Lightning Paloozafest in the Badlands

Lightning and dramatic storm clouds over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Lightning and dramatic storm clouds over Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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It was two hours away when I first spotted it on radar — a swift squall line south of Rapid City, moving down from the Black Hills and out onto the plains. Hoping it would hold together, I waited near the west end of Badlands National Park.

As it approached, the squall line assumed an arch shape on radar, with the apex of the arch looking to pass near my position. Such bowing squall lines often bring damaging straight-line winds, strong enough to roll a mobile home or lift a poorly-attached roof. But I was out in the open, with little in the way of debris that could be flung by the wind, so I wasn't worried.

Bow echo radar image of bowing squall line over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Radar image of bowing squall line over Badlands National Park

The line was quite impressive as it approached from the west.

Squall line approaching Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Squall line approaching Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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Whale's mouth clouds over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Whale's mouth clouds over Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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When the wind hit, it was vicious. I leaned down on my tripod to keep it in place. The couple in an SUV parked next to me were whooping like they were on a roller coaster. For some inexplicable reason, it's actually fun to be out in a wind like this.

Gust front hitting Badlands National Park, South Dakota

I do regret not rolling up the windows on my car. I realized my mistake when I found it filled with dirt. Such a mess. But totally worth the experience.

It's nearly impossible to keep up with a fast-moving squall line like this, so I didn't consider chasing it. I thought the show was over, but it most certainly was not — the backside of the storm was alive with lightning.

For the next two hours, I drove the length of the park, stopping here and there to photograph the lightshow. This was some of the most photogenic lightning I've ever seen.

Dramatic lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Dramatic lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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Picturesque lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Picturesque lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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Picturesque lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Picturesque lightning over Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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