someone's back yard sprinkler. I was so demoralized by the time it came to return home this past Saturday I told my wife I'd drive the entire 600 miles knowing it just wasn't in the cards for me. And then it happened… 2,100 miles into our trip as I was driving up through SC on I-85 I spotted some towering cumulus clouds rapidly growing, sometimes a precursor to thunderstorms. See Picture 1 courtesy of Denise Surber. The problem was, the sun was setting and I was afraid there wasn't enough heat left to push these guys into the mature thunderstorm phase.
But alas, a flicker of lightning appeared. Radar indicated these growing storms stretched from Hickory to Statesville working their way toward Lake Norman. I was still a long way out as I approached Grover, NC which is right on the NC/SC state line. The flickers increased to big flashes, and the flashes were become more frequent and more intense. I had a decision to make. Do I pull over now, or try and get closer but risk the storms dying? I decided to drive farther hoping the storms would hang on a little longer.
Finally I had to make my move, and I pulled off at the last exit in SC, exit 104. I pulled into a parking lot and hooray! I got some lightning shots (see pics 2, 3 and 4). The storms at this point were about 35 miles away from me. And it's lucky I pulled off when I did, the storms died quickly. One more exit and I would have been sunk. Before I wrap this up, I need to share two more pictures with you, pic 5 and 6. These were shot by Melany Dawn Crouse who stepped outside her back door and found these same storms blazing nearby.
Melany is a pro and understands lightning safety. I don't encourage this kind of activity unless you fully understand the safety rules. And don't forget, the WBTV Weather App has a lighting detection feature that will let you know if lightning strikes within five miles of you. My old rule of thumb: When you hear thunder, get inside!
So after 2,100 miles of driving, I actually caught a thunderstorm. Hallelujah!!!
Oh, and my In-Laws loved seeing me too… I think.