Washington's Amazing Lightning Rod
Of the thousands of photographs that I've taken over the years, one stands alone in my mind as my most unique shot -- lightning striking the Washington Monument. The Washington Monument is actually a frequent target of lightning bolts, sometimes getting struck multiple times during a single thunderstorm, but it's challenging and potentially dangerous to try to capture the image with a camera.
I took the above picture during the evening of July 1, 2005, from the safety of the Jefferson Memorial. It was quite an unexpected strike since the storm was over Maryland at the time, with only distant lightning flashes on the horizon. Suddenly, the bolt jumped miles ahead of the storm and struck the Washington Monument from the side. The thunder was explosive, startling everyone around me. I can only imagine how the people around the Washington Monument reacted to the strike.
Keep reading for another photo of lightning striking the Washington Monument and information about the structure's lightning protection system,,,
At the completion of the Washington Monument in December 1884, a small and very expensive aluminum pyramid was placed atop the monument to function as a lightning rod. Aluminum was a very precious metal in 1884 and was chosen because of its white color and lack of tarnish. In less than a year, however, lightning had cracked the aluminum pyramid. Eight copper points were then added to the pyramid in 1885 to help make it a better lightning rod. Despite looking like a "crown of thorns," the copper points were not visible from ground level. Over the years, the lightning protection system for the Washington Monument has been improved multiple times.
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