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Cherry Blossom Storm Chase

Kevin Ambrose @ 3:00 PM

A thunderstorm moves into Washington as cherry blossoms are at peak bloom along the Tidal Basin, April 3, 2006.

I had actually wondered if I would ever get a chance to storm chase DC while cherry blossoms were in bloom along the Tidal Basin. The window of time when the blossoms peak is quite short, and it usually occurs before the severe storm season really gets going in the Mid-Atlantic. That said, I watched the radar all day Monday as a line of storms approached Washington. It became clear by late afternoon that we'd have strong or severe storms move through the area, and yes, the blossoms were still in the late stages of peak bloom. I quickly packed my gear and headed into town for a storm chase at the Tidal Basin.

The Tidal Basin was packed, as expected, with tourists, photographers, joggers, etc. Dark clouds quickly became visible on the horizon and distant flashes of lightning strobed as I briskly walked down the east side of the Tidal Basin, darting in and out of the massive crowd. I found a spot on a bridge near the Jefferson and started to photograph the storm. I quickly attracted a small crowd of photographers who set up next to me to try their luck. One professional photographer who was just to my right quickly ran out of film and mumbled how he wished he had brought a digital camera. Others were just trying to time their shots with the lightning strikes. I did a timed exposure of 1.6 seconds and kept firing away repetitively, actually missing the most impressive bolt that filled the entire sky behind the Tidal Basin, but I did manage to capture a nicely positioned set of bolts behind the Jefferson Memorial (see below).

As the storm moved closer, the sun became dimly visible behind the storm. Suddenly, a low, white cloud rushed towards us, moving across the Tidal Basin with the storm's gust front. One tourist exclaimed, here comes the rain. When it hit, it wasn't rain, but instead a cloud of blossom petals and dust. We were covered in petals -- clothes, hair, cameras, everything. My photos of the gust front did not turn out, unfortunately, they were a bit underexposed. Below is a photo of the sun shining through the storm.

I quickly took cover in the Jefferson Memorial and continued to photograph the storm. Quite a few tourists had the same idea, and some set up picnics under the large columns. With every lightning bolt, dozens of kids of all ages would scream in unison. It almost became a game to see who could scream the loudest after a lightning strike. For some reason, this happens quite frequently at the monuments during thunderstorms. I only join in when I successfully photograph the lighning strike (not really). :) Below is one of the more interesting lightning photos taken from the Jefferson Memorial last night:

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