A trifecta lightning strike in Chicago

July 3, 2014 • 1:46 pm

We’ve had some bad storms here lately, and I’ve been able to watch the lightning from my balcony. Sometimes the lightning is so heavy that the skies seem lit up almost constantly.

But on June 30 we had a real Midwestern corker, one that yielded an amazing video showing a simultaneous lightning strike on Chicago’s three tallest buildings. The details are given at Colossal:

Even by Chicago standards the weather here in the midwestern U.S. has been bizarre and extreme lately. We’ve seen giant walls of fog caused in part by a bitterly cold winter that chilled Lake Michigan, and numerous lightning storms that last for hours. Local videographer Craig Shimala was filming a timelapse of a derecho from his home this week when he managed to capture a triple lightning strike on Chicago’s three tallest buildings: Willis Tower, Trump Tower and the John Hancock Building. Even more incredibly, he filmed the same occurence almost four years ago to the day back in 2010.

Here’s the time-lapse Vimeo video, which is stunning (go to the original site to see it big):

The photographer’s notes:

Gear used. Canon 7D with 8mm fisheye lens, 50mm lens, 17-40mm and a GoPro Hero2
Music: Ocean Death by Baths (soundcloud.com/anticon/baths-ocean-death)

You can see Shimala’s video of an identical triple strike on June 23, 2010 here.

And here’s a photo of the recent triple strike:


h/t: George

33 thoughts on “A trifecta lightning strike in Chicago

  1. Nice photos – I’ve never succeeded in catching a lightning strike, either on film or on my head. Had a little bit of sticky out hair, and that was freaky enough. Lighting bolts hitting the ground within too-bloody-few metres, to a sound track of gibbering.
    But, if you think about it, this doesn’t make much sense :

    Even more incredibly, he filmed the same occurence almost four years ago to the day

    If the conditions for lightning storms are seasonal (not an unreasonable proposition); and, if the seasons recur at annual(-ish) intervals), then you’d rather expect similar conditions to occur at approximately annual intervals.
    People don’t have a good feel for statistics – a statement on which both the gambling and jobbing-statistician industries are based.

    1. You can get software that will trigger your camera’s shutter when the lightning hits. I haven’t tried it nor have I successfully caught a picture of a lightning strike.

      1. The other option is to go with long exposures, and just let the shutter keep firing. Just like with flash, set the aperture and ISO for the lightning and set the shutter for whatever is correct for the scene with that aperture and ISO. Since you’ll want a small aperture and high ISO for the (insanely bright) lightning, and since you’re probably shooting after dark, you’re going to get a long shutter speed. Then, just put the camera in rapid-fire mode and lock the shutter release with your remote. You’ll capture every lightning strike that happens between the time you start and the time you stop.

        The lightning trigger would be best for mixed lighting, such as ambient artificial lighting or flash; the former since you’re going to be using shorter exposure times, and the latter so you can trigger the flash only when there’s a strike.


        1. Yeah that would be the smart way. I’d probably try the “try to get lucky with triggering the shutter by holding and shooting approach” which explains my lack of lightning photos. 🙂

      2. I’m OldSchool ; set up the shot. Open shutter. Close shutter. Wind on. Lather, rinse and repeat until shot achieved.
        Don’t get me wrong : I appreciate computers. But *I* take *my* photos. Not “my computer takes photos for me.”Bleargh!, pass the vomit bucket.

        1. Heh…pressing the button is the easiest and least creative aspect of photography….

          Besides: even philosophically, what’s the difference between pressing the electronic switch on the camera body that tells the computer embedded in the camera to fire the shutter, and pressing the space bar on your computer which does the same thing after going through a few more circuits?


        2. Pushing the trigger can be outsourced. You already had to set the f/stop & speed & ISO. Pushing the button can be done by a machine.

  2. That really is quite incredible. Makes me wonder if there are any other places in the world that catches lightening like that.

