Mini-Comics about Drawbridges

One of the things I love most about the City of Seattle is that it sometimes has the courage to think outside the box. One example of this is that they occasionally have artists in residence at two of our drawbridges. This cycle, the genre was graphic art, and the artists in question were E.T. Russian at the University Bridge and Roger Fernandes at the Fremont Bridge.

Sadly, I never got the opportunity to meet Roger, but I had many a pleasant chat with E.T. Even though this drawing below is actually of E.T. looking down from the south tower, I like to pretend that that’s me depicted in the north tower. It’s a page from their amazing mini-comic. I’m the only bridgetender who works at University regularly who has longish hair, so I am taking the opportunity to place myself in their world, just as they placed themselves in mine. I look at this picture and smile every time.

If you go to this page in the City of Seattle’s Art Beat Blog, you can learn more about the artists, and if you scroll down, you can see their completed work as artists in residence, scanned in page by page. They both did such an amazing job that it brings tears to my eyes.

Bridgetenders are easy to overlook. Many people don’t even realize that there’s a person operating these bridges. For the most part, we prefer it that way. But personally I’m proud that our bridges were included in these two wonderful works of art.

Thanks E.T. and Roger! Keep on adding beauty and perspective to the world!

Artwork by E.T. Russian. Copyright protected.

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Hip Hop on the Drawbridge!

You see a lot of strange things when you gaze out of a drawbridge tower’s window. Especially late at night. There is no end to late night drawbridge shenanigans.

Some things, like suicides or assaults, are so horrible that you wish you could un-see them. Other things are delightful, such as marriage proposals. But what I saw the other night was unprecedented, and it was a pure joy to experience.

The reason I even bothered to look up is that I heard a shout. It didn’t sound like a shout of anger. It was more like a happy shout. Still, it got my attention.

And right there, in the glow of a street lamp, and (unfortunately) right in the middle of the bike lane, were two young men. And they were dancing.

You could tell that these two were close friends. There was a give and take going on that you only experience with people whom you trust. They were showing each other moves. They were teaching, and learning. They were having fun.

I didn’t have any boats on the horizon, so I doubted I would have to open the drawbridge anytime soon. I let them do their thing. They were out there for about two hours. I have no idea whether they were good or bad. Nor did I care. It was an entertaining way to pass part of my shift.

It did my heart good to see two people being able to let loose and have fun again. It was nice to see that kind of connection. It reminded me that people still need one another, and can do beautiful things, if given the chance. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank them for that gift, but by the end of my shift, they had already left.

I’ll leave you with a few videos of them. I didn’t want to intrude too much, so I kept them short. I wish I could have heard the music, but they were too far away.

Keep dancing, guys.

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Drawbridge Memorabilia

Given the number of people who have expressed shock that there’s “actually someone up there operating the drawbridge” when I tell them I’m a bridgetender, it doesn’t surprise me that there isn’t lots of drawbridge memorabilia floating around. I mean, why memorialize something that you don’t think about?

Well, unless you mean London Bridge. It seems to be the rock star of drawbridges. Tourists adore that bridge. It even has its own song. I hope the bridges I work on aren’t too jealous.

But I have managed to accumulate a little bit of drawbridge memorabilia over the almost 20 years of my career. What follows are pictures of my collection, in no particular order, and some descriptions thereof. Hope you like them!

This painting is by my friend Doug, and I still need him to sign it! We met him through the UU Church, and upon hearing what I do for a living he mentioned he had done a painting of Fremont Bridge here in Seattle, and just like that, he was kind enough to give it to me.
One day I saw Arvia taking notes on the sidewalk as she looked up at my bridge tower. Finally, I spoke to her out the window and learned she was doing a painting. Then, coincidentally we met at a party of a mutual friend and I made arrangements to buy it from her. That’s University Bridge, where I work most often. Those are the windows I often gaze out of while blogging. She also did a gorgeous painting of a side view of that same bridge, but I couldn’t afford it at the time, and it has since sold.
This is a graphic that I asked my friend Vicky to make for my first book. I plan to use it in any future books I get around to as well! Sometimes when I look at it I see a drawbridge, and other times I see two turtle kissing. I like it even more because of that.

