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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 08/ 6/2009

The Short Life of a Thunderstorm

By Kevin Ambrose

* Full Forecast | NatCast | July Recap: Eventually, Summer Gets Real *

The colors of sunset are painted across a cumulonimbus cloud that is slowly drifting east of Washington, July 27, 2009.

Occasionally, it's possible to watch a puffy cumulus cloud grow into a towering cumulonimbus cloud, also called a thunderhead. I'm always amazed how quickly these summertime thunderstorms can grow. On Monday, July 27, I was running at Oakton High School and I noticed a slow-moving cumulus cloud growing quite large in the eastern sky. I had no plans for the evening so I decided to follow the cloud and take a few photos. I was rewarded with a few cool shots.

Keep reading for a photo sequence of the evening...

6:56pm: A growing cumulus cloud east of Oakton, Va.

7:59 p.m.: The cloud has grown considerably in the past hour and is slowly moving east. This photo was taken on I-66 near Vienna.

8:30 p.m.: This is the view from the Netherlands Carillon, one of the best sky-watching sites in our area. The cloud has continued to grow over the past half-hour and is producing lightning. It can now be categorized as a cumulonimbus cloud. The sunset occurred six minutes before this photo was taken but the upper portion of the storm continues to catch the fading light of the sun.

8:35 p.m.: The cloud structure has taken on a more classic anvil top, characteristic of the cumulonimbus cloud. A rain shaft is barely visible on the left side of the storm. The storm has reached maturity.

8:45 p.m.: The storm is beginning to weaken and wane. The lightning has ended and the anvil top is losing its shape.

8:53 p.m.: The storm has started to collapse as the sun's light and associated heating of the atmosphere have ended for the day. After this photo was taken, the storm continued to collapse rather quickly and within an hour radar showed no sign of the storm.

By Kevin Ambrose  | August 6, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Photography  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: July Recap: After Cool Start, Summer Gets Real
Next: PM Update: Clearing Skies Lead to Cool Night


These photos are awesome!! I love seeing the progression of the storm. Very cool!

Posted by: ana_b | August 6, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Great shots, Kevin. One can really get a sense of the vertical development of the cloud, especially with the monument there for perspective.

Also, what are the best spots for watching and photographing the western sky (i.e., sunsets) in or around D.C.? Thanks!

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Kevin - very geeky request for ya. It might be neat to see weather radar images for the times you took these photos, to compare the cloud appearance to the radar presentation. Just a thought. Nice work!

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Ann. My favorite location for a sunset is either the reflecting pool, looking toward the Lincoln, or on top of the Washington Monument hill, looking toward the WWII Memorial. The eastern bank of the Potomac, looking toward Rosyln, is also nice.

Andrew, I really wished I had done an image save of the radar. It showed a small red dot over eastern DC. It was much smaller than the radar echos we usually track on radar. I need to find if radar archive websites exist.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Good stuff as usual, Kevin.

I was at home watching the isolated cells pop up right overhead. First noticed a big black cloud developing on top of me and then grabbed a satellite image and radar showing them in early stages.

Here's another radar (tdrw from dca), 6:55p to 7:22p, with the cell still building over D.C.

I was able to get out right around sunset to grab a few shots, one was in a post last week -- here's the radar shot at just about the same time, 8:17p

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Nice radar and satellite images Ian. Did you find them in an archive website or did you save them real-time?

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

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