"Intense lightning" SPS from Charleston, WV - August 30, 1989

Dan Robinson

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This special weather statement from the Charleston, WV NWS office on August 30, 1989 is making the rounds on social media:

https://twitter.com/DRmetwatch/status/963212528615673857

I OCR'd the text from the image here:

SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CHARLESTON WV
120 AM EDT WED AUG 30 1989

INTENSE DEADLY LIGHTNING IS CAUSING WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTION IN WEST VIRGINIA.
A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS STRETCHES FROM CENTRAL KENTUCKY THROUGH WILLIAMSON WV... CHARLESTON WV...ELKINS WV...INTO WESTERN MARYLAND. THE LINE IS HEADING SOUTHEAST AT 20 MPH.

THE THUNDERSTORMS ARE PRODUCING DEADLY LIGHTNING TO A DEGREE SELDOM SEEN. ACROSS MUCH OF WEST VIRGINIA...ESPECIALLY DODDRIDGE COUNTY... NUMEROUS TREES ARE DOWN CLOSING MANY MAJOR ROADS. HOUSES AND TRAILERS ARE ON FIRE EVERYWHERE. POWER IS OUT IN WIDE AREAS ...ALL FROM RELENTLESS LIGHTNING ACTIVITY. FIRE COMPANIES CANNOT KEEP UP.

EACH THUNDERSTORM WITHIN THE LINE IS PRODUCING UP TO 250 LIGHTNING HITS TO THE GROUND EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES. STAY INDOORS. GET OFF THE PHONE. STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS AND FIREPLACES. DON/T WASH OR TAKE

...OR LONE TREES. HAVE CANDLES READY WHEN THE POWER GOES OUT.

LIGHTNING CAUSES MORE DEATHS EACH YEAR THAN TORNADOES DO. AND THIS DEATH TOLL IS FROM ORDINARY THUNDERSTORMS. DIRECT HITS OF LIGHTNING ARE AN OBVIOUS DANGER. TREES SOMETIMES EXPLODE VIOLENTLY WHEN STRUCK ...FILLING THE AIR WITH LARGE CHUNKS OF WOOD MOVING AT HIGH SPEED. HOUSES AND CHURCHES OFTEN EXPLODE INTO FLAME WHEN STRUCK. LARGE ROCKS ARE SOMETIMES THROWN OUT OF THE GROUND. FIREBALLS OFTEN EXPLODE.

AGAIN...INTENSE LIGHTNING STORMS ARE DEADLY.
END/PARKE
40602=


Does anyone have any additional information about this event? There was at least one tweet that seemed to indicate this SPS was being used as a "bad example" in training:

https://twitter.com/Wxmanms1/status/963228820831694850

Storms with CG rates like the one described aren't all that unusual in the Midwest (I see one or two of them a year, particularly with midsummer high-CAPE supercells), though the described impacts in this example (fire departments overwhelmed, etc) seem remarkable if accurate.
 
Jan 12, 2015
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Just based on the statement, it sounded like a typical mid-summer MCS/Derecho setup that originated from IL/IN/OH. I'd wager that there was a significantly higher volume of lightning than usual, perhaps due to the fact that there was explosive CAPE over the region, and maybe the higher topography of West Virginia allowed for more CG strikes (I'm not a physics major so don't quote me on this though).

I've attached Hank Schyma's video from a couple weeks ago that, just based on the characteristics described in the text, seemed to be a similar setup to what occurred there over SE NE/NE KS. It's a spectacular video, and it may be a relatively accurate representation of what happened here. However, that's the only case I've ever seen of the NWS releasing a SWS just for lightning.

 
Mar 11, 2016
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So that averages to about 17 strikes per minute. Sounds impressive, but still less than typical tropical thunderstorms in Malaysia/Singapore, which seem to be able to put out a strike every 2-3 seconds.
 
Does anyone have any additional information about this event?
Have you tried contacting that NWS office and asking? If it was significant enough of an event, they might have some information about it archived.

While chasing (busting) in OK on April 9, 2013, I remember seeing severe warnings out for a line of storms in southern KS that mentioned frequent lightning as a hazard. I believe the main threat, and why it was warned, was severe-sized hail, but there was an emphasis put on the frequent lightning with these storms. I even had a friend who tried to catch the line with hopes of photogenic lightning based on that warning. However, I can't seem to find that particular warning at the moment.
 
Jan 12, 2015
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That does raise the question though: With the advent of newer technology such as the lightning mapper on GOES-16, has the NWS considered any official products for unsually intense lightning? IMHO, a criteria such as over 10 CG strikes a minute within a cell could be a new condition to consider for a severe thunderstorm warning, or a completely seperate lightning product.
 
That does raise the question though: With the advent of newer technology such as the lightning mapper on GOES-16, has the NWS considered any official products for unsually intense lightning? IMHO, a criteria such as over 10 CG strikes a minute within a cell could be a new condition to consider for a severe thunderstorm warning, or a completely seperate lightning product.
There is research going on right now into the NWS providing lightning probabilities and warnings. Here's the abstract for the talk about it from last year's National Weather Association Conference:
https://objects-us-west-1.dream.io/nwafiles/Annual Meetings/2017/Abstracts/Creation and use of storm-based probabilistic lightning hazard information and warnings.htm

From what I remember, these warnings look similar to those of current severe and tornado warnings in that an area is highlighted around and downwind of the storm for potential lightning strikes.
 
Jan 12, 2015
50
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There is research going on right now into the NWS providing lightning probabilities and warnings. Here's the abstract for the talk about it from last year's National Weather Association Conference:
https://objects-us-west-1.dream.io/nwafiles/Annual Meetings/2017/Abstracts/Creation and use of storm-based probabilistic lightning hazard information and warnings.htm

From what I remember, these warnings look similar to those of current severe and tornado warnings in that an area is highlighted around and downwind of the storm for potential lightning strikes.
That is excellent. Since our understanding of lightning and our ability to forecast and detect it is on the rise, I think it makes perfect sense to begin looking at introducing some sort of lightning product. I've always found it somewhat ironic that the deadliest weather hazard in the U.S is the only one without its own products.