  3. The big gee sends an identical spectacular message for the second time in four years. He don’t like havin’ to go to this extra effort (except for the part where he gets to show off his spiffy pyrotechnical skill set power). What, you thought this lightning happened just as a result of atmospheric conditions? This is exactly the kind of error to expect from liberal public school education, and a perfect example of why god wants schools privatized. And we’d better figure out whatever this message means pdq, who to hate and what behavior to condemn, or as punishment for not straightening out the fuck-ups out there the world is gonna end someday.

  4. Palm Beach county, in Florida, where I winter, is sometimes called the lightening Capitol of the world. Two years ago, my wife and I were driving 20 minutes back to the house, down I95. We were 4-6 miles from the ocean and there was a thunder storm with lightning like I had never experienced. It was like a city fireworks display with multiple simultaneous strikes and they were constant the entire trip. We must have seen several hundred strikes.

  5. Nice shot of lightning on the Pickle Forks!

    Our monsoon lightning arrived last night, flashing dimly over the Santa Ritas at sunset…and today we had nearly half an inch of rain!:-)

  6. I remember being above the lightning while climbing down the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail. Scary! We took shelter in a little stone hut when the torrents of rain and hail, and then the boulders came pouring down. It started out as blue skies and 70 degrees, and we ended up shin deep in icy water.

  7. I don’t know how you did it, Jerry, but thank you! A little while ago we had a big wall of dust blow through…but right now, it’s RAINING! With thunder and lightning and everything! It’s literally been months (several?) since this last happened, and that it happened when you posted this picture of tripartite lightning cannot possibly be a coincidence.

    So, again: THANK YOU!


  8. That is spectacular! It reminds me of my youth on the plains of western Kansas. We had lightening shows where the entire night sky would be lit up in a fabulous display – no buildings to hit like in the video, but just as spectacular as there was nothing to impede your view of the entire show. Sometimes after a very hot day we would have what we called heat lightening – no rain just a great lightening show. Mother Nature doesn’t fool around with puny displays in the midwest!

  9. Is this “triple lightning” really three simultaneus flashes, or is it three separate lightnings caught on the same frame because of time-lapse phtotography?

    1. No, I think you’re right. I had the same idea.

      It’s not a “video” as shot in video mode by the camera – it’s a time lapse, constructed from photos.

      If you look a the still image, you can see streaks of light. I presume traffic. That means the image was taken over multiple seconds (I’d say between 5 and 20)

      So it’s more likely “three lightning strikes very close in time” rather than a real trident.

      1. Oh no, well, perhaps… I now see the streaks are railway tracks (it’s a small picture on my screen :-|).

        Still though, the photographer says this on the video page:
        “This time it was a still from a time-lapse. “

      2. The railroad tracks are evidence of a simultaneous picture. The train is a Metra train – Chicago’s commuter rail network. I believe that is a UP Northwest line train outbound from downtown (Ogilvie Transportation Center). There are 3 lights on the front of the train in a triangle, one on top and two below. Not sure if this is a universal rail convention, but Metra trains have three lights lit on the front, one on the rear. The first car in that train is a passenger car, the locomotive is pushing. On Metra trains, the locomotive is always pointed to Chicago. There is a control booth in the last/first passenger car. On an outbound train, the engineer controls the train from there, not the locomotive. No need to move the locomotive back and forth.

        If you are familiar with Chicago and want to orient yourself, the church in the foreground is St. John Cantius (825 N Carpenter – which is 1032 West. I squandered too much of my youth in Polish churches and recognized it immediately). I think the east-west street (running left to right) closest to the photographer is Augusta Blvd (1000 North). The Chicago River (and Goose Island) are to the left, the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) is to the right (and below grade). If you are on the Kennedy, it intersects Augusta right at the Polish Museum of America which is right on the west side of the Kennedy. Big sign painted on the side and Polish and American flags on top.

  10. I love the whole composition of the photo, the somewhat sleepy looking suburb illuminated in warm colors, some green and the train track lights, and behind it looming the pale skyline, crowned with the triple lightning strike. Gives me a slight shire versus mordor vibe

  11. Wiki says the Aon Center (formerly Amoco/Standard Oil building, the tall one to the right of Trump in the middle) is 2m taller than Hancock.

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