Recently my dear friend Carole, whom I met through this blog, mailed me this gorgeous tankard that is etched with the London Bridge. It has a place of honor in the curio cabinet in my kitchen. I’ve made so many friends because of this blog, and Carole is one of the very best.
I saw this wooden drawbridge kit, complete with a book of great American bridges, online, and just had to have it. As you can see from the dust on the box, I haven’t gotten around to building it yet, mainly because I have no idea where I’ll put it when I do. I was hoping that maybe the publisher of the book might consider publishing a book of bridge stories from my blog, but I haven’t gotten around to contacting them yet.

Given the number of people who are foolish enough to crawl under the traffic gates when I’m opening my drawbridge, I suggested that we make a safety brochure with a keepsake drawbridge picture, and leave them outside the tower doors. I was asked to write the content, and so I did. They chopped 75 percent of my suggestions out, and then came up with this brochure, and printed about a thousand copies. Then someone decided that it was too controversial for some bizarre reason, so they are gathering dust in a closet somewhere. Aren’t bureaucracies the best?

This poster was made to commemorate the fact that many of Seattle’s bridges were retrofitted to (supposedly) withstand earthquakes. I managed to snag one of the posters before they were all given out. I love the art of Fremont Bridge on top. One of these days I’ll frame this.
In the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle is a delightful restaurant called Highliner Public House. They’re not very far from the Ballard Bridge where I occasionally work. They use this artwork as their logo, sort of, and they used to give one of these postcards to every customer. I don’t think they do that anymore, but they’ve been known to run up to the office and get one if a customer asks for one. Worth a try.
Every year there’s a fundraising marathon in Seattle called Beat the Bridge. I have mixed emotions about this event, because I don’t like the idea of people thinking it’s fun to try to cross a bridge that’s about to open. I’ve blogged about this before. But on this particular year, since I was the bridgetender who was tasked with opening the drawbridge at the designated time, I was given this T-shirt. That was nice of them. I gave it to my husband, because he looks better in yellow than I do. (Truth be known, he looks pretty darned good in everything. Lucky me.)
I went to a festival in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle with my friend Paula a few years ago. One of the vendors was selling this t-shirt, which is of the Fremont Bridge. Naturally I had to get it. If you look closely, there’s a tiny bicyclist jumping the opening bridge. DO NOT ATTEMPT. (Sorry for the wrinkles. I didn’t feel like ironing a t-shirt just for this blog post.)
And then, of course, there’s my first book. I love how the cover came out. There are too many people to thank for that book’s existence to list them all here. Feel free to get a copy and read the acknowledgements!

Is that everything? I feel like I’m forgetting something. (Sorry if it was something you gave me.)

Also, somewhere amongst all of my clutter I have various chunks of various bridges that I’ve come across over time, but I couldn’t find any of them for this post.

There you have it. Some people collect baseball cards or antique bottles. I collect drawbridge stuff. That works out well, because due to its scarcity it doesn’t take too much space.

The Holidays Are Even Harder This Year

Depression can be debilitating, especially in the wintertime when you can go weeks without seeing the sun. And it’s even worse this year, because this pandemic is isolating all of us. It almost seems like the final insult when there’s all this extra financial and emotional pressure during the holiday season. Everyone is expected to be constantly merry, and if you tend toward depression, that gives you this sense of failure on top of everything else. It can be draining.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bridgetender and I love my job. Opening drawbridges is such a delight. I feel lucky that I’m someone who actually enjoys going to work.

But this job does have a dark side, and it is ramped up at this time of year. I get to see a lot of attempted suicides on my bridge and on other bridges nearby. Most of the ones I see have, thank God, been thwarted. First responders, in my experience, are very good at talking people off of railings. And some people make the jump and survive.

But there is a certain percentage who make good on their attempts, and it’s heartbreaking to bear witness to that. It happens a lot more often than the public realizes. These things often go unreported because the community doesn’t want to have copycats.

Jumpers are people in a great deal of pain, attempting to take control at a time when the rest of their lives seem so out of control. It’s sad to say that choosing whether or not to remain alive is the one power we all can exercise. These people, for whatever reason, cannot see beyond their despair, so they don’t realize the heartbreak and trauma they cause with their actions. Suicide doesn’t only impact the families and friends. It also impacts the first responders and everyone who gets to witness the suicide.

I know I’ve shed more than a few tears for people who have leapt off my bridge over the past 19 years. Tears flow for the jumper, for their family, and for me, because I couldn’t do anything to prevent the act. And also, selfishly, I shed tears because I know the image of those final moments will be forever etched in my mind. I carry many such images with me, and they feel like Marley’s chains in a Christmas Carol.

