I am obsessed with weather.
Ever since I began my path into the world of nature photography, it is weather that dictates the quality of light, the mood and ultimately makes or breaks the emotional connection necessary to make a powerful image. Understanding weather in all its forms was very important to me from the very beginning of my career. The more I learned, the more dramatic weather appealed to me.
I am a landscape and nature photographer from Dorset and I’m incredibly fortunate to travel to many of the world’s most spectacular locations as my job, travelling to the plains every year to chase storms. I have been storm chasing since 2011 and am always looking forward to the next adventure.
In 2011, I managed to find a guide who was working as a meteorologist in the USA and I arranged for him to lead me to the most severe weather on the planet - supercell thunderstorms. The very first day of that trip was one I will never forget. It changed everything for me. Having met in Denver, we immediately drove the best part of 800 miles into Northern Montana where the parameters were best that day for severe thunderstorms. That was to be the day I would see my first supercell thunderstorm, and still to this day, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Standing in the path of a monster storm like that was incredibly humbling, a storm with so much beauty and energy yet capable of so much devastation left me in a nervous state of awe and wonder. I became obsessed with learning and teaching myself, through whatever means necessary, the science behind the forecasting of these particular storms. The learning around this will never end, and I’m certain will fascinate me for the rest of my days. Every bolt of lightning and rumble of thunder is incredible, and coupled with the shape and structure of these severe storms as well as the adrenaline rush make it the one trip every year I look forward to the most.
I now work full-time as a landscape and nature photographer, often leading groups of photographers around the world to photograph various subjects. From storms on the Great Plains or lava in Hawaii to photographing aerials from helicopters and beyond. Working around these more adventurous and potentially volatile subjects will very occasionally put one in difficult situations. When leading a group I have to be much more safety conscious but at times without my clients, I have been in situations very close to major tornadoes and seeing the damage these storms can produce. On 20 May 2013 I was in the City of Moore in Oklahoma when a massive F5 tornado tore through the town. I remember vividly watching the destruction occurring in my mirrors as I drove away out of town and to safety. I was only in town for lunch that day waiting to see where the storms would form but everything changed and happened far earlier than expected that day. This tornado caused catastrophic damage to the town and took the lives of 24 people.
This was to be the one and only time I have been near storms in an urban environment. I will always stay away from any storm setup heading into populated areas for several reasons, some for the safety of myself and my clients but also so as not to be in the way of any rescue attempts by the emergency services. For me the beauty of these storms is best observed over open countryside where damage and risks kept to a minimum.
The forecasting side of things is something I have learned a great deal about in recent years. Looking around online at various sources of information to get a target area is the easier bit generally. Websites like the SPC (Storm Prediction Centre) really help with this but it’s the fine tuning, often looking into an area with thousands of square miles to determine what will happen and where, as storm initiation gets nearer. Accessing various weather models in the hours of early afternoon, along with surface observations and more is essential, hedging your bets on what outcome looks most likely. I really love this element of storm chasing. One has to be obsessed, cross-referencing so much information waiting for the first storms to show on radar so that the show can begin.
We average around 600 miles of driving a day when storm chasing. Some days get up towards and even over a thousand miles when having to move between emerging weather systems.
Over the years there have been many memorable moments. To this day my favourite was a pretty isolated supercell, over open countryside near Leoti in Kansas, US. This was the first day of a tour I was leading, we left our Denver airport hotel mid morning after a good sleep and drove just a few hundred miles into Kansas. We followed this storm from just a tiny rain shower and watched it grow and grow as the afternoon unfolded. After seeing a couple of small but beautiful tornadoes over farmland the storm slowed down and rotated in the same place for hours. Supercell thunderstorms can travel at crazy speeds and sometimes just a fleeting glimpse is the best that can be achieved. Not on this particular day however. This one storm with some of the best structure I had ever seen was very cooperative. The storm became prettier and prettier and so did the light as sunset approached. During this time the lightning appears more vividly and is still balanced with the ambient light providing the perfect photographic opportunities. My entire group were calm, relaxed and had the chance to make images of this wonderful spectacle until it was dark.
Spending time with weather in this way is more than the adrenaline and the photographic opportunities for me. Every storm is just amazing, the experience and the feelings of being humbled and observing nature in its most powerful form change you. The jubilation of getting the forecasting perfect and being rewarded will keep me going and keep me happy for many years to come I hope.
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