On the second day of my Tornado Alley sojourn, meant to get me in position for subsequent chases, I managed to catch up with a cluster of pretty storms in northwest Kansas. They were, at one time, severe, but when I photographed them in a gorgeous twilight, they were simply prolific lightning producers. I’ll add video later, but for now, click to see some photos from Thursday.
Meanwhile, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. I’ve adopted the new layout, which better organizes my videos, and you’ll be able to keep track of my storm chases when I post new ones as I travel.
Sunday night, when a tornado-warned storm approached my neighborhood – with lots of attendant lightning – I decided to take a chance and see what I could get. Mostly, I wanted lightning, but the persistent rain made it hard to get a clear shot. However, I found myself in the path of a tornado-warned storm headed for Rockledge, Florida, and according to the radar, I was really in the path. The “hook echo” was pronounced and on track to collide with me. So I watched and photographed the storm with nervous anticipation.
What I saw at the time and in my photos was, shall we say, suspicious. Again, chasing at night, it’s very difficult to see and identify significant features such as funnels and tornadoes, when so-call scud clouds can mimic them easily. Yet the persistent feature in this photo (in several photos, actually) sure looked like a funnel. Was it? Maybe not. See the report and photos, and see what you think.
The chill has lasted longer than usual this winter here in Florida, but at least we’re not experiencing snowstorm after snowstorm. What we did get was a blast of wind in a squall line Sunday. I drove out to meet it west of Cocoa. It was moving so fast (warned with a motion of 55 mph), I couldn’t reach the area of rotation. I didn’t even have time to set up and get nice photos of the green gust front. But I did get video in my car as it blasted me.
I’ve also posted a video of mostly time-lapses of some of my favorite storms of 2012. It’s a little more moody.
It’s not long now until the May chase! Want to see more stormy images? If you’re on Florida’s Space Coast, get a look at my storm photography on exhibit at Titusville’s Downtown Gallery, 335 S. Washington Ave. (321-268-0122), through April 16. There, you can also pick up copies of my Storm Seekers novels, Funnel Vision and Tornado Pinball – or get them online.
I’m also speaking about storm chasing and signing books at Cocoa Beach Library on April 6 at 2 p.m. The program is free.
Late edit: Just added an event – a book signing the evening of April 6 at Coco’s during Cocoa Village’s gallery walk. Please see the calendar.
Let me put on my photographer’s hat for a moment – it’s time to think about getting the family photos in order for this year’s holiday cards. To me, cards are more fun and personal when I can see the smiling faces of friends and family. Can I help you get the photos you want for your cards this year? For $95, you’ll get an hourlong photo session in a pretty location of your choice; an online gallery where you can order prints; and a CD so you can do whatever you wish with the photos. Typically, these sessions yield 25 to 30 diverse, nicely edited photos. The session will be casual and fun, and feel free to include pets — I love taking their photos, too! Even if you don’t want to use the photos for cards, the images will be perfect to share and treasure. Contact me to schedule a session. For ideas, see the galleries from other portrait sessions.
If you need a portrait of yourself or publicity photos, I’ll shoot an hourlong session with you for the same price through Dec. 31. Contact me if you’d like to give a portrait session as a gift certificate.
I recently took a week to visit family and shoot portrait sessions in Pennsylvania. A wonderful bonus was a road trip through west-central Pennsylvania in quest of covered bridges, many of which I saw in Somerset County. It’s funny, the romantic notions we have of covered bridges, but this was no Bridges of Somerset County romance novel. Many of the bridges are no longer in regular use; they sit parallel to the main road’s bridges, or are even blocked off in historical parks. But with a little imagination, you can frame them nicely and transport yourself in time. So much of photography is illusion – or call it artistic choice, if you like. I chose to go for a saturated look that brought out the middling fall colors. I love catching the flashy foliage as the trees throw their annual party before going to sleep for the winter, as much as I love coming home to the perpetual green of Florida.
I also took a few shots of a sunflower field in Lancaster County – home of so many Amish buggies, rolling farms, and fruit stands overflowing with pumpkins. Sunflowers always make me think of Kansas, now that storm chasing is in my blood. Seeing them in full bloom in Kansas is something I haven’t yet experienced, since I live in Florida; that’s a trip I look forward to. See more covered bridges and sunflowers here.
When you’re writing a novel, and you’ve set your own deadlines, it’s not as easy to be disciplined. Still, when I’m in the groove, I can write almost as fast as I wrote newspaper articles. Except … sometimes, there’s a block. A rock in the road. And the story keeps running into it. I recently spent a while looking at a rock like that. I’m working on the sequel to Funnel Vision, and though I have a pretty thorough outline, there was a spot in the middle that didn’t have a way through. Because a story can’t just jump from one mile to the next without a reason, just as it can’t creep toward something and never get there (unless, perhaps, that’s the intention, a la Samuel Beckett).
I think it took a weekend away, looking at the changing light on the ocean and the shifting shadows of the palm trees, to realize I’d just have to walk around the rock and see where it took me. I needed to see it from the other side and let the characters choose a new path. And then the story started to flow again.
Remember that old “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Stephen King is being interviewed, typing the entire time, and for one second says he has writer’s block – then keeps on writing? It was pretty funny, knowing how prolific he is, but that state of dedication is enviable. If you’ve read his memoir, you know it didn’t come easy. (And all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.)
Everyone has a different way of writing, and I think I’m learning that my characters feel imprisoned in too much premeditated structure, as do I. So I’m going to try to build my outlines out of balsa wood instead of steel and see what happens … and keep an eye on how the shadows change.
I’ve been longing for nighttime lightning, as I always do during Florida’s summers. I want to photograph it, of course, but there’s just not as much of it as you might think. Often, storms fire early and shoot off outflow boundaries, sometimes in the form of sweeping shelf clouds like this one in Rockledge on Wednesday. I’m still hoping for more!
Meanwhile, the tropics are active. While hurricanes are fascinating, mostly, I think they’re more pain than pleasure. They present fewer photographic opportunities, unless you’re on the International Space Station, and they cause a lot of misery. However, if you’re into the violence of nature, as many storm chasers are, it’s hard to resist them. I’d rather chase tornadoes any day.