I still haven’t posted all those photos – Hurricane Matthew and then life got in the way – but I have just made the most spectacular photo (above) and an additional shot available in my online photo gallery for print orders. Both are available in various formats, including canvas, metal and fine art prints.
I’ve been slowly updating my 2016 storm reports at SkyDiary.com after the most incredible and successful storm season I’ve ever had. And this May 24 storm was one of the most amazing. I’ve never seen a supercell produce so many tornadoes, with incredible structure to boot. This photo is one of my all-time favorites.
Here are a couple of videos from that day. One tells the story of the tornado chase; the other is simply a stunning time-lapse of the spinning storm as it spawned tornadoes just south of Dodge City. If you ask, why do you chase storms? The answer is: days like this. Especially because the city was mostly spared. (Though photos from that day and the aftermath show pretty much total destruction at the landfill.)
I’ve had three chase days and a day “off” (to work) this Tornado Alley trip, and two of the chase days found me in front of tornadoes I could not have imagined. In fact, the first tornado I saw on Monday was the most dramatic in my 20 seasons of chasing – or at least compares to the 12 May 2004 chase in Attica, Kansas, that saw a house destroyed.
Unfortunately, several houses were damaged or destroyed by the EF4 (upgraded from EF3) tornado I saw near Elmore City, Oklahoma, on Monday, and it killed one man. A hundred feelings rushed through me as I watched the tornado get close to my location on a hill in the difficult-to-chase, tree-filled terrain of southern Oklahoma. First, I considered my escape route, because the tornado was coming my way. And then I was filled with dread as I saw the tornado approach the structures near where I was parked – even though I had no idea so many homes were in the path. Once it started hurtling debris with incredible force and speed, I felt sick, even as I was filled with wonder. This was the most stunning tornado I have ever witnessed, partly because of my proximity to it, but also because of its unusual visibility, manifest power, long duration (it was on the ground for about 25 minutes), and sheer beauty as it shifted from a multi-vortex serpent to a swirling white stovepipe wreathed in dust to an ethereal white rope. And the roar – it had an incredible, clearly heard roar.
It was also a thrill to see two scientific research vehicles speed past me to plant probes in the tornado’s path. For a second, it was like a scene from one of my novels.
You can see all of my photos and video at my sister site at SkyDiary.com, though I’m embedding the video in this post as well. I hate to see tornadoes destroy people’s lives, but I am humbled to be a witness.
This is my twentieth season chasing storms. Dude, that’s two decades. I’m pretty sure the older generation of chasers still considers me and my contemporaries post-“Twister” whipper snappers, but seriously. I’ve been around. I’ve seen more tornadoes that I’ve bothered to count (but have had prints made of the photogenic ones). I’ve had cars remodeled by hail and a deer (unrelated to storms, except it happened during one of those trips). I’ve learned stressful situations help forge great friendships. I’ve chased storms with friends and, often, by myself. I remember when you could have a storm all to yourself – a virtual impossibility today as storm-chasing culture, fueled by TV, has exploded (whipper snappers!). Perhaps this is all a way to say that I’m kind of old.
Nonetheless, I just started my twentieth chase trip to Tornado Alley. In between, I chase storms in Florida and take photos of weather (and other things) wherever I am, but every year, this is the time when I fuel my passion and try to capture the incredible storms of the Great Plains with my cameras. Some years have been better than others. This one started with a bang – just one day into my trip, I saw one of the best tornadoes of my career, near Wray, Colorado.
Lots of things have changed in storm chasing since I started, not least of which is the availability of Internet, and therefore radar data, in the car. (Making it SO easy for the whipper snappers.) One of the side effects of all this instant connectivity is that after you have an incredible experience filming a tornado and feel all warm and fuzzy about it (at least when they occur in the middle of nowhere), in a few moments, you see a better photo or angle on Twitter on Facebook and kick yourself for not getting the same thing. There were amazing photos of the big Wray tornado from the other side – better than mine – but it was still amazing to be there.
That’s the joy of life, isn’t it? We all have different experiences, at least when we actually get out and experience things, instead of having them spoon-fed to us on television and in other media. And one of the beautiful things about storm chasing is that every experience is not just unique to the individual, it’s unique to the moment. There will never again be a storm exactly like the one I saw Saturday that produced that dusty tornado. And the challenge will always remain to get the forecast right, to get into the best viewing position, and to avoid being swept away to Oz.
