Officials closed the Washington Monument on Monday after a lightning bolt struck the massive obelisk Sunday. An amateur videographer captured the lightning strike while filming from the Lincoln Memorial.
“The Washington Monument will be closed today as we repair damage to the electronic access system caused by Sunday morning’s lightning strike, the National Mall National Parks Service said in a tweet. The extent of the damage is unknown, however, and it is not known when the monument will re-open to visitors.
Georgetown Law student Travis Nix captured the massive lightning strike early Sunday morning. In the video, you can hear people gasp when the lightning bolt lights up the sky. And at least one person who looked away at the wrong time.
“Oh, I missed it!” he said.
A large storm passed through the area Sunday and dumped more than 4 inches of rain on Washington, D.C. in only a few hours, Fox News said. The storm flooded areas surrounding much of Washington, D.C., including Alexandria, Virginia.
The Washington Monument has two lightning rods attached to the top of the structure to try and protect the landmark from taking significant lightning damage.
Lightning has struck the building before. In fact, it’s a lot more common than you’d think.
Does the Washington Monument Attract Lightning?
Kevin Ambrose of the Washington Post has photographed more than 30 lightning storms around the monument. He snapped a photo of a lightning bolt hitting the tower once during his 18 years of trying, in 2005. You can see that photo at the top of this page.
So, last year after a video of a lightning bolt hitting the tower went viral, he wanted to figure out what the odds are. How often does lightning hit the Washington Monument?
There’s a lot of factors that go into this, such as the intensity of the storm and the amount of lightning it generates. But in general terms, Ambrose estimated that the Washington Monument is struck by lightning about once in about every 15 storms that produce lightning. For context, he believes that equates to one or two strikes hitting the landmark in a given year. Maybe three to four strikes will take place during stronger storm seasons or not at all during less striking years.
He admits that his calculations take in a wide variety of storms, as some produce more lightning than others.
For instance, in 1973, lightning hit the monument six separate times in a single storm.
Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist at Vaisala, a company that runs the National Lightning Detection Network in the United States had a much more reserved estimate. He said data suggests the Washington Monument is “twice per year on the high end and once every five years on the low end.”
You can read his full breakdown here of the data here.