Many chasers will tell you that a tornado isn't necessary to have a successful chase, and that some storms that don't produce tornadoes can be just as beautiful, if not more, than those that do. Well, I'm here to tell you that they are absolutely right! Below are a few photos I've taken over the years that back up this theory.
This photo is a good example of the reason I get out to chase storms. I don't get out to see devastation or to watch things get obliterated. I drive hundreds of miles for scenes like this. I love the warm colors, the feeling of Heaven on Earth. This photo was taken during one of the most perfect storm chases ever. I had to be patient and wait for it, and when I did it paid off mightily. This was actually the second tornado the storm produced out of a total of four. I wanted to get a non-standard shot where the subject was hiding but easily found, and the colors helped me pull it off. Not long after, it would produce the last two tornadoes of equal beauty and majesty, all the while causing no damage at all.
This photo has been one of my favorites since it was taken in May of 2012. I drove up to Kansas believing I would just be chasing one long line of thunderstorms and there wouldn't be a whole lot to it, but was pleasantly surprised by numerous land spouts that the storm produced in the span of about an hour. This is probably the one that gave the best photo opportunity. A funnel dropping from a sky that appeared to be made of cotton balls, and one of the intriguing parts of the photo is the condensation swirl at the base of the road far to the right of where the funnel appears to be coming down. I believe it was connected to the funnel, but in the beginning I thought there may be two tornadoes at the same time, one just not visible. The scene with the storm chasers with their cameras catching the action wraps it up neatly, and the gray/green contrast really made the photo pop. This was taken north of Kingman, KS and there were several land spouts just minutes before and after this one produced. What an exciting day it was!
It was a chase that took me 8 hours away through three states, into the flat plains of Eastern Colorado. The wind was steady at 40 mph all day long, and a slight risk for severe weather had been issued. I sat on the dusty plains watching dust devils spin their way across the dry soil. Storms started to brew, but just as quick as they bubbled up they went away. Finally, just south of Burlington, CO one took hold and developed into a massive supercell, with an anvil that stretched southward with hints of mammatus underneath. Rays of sunlight beamed through shining down upon the land, and just above a deep blue sky that provided the perfect contrast. A base so low it seemed as if you could jump up and touch it. It was the first shot of many on that early April day, but made an impression for all time.
This is one of the first photos I took with a DSLR camera. I had just purchased a Canon Rebel XS and was planning to primarily use it for storm season, but could wait 4 more months before I made use of it. I went out for a walk and went to a nearby pond where geese and ducks make their winter refuge, hoping to capture a few wildlife shots and see how my new camera did. I happened upon this feather hanging by a thread off of a plant, and thought it would make a great photo if I could get it close enough and still capture it clearly. I couldn't be more thrilled with the way it turned out, and to this day is one of my favorite "macro" shots.
A powerful cold front came through a couple of days ago in Oklahoma, parts of Texas and Arkansas. Temps fell to the single digits overnight, and four inches of snow dropped in some areas. I took the opportunity for a trip into Western Oklahoma to capture a few night scenes with the starry skies, hoping the snow would help make for a great photo. So, standing in sub 20 degree temperatures I spent some time on a few test shots and got some cold extremities in the process. I ended up with this shot that really came out pretty well considering there wasn't anything to really help compose the shot other than a barbed wire fence, a field and some trees. The glowing lights in the photo weren't really visible to the naked eye, but here they are really the lights from two distant towns.
I was going through some photos from earlier this year and it took me back to May 19th, 2013 in Southern Kansas when we caught this beautiful rope tornado. We had just entered into Kansas and made our way up to South Haven, and was watching a shelf cloud gather itself and push east. So, we jumped in the car and moved slightly to the south and west, and luckily enough came upon the portion of the storm that had just enough organization that it started rotating and dropping this beauty. I worked it up in black in white in this photo to help translate the dramatic scene.
"Ghost" - May 19th, 2013
I took this photo on October 14th, 2013 southeast of Seiling, OK. Storms were moving to the east and started to line out, so I stopped and tried to compose a few shots. A came across this old windmill with the clouds behind it and set up for the shot. It turned out beautifully, and it really popped in black and white.
About once a year during storm season, somewhere between North Dakota and Texas there is one day, one storm that just makes your jaw drop and hit the floor. Maybe it's the power, maybe it's the incredible structure, or a bit of both. May 29th, 2012 was such a day.