But I didn’t really intend to make this about me. What I wanted to say was that if you’re reading this and you’re in despair, there are people who can help you. You aren’t alone. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call them at 1-800-273-8255.

You matter. Your life has value. I promise.

I put some lights in my bridge tower window in the hopes that someone walking by on some cold, lonely winter night will look up and see that he or she is not alone.

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Drawbridge Performance Art

Thank goodness it had been a slow night on the drawbridge. Very few vessels had come up to ask for a bridge opening. My coworker was sitting alone in the tower with the lights out to maintain his night vision. He was enjoying the peace and quiet and a nice cup of tea.

He happened to look up and noticed a man carrying a package. He thought nothing of it. The sidewalk is public property after all.

But then the man stopped at the center of the span. Still on the sidewalk, he put his package down right on the crack that rises and widens when a bridge opening is in progress. As there were no tall vessels on the horizon, again, my coworker didn’t make too much of it. But he did get curious, and continued to watch.

The man dropped to his knees and began carefully opening the package. My coworker recognized the IKEA label on the box. Fascinating.

As with all things IKEA, some assembly was required. The man began reading instructions, and identifying various pieces and parts. He then set about putting together his project.

The man was taking this all very seriously. Clearly he wanted the item to be just right. When he was done, what stood before him was a tall and, according to my coworker, quite nice floor lamp.

The man centered the lamp on the sidewalk, gathered up all the packaging, and walked away. He never gave the abandoned lamp a backward glance. Apparently he had accomplished his mission.

My coworker was both bemused and confused. He sat alone and looked out the window at the lamp for a while. But he couldn’t just leave it there. It was in a precarious place if a sailboat were to approach. During the next lift, the lamp would either fall on the boat as it crossed under, or it would fall down the increasingly sloping sidewalk, possibly hitting a pedestrian. So he went down and carried the lamp off the moveable part of the span.

He left it in a visible place, hoping the man would come back and retrieve it. But it sat there for hours, alone and neglected. And it really was a nice lamp.

So, late that night, at the end of his shift, my coworker took the lamp home. It still sits in his living room to this day. Sometimes, as he sits beside it, he’ll take a break from his reading to think about the man whom he never formally met. He remembers how he was entertained by him for a time on a quiet, lonely night on the bridge and how, because of that, they will always be connected.

The end.

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Bridges as Barriers

As a bridgetender for nearly two decades, I’ve come to view bridges as ways to connect people. They can often be the fastest route from one side of a river to another. They’re a delightful transition from here to there.

At the same time, I’ve known many people who see bridges as things to avoid. If it takes you 5 miles to get from point A to point B, and there’s a bridge along the route, many people will go 7 miles to avoid what they see as a bottleneck. The thing is, they’re often using interstates to avoid these bridges, even though the distance between exits is much longer than the average bridge, and in fact they’re often going over several overpasses in the process. Interstates tend to jam a lot more often than drawbridges. So I don’t get this aversion that people seem to have about them.

This is not the first time I’ve ranted about this subject, so when a friend came across an article entitled, “In Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago, Bridges Have Become Barricades”, she naturally thought of me. (Thanks, Jen!) But this adds a whole new spin to my rant. Mayor Lightfoot is intentionally causing bridges to hinder passage. This horrifies me.

It seems that during recent Chicago riots, the mayor has been ordering the city to raise the drawbridges and keep them raised. Yes, I’m sure this is rather effective in keeping looters from their targets, but there are several issues with this concept that bother me. First of all, I can’t imagine that this is putting the city’s bridgetenders in the most comfortable position. They can now be targeted by the rioters and will be every bit as trapped as the rioters are. Also, I would hate for Chicago’s beautiful bridges to be the focus of vandalism.

But the thing that bugs me the most about this concept is the inhibition of the free flow of Americans. I’ve spent my entire career trying to make my bridge openings as short as possible to avoid impeding traffic too much. We are even told that we should continue our bridge openings even if there’s an ambulance or a firetruck en route so as to speed the vessel’s passage through and close as soon as possible, but every bridgetender worth his or her salt will raise a traffic gate back up for an emergency vehicle if it’s at all possible.

Using a bridge as a barricade is making it perfectly clear that some neighborhoods are better than others. It sends the message that more privileged areas need to be protected from the unwashed masses. It pits one part of a city against another.

I love bridges. I look at them as sacred. I hate the idea that they are being politicized in this fashion.

