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Shock to the system: At new Outer Banks bridge, lightning crawls ‘all over the sky’

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RODANTHE — Images of spidery lightning filling the sky off North Carolina’s new Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge hint it might soon become an Outer Banks attraction all its own.

The 2.4-mile bridge, which opened in late July, is 24.5 feet above the Pamlico Sound and affords users a chance to see for miles in every direction.

Coastal photographer Wes Snyder was hoping to take advantage of that view when he began driving on the bridge at 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 1, with a 360-degree camera mounted to the roof of his car. He hoped to capture the sunset, but then a storm moved into view.

“The lightning this night was incredibly unique. Typically you see a single strike here or there,” Snyder said. “The storm had incredible lightning that was spreading all over the sky in every direction. One basically seemed like it struck over the (Pamlico) Sound just out my passenger window, but also simultaneously spread all over the sky above me.

“I’ve never seen lightning quite like this before.”

He recorded an extended video for YouTube and posted an edited clip on Facebook, showing the lightning crawling through the sky, sprouting appendages in every direction.

The flash resembled something known as a cloud-to-air lightning. Such flashes follow “visible channels that extend out into the air around the storm,” according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Cases where the lightning travels horizontally on the underside of a cloud are known as spider lightning, the laboratory reports.

The new bridge was designed to bypass the most frequently flooded parts of N.C. 12. Drivers are instead directed over the Pamlico Sound. Depending on the time of day, it may feel like they are driving directly into the setting sun, Snyder says.

One challenge for photographers: The bridge has no scenic pull-offs like the Blue Ridge Parkway, so passengers in tourist vehicles will be the ones taking photos and videos.

Still, the bridge does not count as the highest on the Outer Banks. That title belongs to the 2.7-mile Oregon Inlet Bridge, which is 90 feet above the water.

Snyder is best known for capturing images of the night sky off the Outer Banks, including 10-second exposures. But he says the bridge has captured his imagination and provided ideas for lengthy projects.

Much still remains to be discovered, he says, including seasonal changes that may provide strikingly different views from atop the bridge.


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