Monsoon Lightning

Two lightning flashes cannot come from one cloud.
-Burundi Proverb


This is the sort of cloud one expects to see over a battle for Middle Earth, yes?

Before moving to the Southwest, monsoon weather was an alien concept to my life. Coastal life along the eastern seaboard lends the experiences of preparing for Nor’easters, hurricanes and tropical storms.  Nothing prepared my mind for images I would see in 1988 when two thirds of Bangladesh was underwater from monsoon flooding.  Then, all my associations with monsoon weather became fixed to South Asia.  It wasn’t until the summer storms rolling in from the west and up the Sandia Mountains, that I got my first experience with monsoon weather.

New Mexico is affected by the North American Monsoon System (NAMS) in the summer. During the period from June 15th through September 30th we may experience a fair amount of dramatic weather. One on hand, precipitation is a relief from hot temperatures that are temporarily suppressed. On the other hand, intense rain storms, large hail balls, powerful roof rattling winds, and a high number of lightning strikes can make it dangerous to be without outdoor shelter.

Winds shift while increasing moisture will combine with the surface low pressure from the desert heat. The results produce storms in a cycle of “bursts” (heavy rainfall) and “breaks” (reduced rainfall).  It can be exciting, and it can be scary. A decent view of a dynamic weather system can remind us of mother nature’s power.  

Today’s photograph shares with you a few moments during a monsoon storm in Albuquerque, from this September. Look carefully at the right-hand corner of the image, above the street to see a lightning strike. I lack a lightning trigger, so it took a few tries to catch this wicked cloud formation with a strike descending out of it. On its own, the cloud formation seen here was so large that it required 2 hand-held images be shot in horizontal orientation, and afterwards become stitched together to form the full view. The cloud reminded me of something I would expect to see over a battle for Middle Earth in _Lord of the Rings_. The cloud, and that lightning in my photograph, is 100% real.

Photographing lightning requires patience, perseverance and precautions for avoiding peril.  No shot is worth risking one’s personal safety. Not for me, anyway.  Secondly, camera equipment may become damaged from the presence in inclement weather; some sort of weather shield is ideal. Thirdly, is the challenge of timing and framing. Lightning strikes are somewhat unpredictable. After observing one strike, there is no promise a subsequent strike will appear in the same location or cloud area.  Thank goodness for digital photography! My chances of catching that lightning would have been pretty low if I were shooting with film.

Outdoor sporting events are at the mercy of the monsoon weather. There needn’t be a drop of rain to observe a lightning strike. Nevertheless, it only takes the sighting of one strike and referees will call the game over and evacuate the field.  Lightning is responsible for starting wildfires. But other things can go wrong, too.

On the evening of August 7, 2016 a large portion of New Mexico suffered a power outage that affected close to 130,000 people. Lightning struck an electric utility transfer station. Power outages were reported in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Peralta, Isleta, Gallup, Los Lunas, and Valencia County. The outage affected our home for well over three hours. Even the power company’s website went down, since the outages affected all sorts of public systems including traffic lights and businesses.

Sadly, one motorcyclist was killed due to a faulty traffic light; a car ran into the rider at a flashing traffic signal that was affected by the outage.


A decent view of a dynamic weather system can remind us of mother nature’s power.

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