I think a better idea is making the protestors feel heard. Listen to their needs. They deserve accommodation as much as any other citizen does. If they’re treated with dignity rather than met with teargas and walls, they will be more willing take pride in the community in which they are an integral part.

Another side rant is that the article I link to above refers to us as “bridge tenders”. Would you call someone a bar tender? No. It’s bartender. It’s bridgetender. I don’t care what your spell check says. Get it right.

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Any Excuse to Be Angry

There have been a lot of Facebook fights of late. People are scared, and they’re only brave enough to lash out if they can do it from a distance with very few consequences. I try really hard not to feed the trolls, but, as with everyone else, my patience is paper thin.

As I write this, I’m watching a live video feed with my governor and multiple nurses, in celebration of National Nurses Day. Even as these heroes talk about what it’s like to work on COVID-19 wards, trolls are commenting that it’s all lies, and that no one is really sick, and that this is just some twisted conspiracy to keep people from working. Attacking nurses on National Nurses Day seems like a new low to me.

I was also attacked online the other day for saying that as a bridgetender, I blow my horn at 8 pm to thank the frontline workers. This guy immediately jumped on there, infuriated by the number of times we bridgetenders have made him late to work. He said a bridge opening for a sailboat would often cause him a 20 minute delay.

First of all, the average bridge opening only lasts 4 ½ minutes from the time the traffic light turns red to the time the traffic gates rise back up, and I’ve never, EVER seen it take an additional 15 ½ minutes to clear traffic afterward. I’ve never seen that in 19 years as an operator. It may feel like you’re sitting there for 20 minutes, but trust me, you’re not.

I often wonder why people who get so irritated at drawbridges don’t simply take a different route. But I think it feels safe to be outraged at an inanimate object. Those iron girders can take it.

I think a lot of people are angry about any number of things, and don’t have the skills to deal with their anger, and therefore express anger at ridiculous things instead. That guy that jumped on my case told me that Seattle drawbridges are a pet peeve of his, and that any time a bridge opens, it infuriates him.

Um…  Get over it? It’s a situation that isn’t going to change. Why would you allow fury into your life several times a week? Either take a different route, or reframe it as an opportunity to step out of your car and get some fresh air, or maybe try and figure out why you have so much anger inside of you, and get some help to learn how to deal with it effectively.

Becoming infuriated by something you know you’ll be exposed to multiple times in the course of your life seems rather self-destructive, and frankly, insane, to me. Getting upset at a drawbridge is about as silly as getting upset every time it rains. Rain happens. Bridge openings happen. What on earth is the point of all your impotent rage?

I suppose, in light of all the anger that’s floating around out there, the rest of us just need to breathe deeply and not let their anger enter into us. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t become one yourself.

But man, that’s easier said than done these days.

trollfeed

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Breakthrough!

Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.

But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.

I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.

So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)

The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.

Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.

Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.

After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.

But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.

I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.

Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.

By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.

Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.

When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.

The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.

After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.

And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.

I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.

Can I get a high five for persistence?

Good morning!!!!!!

colbert_high_five

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The Drawbridges of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington

Recently my husband and I took a mini-break to Ocean Shores, Washington. During the drive we talked about retirement, even though it’s a very distant long shot for me. So I was in that frame of mind when we drove through the little towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, Washington.

We were discussing how the cost of living would be a lot cheaper in these places, and right as that topic was raised, we came across a drawbridge. And then another. And another. I thought, “These bridges are calling my name. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could retire and work part time on them?”

By that time I’d be bringing about 25 years of bridgetending experience to the table, so you’d think I’d be a shoo-in for any vacancies that might come up. So I decided to do a little research. First of all, I excluded the area drawbridges that are owned by train companies. It’s been my experience that these places never hire “civilians”, because a lot of the union workers look at these jobs as ways to finish out their careers in peace and quiet. I could never break through their seniority to wind up as a train company bridgetender at this late date. So I decided to focus on the other drawbridges in the area.

Thanks to the amazing resource, Bridgehunter.com, I learned that there are 5 drawbridges in the area that I could operate. All of them are owned by Washington Department of Transportation.

In Hoquiam, there’s the Hoquiam River Bascule Bridge and the Hoquiam River Bridge which is also known as the Riverside Avenue Bridge. That one is a vertical lift bridge.

In Aberdeen, you have the US 101 Chehalis River Bridge, which is a bascule, and two bridges over the Wishka River: The Wishka Street Bridge is a bascule bridge and the East Heron Street Bridge is a swing bridge. Both of them are shown below, with a railroad bridge in the foreground.

