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Published On: Mon, Jul 8th, 2013

PICTURE OF A LIFETIME: The Photograph That Nearly Killed Me

I shouldn’t be writing this, I should have been struck by lightning two years ago. But instead, I got a photograph of the bolt that almost killed me.

This is my story…and my warning to you…

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NWS loop of the 2011 New England Tornado Outbreak on June 1, 2011.

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The Springfield Tornado was ranked at an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and killed 3.

June 1, 2011.

That’s the day I almost died and became the fourth victim of the famed supercell that dropped down a tornado in Downtown Springfield.

I wasn’t in Western Massachusetts, in fact—I wasn’t anywhere near the Springfield tornado.

I was in Marshfield, chasing the potent remnants of the deadly cell as it glided over the South Shore and out to sea.

The storm that had spawned a monster tornado, which killed 3, injured over 200 and cut a 37-mile long swath of destruction through the Bay State, made a b-line for the South Shore. I caught the action at Brant Rock.

The rain came down in sheets and the lightning was among the most intense I’d ever seen in Massachusetts. I sat in my car along the beach, filming through the windows, as lightning struck nearby homes and trees.

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Damage from the Springfield Tornado in 2011.

As the rain came to an end I looked to sieze the oppertunity to snap a few pictures. I started up the car and began roaming around Brant Rock, looking for a place with a clear line of sight that would allow me to photograph the lightning as the storm moved out to sea.

I found my picture-perfect spot on Joseph Driebeck Way, a street only a few thousand feet behind the ocean, in front of a warehouse.

The location provided a clear line of sight to the horizon and a place to park just in front of the barbwire fence that blocked off access tothe warehouse.

I gathered my things in the car, put the windows up and turned my camera on. Just as I began fidgeting with the settings on my camera, a bolt of lightning struck about a mile away and sent a thunderous crack through the nighttime air.

Eager to get started, I moved to open the door…then I hesitated.

“Everything I’ve ever learned about weather says I’m making a mistake,” I thought. “And if you’re close enough hear thunder…you’re close enough to get struck.”

Now I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in my life…from high-school hooliganism to college craziness…but on June 1, 2011, I made a decision so good it saved my life.

I put my window back down and pointed the camera out the car…and no sooner than I snapped my first picture—BOOM!!!!!!!!!!

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The first picture I snapped, seconds after deciding not to leave the safety of my car as the thunderstorm moved out to sea.

A bolt of lightning struck the barbwire fence only feet in front of me, but instead of getting fried, I got a really cool picture.What you see in the frame of my picture above is a lightning bolt striking a fence, stationed only feet in front of me.

Also visible in the background is a secondary lightning bolt striking a tree in the distance. The duration of the lightning bolt itself was shorter than the time exposure for this photo, which causes a doubling of the frames.

Adding to the rarity of the photograph is the sight of blue-green streaks of electricity rippling through the chain links of the barbwire fence, showing that the entire fence was instantly electrified.

What’s even creepier is a glimpse at the bolt that would have probably killed me, which can be seen extending out from the fence on the left hand side of the photograph.

It was that split-second decision that gave me my life, and the picture of a lifetime. But make no mistake, luck also played a part in my survival.

Before that day, I had been out in fields tens of times…chasing storms and trying to get that special picture. I was, without question, in perilous danger for most of those instances and it was luck, not quick thinking, which kept me alive.

Since I almost became a cripsy critter on that night in late spring 2011, I’ve all but given up storm chasing. In fact, I’m more afraid of storms now than I was then.

There are countless Americans that, like me, are mesmerized by the power of Mother Nature. But, you are best served by observing the wonder of weather from behind a pane of safety glass in the comfort of your car.

I’m not saying don’t chase storms…it’s a great hobby to have and will make for some interesting ice-breakers, but respect the power of lightning. When chasing thunderstorms, lightning is usually the sole threat to your life.

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Lightning can strike miles away from the cell itself, as demonstrated by a far-reaching cloud to ground strike photographed above.

Lightning is truly the great equalizer, but don’t think the chances of being struck are that low either.

The long odds of being struck by lightning are oft compared to the improbable chances of striking it rich from the lottery. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

You have a 1 in 6250 chance of being struck by lightning over the course of an 80 year life, meaning that–theoretically—two Kingstonians will eventually be struck by lightning during our generation.

By comparison, your chances of winning the jackpot for a drawing like MegaMillions are 1 in 14 million.

Over 24,000 people die annually after being struck by lightning and your chances of survival if you take a direct strike are grim.

I urge my loyal readers to take caution when watching the awe-inspiring power of lightning during these summer months. Remember that you are not safe if you’re still hearing thunder in the distance or if you venture outside within a half hour of a thunderstorm’s passing.

The best place to watch nature’s fireworks is always in a vehicle or a building. No picture is worth risking a lightning strike. Just take it from me…the guy who almost became the 1 in 6250.

 

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