The highly improbable story behind a shocking 511 image

By Laurie Merrill / ADOT Communications

Monsoon lightningThey say lightning never strikes the same place twice. And that's why we're glad a bolt that streaked boldly from the northeastern Arizona sky last Sunday wound up immortalized by a 511 camera and then by ADOT's social media accounts.

This improbable photographic feat was courtesy of a Road Weather Information System camera along State Route 77 roughly 10 miles south of Holbrook. Before you start doubting the unique nature of this event, consider:

• RIGHT PLACE: These cameras in rural areas of Arizona are mounted on elevated surfaces such as light poles and record the same view over and over.

• RIGHT TIME: This camera takes a photo every 10 minutes to show the latest weather conditions. It just happened to fire at the exact nanosecond when Mother Nature connected sky and earth. When we sought out an ADOT expert on these cameras, he told us it's highly improbable that something like this could happen again.

• RIGHT ELEMENTS: A vehicle happened to be in the frame, traveling north, adding perspective and showing just how powerful this electrical discharge was. The road surface shining with rain magnifies the bolt's brilliance.

Working at ADOT's Traffic Operations Center, one way I gather traffic information is routinely scanning the scores of 511 cameras. In this case, one of the 237,000 followers of our @ArizonaDOT Twitter account, the National Weather Service, spotted the incredible shot first and tweeted it. And the rest is history.

Again, what are the odds? What are the odds that so many elements would come together to create this incredible shot?

The social media response shows that our followers understand the cosmic significance too. One of our Twitter followers said after we posted the picture, "I predict this will go viral.”

She was right. The reaction on ADOT’s Twitter and Facebook accounts shows that we, well, caught lightning in a bottle!

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