So not only would I have plenty of bridges to choose from, but I’d have three styles of bridges as well. Fortunately I have experience on all three styles, so that would be in my favor, too. Things were looking up.

So I tracked down a contact number for the department that maintains these bridges, and talked to an extremely friendly woman who gave me good news and bad news. She says since these bridges are so rarely opened, they don’t employ full time bridge operators. Boats have to schedule openings hours in advance, and then they send one of their mechanics out to do the bridge openings. In essence, all their mechanics are bridgetenders.

Well, that’s a bummer. But she did give me a further contact number, because when she heard of my experience and my potential plan, she said it would “never hurt to put a bug in their ear.”

I now have that contact on my phone. It would be kind of fun to be an on call bridgetender in my golden years. And I’m sure their mechanics have much better things to do than to drop everything on the occasional moment when one of these bridges requires operating.

I won’t bother the contact now, because my potential retirement is many years down the road, and who knows where we’ll decide to go. But it’s a nice dream. I know I’ll miss this work when and if I ever do retire. It would be nice to keep my hand in the game.

Aberdeen bridges

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Lightning Stories

I find lightning fascinating. From a distance. And from inside a safely grounded shelter. You don’t see much of it here in the Seattle area, though, and I miss it.

But I also have a healthy respect for lightning. At the age of 10, I moved from Connecticut to Florida, and quickly discovered that Connecticut’s lightning is child’s play by comparison. Florida has epic downpours with thunder that rattles the fillings in your teeth and lightning that can render you speechless. In fact, Florida is the most lightning-prone state in the U.S.

That kind of weather gets magnified tenfold if experiencing it for the first time while living in a tent as I did. Back then, I was terrified by Florida storms, and used those unsettling events as an opportunity to wail and howl out my rage and fear about having been rendered all but homeless at a time in life when I had absolutely no control.

With age and an improved living situation, I learned to take shelter and enjoy nature’s free light shows whenever possible.

Once, a friend of mine was visiting from Holland, so I took her to the beach. She wandered along the shoreline as I sat and enjoyed the Atlantic waves. But storm clouds rushed in from the East, and me and the rest of the savvy Floridians took off for the safety of our cars. I was desperately hopping up and down and motioning to the black, looming clouds and waving at her to come the eff on, and you’d think that that, and the fact that she suddenly had the beach to herself, would have been some sort of a clue. But no. She continued to slowly amble down the shoreline. When she finally came back, I explained to her how much danger she had been in, but she simply got angry with me for rushing her. She rarely took me seriously. For a variety of reasons, we’ve lost touch.

Later in life, when I worked for the State of Florida Department of Transportation, I was friends with the district lighting inspector. One of his tasks was to drive around at night and make sure street lights were functioning, and report them for repair if they were not. One night he drove up to a light pole just after it had been struck by lightning. The pole was in sand, and the sand was still glowing. He came back after it cooled and dug up several chunks of multicolored glass from the ground. He gave me one. I still have it. Somewhere.

Another time he showed me a dead turtle, frozen in place, its legs extended, its neck outstretched. He said that it had been struck by lightning before his very eyes. You never knew what you’d see when you worked in the field.

When I first became a bridgetender in Florida, I quickly got used to lightning striking my bridges. All of our structures came with lightning rods which were attached to copper cables that stretched down to the water, but the fishermen often harvested said copper, so you never knew what was going to happen from one strike to the next. But when the lightning was at a distance, I enjoyed the light show, along with the blue glow of transformers being struck on the horizon, with the accompanying patches of dark city skyline.

Nature, man. It’s awesome.

Recently I learned about something to add to my bucket list. The Maracaibo Beacon, also known as the Catatumbo lightning is a phenomenon that happens in Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo. Lightning can strike up to 280 times per hour, 160 days a year, for 9 hours at a stretch. It happens so much that it draws tourists, but it also kills residents, and drastically impacts economic pursuits, so scientists are attempting to predict these storms as much as three months in advance. I wish them luck.

There are several theories about these storms. The most reasonable one is that the warm, moist Caribbean air is forced upward into the cold surrounding mountains, causing electrical storms. Another has to do with the methane in area swamps, while a third mentions the uranium in the ground.

It’s hard to say, but it sounds like it would be a fascinating place to indulge in my lightning fetish! I only wish the politics of that country were a little more stable. Maybe someday. Until then, I’ll have to content myself with watching this amazing video.

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Catatumbo lightning

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