2021—Eye of the Storm

What a day we had! We were in the eye of the storm, lightning striking around us in a 360° circle but this photograph only shows what we were seeing before it started to rain and before the lightning was everywhere! We were soon to be inundated by rain, pelted by hail, threatened by lightning strikes. It was an adventure but not one any of us wants to repeat!

We went to dinner early Tuesday with plans to chase a storm that promised lightning so we could use our MIOPS lightning triggers. We drove into Rapid City for dinner at Sickie’s Garage for burgers and adult milk shakes flavored with Butterfingers, vodka, and Bailey’s (yum!). When we finished dinner, the promising thunderheads had almost completely disappeared leaving the skies clear. Bummer.

Moose always has a Plan B and with the help of a lightning app and a radar app, he found where the storm had moved. Ironically it had moved back in the direction of Custer State Park opposite of its original direction. So, we went to find it although it seemed unlikely to me at first because the skies in Rapid City were cloudless and any potential lightning storm was many miles away. Soon, though, we began to see various kinds of storm clouds developing. It was fun to follow the thunderheads and watch them darken and change before our eyes. As the skies darkened and the sun dipped to the horizon, we began to see lightning strikes in the distant clouds but they were more than 20 miles away. We kept driving. About 8:30 it began to get dark and the lightning became more frequent and much closer. Moose took the opportunity to turn into a drive leading to a local sports club’s soccer field. The locals were quickly abandoning the place as we drove into the empty parking lot. We set up our cameras on the edge of the field with the MIOPS attached and let the MIOPS do the work for us. But we lasted only about 15 minutes. Suddenly, the wind picked up to a fierce howl and a few large drops of rain fell. This was our cue that it was time to go. We grabbed our gear and raced back to the car. In an instant the storm had become ferocious and no sooner had we jumped into the car than the rain began to inundate the area and the lightning moved closer. Strikes were continuous and were all around us.

We drove for a short time but the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the sheets of rain that made seeing the road almost impossible. Then, hail started to pound the roadway and our car. It sounded very large, possibly the size of quarters, as it hit the windshield and roof. We pulled over to get protection from the lee side of a tree. That helped protect us from the brunt of the storm. We were lucky the car came through unscathed. After it let up a bit, we drove off again only to find it was still raining so hard that it was still impossible to see the roadway. We pulled over again, this time by the side of a large industrial building. The storm was quite a spectacle and bolts of lightning were visible all around us. During the first hour of the storm, winds registered 37MPH with gusts to 56MPH. Rain and hail continued non-stop. I had never been in a storm like that. Rainfall for the first two hours of the storm was recorded as 1.91 inches. It seemed like more. When the visibility returned, we set off for Custer State Park again, driving well below the speed limit.

Finally about 3 hours after the storm began, we arrived back at the lodge in Custer State Park. The storm was still raging and continued into the night. What is amazing is that the next morning, the sun was out, the air had cooled a bit from the previous day, and with the exception of a couple of small puddles, there was no indication that the storm had happened. In the park, the dirt roads were dry and dusty, the Bison foraged in the grass, and we were back out for sunrise and more wildlife photography. What a night it was! And even though I took this photograph before the frenzy, this shot will forever remind me of that night.

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