Though I wouldn’t mind seeing Dorothy’s tornado.
Given the epic amounts of driving I’ve done so far just to get into position and then chase on Saturday, I haven’t had time to update my 2016 chase reports yet. But stay tuned to SkyDiary.com, where I’ll have a full report on the Wray tornado soon (which I caught with Jason Persoff), along with photos of other chases. And you can also click through to track my location during active chases. See you under the meso!
I recently accompanied friends as they roamed the east central Florida beaches one evening looking for nesting sea turtles. Our target was the Floridana Beach area, north of Sebastian, a popular area for turtles. We saw perhaps ten that night, under the full moon – at least when it stopped raining. The shoot was incredibly challenging, as watchers are forbidden to use white light to see these protected creatures. A red light is OK, and one of my friends had one, but it was rarely used. So focusing was almost impossible. (Next time, I’ll bring a red light to assist with focus.)
Nonetheless, there was something magical and primal about these beautiful creatures emerging from the ocean to do what they’ve done for thousands of years, and I did my best to capture the experience. See more photos here.
Now that my Tornado Alley season is over, I long to photograph more Florida storms. I chased one on July 6 that produced a spectacular shelf cloud – a type of arcus cloud – with beautifully lit layers. See the photos here.
And send some lightning my way, won’t you?
All that said, the photo above was taken after I’d wiped off the lens. The contrast wasn’t high, as the bolt lit up the cloud/precipitation in the air, and the ocean was pretty dark, but I like the subtlety. Also, I wanted to post it here because the social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter, always make photos with this kind of subtle light look like crap. I realize the services are compressing them, but it still makes me a bit frustrated.
Want to see more storm photos from this year, including tornadoes? Check out the 2015 storm gallery – as always, a work in progress.
Well, it’s been a heck of a storm-chasing trip, and it’s about to end. I finally have my car back after post-deer-strike repairs, and I may or may not chase one more day before hitting the road for Florida. It’s going to be a long haul from here in Nebraska.
I’ve seen a wealth of dramatic storms this trip. I’ve now posted the full gallery of photos from the May 27 tornadoes at Canadian, Texas. Though if you want to check out the video, it’s included in this post, too. The biggest tornado barely moved, and I shot it over Canadian’s railroad bridge, a foreground I’ve always wanted in front of a storm. I never dreamed it would be a tornado like the one on May 27. Unfortunately, it seriously injured three people at a gas plant outside of town.
For other reports – I’m still adding photos and video – see the 2015 storm chasing gallery.
This has been a tough storm chase so far. My first chase day was May 8, and I’ve just posted photos from that day and May 9 on the 2015 storm chase gallery page. A tough storm chase usually means difficult-to-get storms – though I saw a classic tornado with friends on May 13 in Guthrie, Texas (video above). It can also mean so much driving that I don’t have time to keep up with the blog and gallery, also the case this year. But the worst thing was that I struck a deer while traveling a few days ago, and my car is now in a garage in Nebraska for extensive repairs.
I’ve reunited with friends and continue to tour the Plains. Look for more updates soon.
Still, there’s nothing more therapeutic than standing by the ocean, listening to the waves and thunder, while trying to capture a lightning bolt with my camera. Check out all the April storm photos here.
Stay tuned – the Tornado Alley chase is coming soon!
It’s been about a year since I chased tornado-warned storms in central Florida. This is one of the most popular videos on my YouTube channel. Of course, I didn’t see any tornadoes, but there was some awesome cloud structure on March 29, 2014, that sure looked like one for a minute.It’s been mostly quiet in east-central Florida so far this year, with a little severe weather passing through last week. Even in Florida, we’re feeling the effect of a long, cold winter – only here it’s cool and beautiful!
My chaser friends are starting to buzz about the season to come. Will there be an early burst of activity in May? Will the more serious severe weather pattern kick in later? Now the suspense begins. I’ll be posting updates here and at SkyDiary.com, my storm-chasing site, as I chase storms in Florida and in Tornado Alley. Stay tuned.