My day had started off as any other. Get up, go to work, answer phone calls, respond to emails. SPC had a slight risk assigned for the afternoon, and with it being late in the storm season on the southern plains I hadn't planned on getting out and getting set up as I normally do. As the day wore on it reached 3pm...nothing. Another hour passed, still nothing. Finally 5pm showed up and I left work. The cap had held and I had a chance to move north from OKC, so I quickly moved to the Northwest Expressway and headed north on Highway 81. Around 6pm a storm had started developing further to the north, just west of Enid, OK. By this time I had made it to the north of Kingfisher, and as always I was wondering if I was going to miss the show by not being in position early enough. I watched the storm on radar grow, but at the same time a small cell had started developing near Hennessey. With a decision to make, I chose to stay south of the main storm and hope for the best. It was the one of the better decisions I've made in chasing.
The cell just to the west of Hennessey developed quickly. It started to take on the "stacked pancake" look (shown above) and began rotating. I followed the cell almost straight to the south along Highway 81. It slowly moved toward Kingfisher, OK and developed a massive wall cloud, almost guaranteeing a tornado on the ground at any moment. With an audience of chasers, locals, and media helicopters it put on such a show, rotating and twisting it's way to the south and now moving more to the east. It went to the northeast of the small town of Okarche and towards the OKC metro area. I quickly dropped to the east on Northwest Expressway and moved to the south towards Yukon. It was then the structure of the storm reached it peak. A gorgeous, monster of a storm with structure that was visible from top to bottom, with a perfectly round core at the bottom dropping baseball sized hail encapsulated in a blueish green hue, back lit in a way as if it were announcing its arrival to everyone. The storm went on to produce a small tornado near the Northwest Expressway, the same place I had traveled through earlier in the day and on the way back. On this day though, the storm itself was the star. The photo named "Supercell" was born, and a moment caught in time that will be tough to match anytime soon.
Looking back at the 2012 chase season, there were many places and images that I can think of that take be back to a specific place and time that I'll carry with me the rest of my life. One of those images is the one above, the one I named "Dreamy".
The day started with a low expectation of severe storms in the northern Texas panhandle and into the Oklahoma panhandle. Not wanting to drive 4 to 5 hours away, I chose to stay further south and hope for western Oklahoma near Arnett. I sat and waited in the heat in the early afternoon, watching the popcorn clouds develop but staying apart from each other like they were opposite sides of a magnet pushing each other away. A little later, storms had started developing in the eastern Texas panhandle, so I dropped south a bit and headed west towards the building towers. I arrived about an hour later to watch the developing storm begin to die off due to capping, and took a couple of photos that really didn't amount to much.
About the same time a robust thunderstorm had gone up to the north near the Oklahoma border. Again, not feeling like driving all that way I held off, hoping southern storms would let loose and provide some photo opportunities. I slowly drove north after a few cells that had developed near Canadian, Tx, but as soon as I arrived, they dissipated and I was left watching a couple of gray clouds. Still, to the north the cell that had become so robust had only grown stronger, moving to the east very slowly. I kept watching it, trying to hold off as best I could. I wasn't going to drive that far on this day, even though I had already driven two hours from my front door.
After waiting in Canadian for more development, only to see blue skies overhead I had to make a decision. Go north and chase a storm, or sit in the Texas panhandle and drive back home empty handed. I couldn't resist any longer, I had to go north. The cell had been sitting on the corner of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle all afternoon it seemed. I only had an hour to get there, but it was getting later in the day so I had to move quick. I blasted north, driving on the lonely highways in the flat lands that were full of sagebrush and not a lot else. I drove over dirt roads to the north that linked parallel paved roads in Texas with those in the Oklahoma panhandle, hoping there was no dead end that would end my journey. The storm was in sight, and I was on it! But, guess what? In keeping with the theme of the day, it was too started dying off. I watched the massive thunderstorm evaporate into a single small extrusion of a cloud, as if it were trying everything in its power to stay alive.
Finally, after such a frustrating day I had decided to call it quits and head home. I had ended up four hours from home, with a long drive to the south awaiting me. I worked my way down the far western Oklahoma roads, watching radar and seeing development further south where I had begun my day. It was getting late and they held off as long as they could, leaving only a short window of light until darkness took over. I made it back to Arnett, and sure enough in the distance the cell was visible, only this time it was in full glory. I pulled over and set my tripod up along an old barbed wire fence and got my camera ready. About that time, a beautiful beam of sunlight shined upon the distant storm as if it were Heaven itself. I had captured one of the most beautiful shots I had ever taken, and was sweet redemption for a tough day of storms that didn't want me to chase them.
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