What Storm Chasing Means To Me
To me, storm chasing means experiencing the thrill and excitement of heading out into the unknown. From the fields of Michigan (my home state) to the open plains and everywhere in between. The forecasting, tracking, and positioning is as exciting, as it is stressful. But if you play your cards right, and nature is on your side, the rewards are truly amazing. It’s more than just what you do. It’s how you do it, how you feel. Emotionally, physically, and mentally. My goal is to experience mother nature at her best, or worst in many cases, and share my experiences with the world.
No storm is the same. You could intercept 50 storms in a row, and every single one of them would be different in some way. That is part of the magic. It’s never boring, because there is always something new to see. Storms even have their own distinct scents. The smell of rain cooled air, the smell of wet dust. It’s something you never forget.
I don’t chase storms to save lives. I do it because storms are awesome. I love being around and in them. It’s a feeling like nothing else. I can use my footage and knowledge to teach others about the weather by experience and study. After the storm passes, I do report to the National Weather Service when necessary, because there is an amount of research involved. Those reports do go on record. If someday it saves lives, then great. But my main focus is living in the moment, and capturing it for myself, and for everyone else to see and enjoy. If I make money along the way, then awesome. That just ensures that I will keep being able to do this.
I cannot fully describe the serenity, the wonder, and the excitement I experience when I look up into a giant mesocyclone, just churning there in the sky above me. Knowing that wind, air, is suspending millions of tons of liquid, vapor, and ice right there above me. I’ve picked up many hailstones and thought to myself what sort of journey they’ve had. This frozen layered ball of ice started out as mere water vapor. Water vapor that condensed into liquid and was pushed up above the freezing level, over and over again, by nothing more than air. You think about how much one of those hailstones weighs, and look around to see thousands of them falling all around you. It’s really a special experience. The dynamics are just amazing. To see lightning strike the Earth, at random. Lightning that is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. A single bolt can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes striking just a few yards away. You never know when it’s going to strike, or what it’s going to look like, or sound like. Each rumble, or if close enough, crackle, of thunder blasts through the air with it’s very own unique sound.
I know how each of these processes work, but even knowing the science behind them, still doesn’t take away the raw senses of experiencing it first hand. I can also tell you that there is no amount of science study on paper or online that can compare to actually being out there. Seeing it, smelling it, feeling it, hearing it.
The Ultimate Prize: Seeing A Tornado
Many people think, oh well there are hundreds of tornado videos on YouTube, it can’t possibly be that hard to find one. They think that until, they choose the wrong storm, they get stuck in traffic, they make a wrong turn, the storm makes a different turn, or becomes rain wrapped, or even dies before getting to it. Finding the tornado is hard enough, but getting into position to film it and get good photos of it is even harder. Sometimes you just get lucky, but other times, patience pays off in big ways. In my 9th year of storm chasing, I finally, got my first photogenic tornado. The Rozel, KS tornado. I came very close to seeing others prior to that. But something always prevented me from it. But when I finally saw my first one, which was so big, so beautiful, and so well behaved, it was like Dale Earnhardt winning the Daytona 500. The highlight of his career, for many years he had tried and circumstances had prevented him from winning it. That, that was the feeling I had. The highlight of my chasing career. One of the most photogenic tornadoes of all time. Didn’t kill anyone, didn’t injure anyone, didn’t tear through any cities or towns. That will always be one of the most special moments in my chasing career. Missing all of those others was worth it to get that beauty in the end. Not long after the first tornado, another beautiful, well behaved, photogenic tornado touched down to the east. A dream come true really. I only wanted one, but got two. For my first tornadoes ever, that was pretty special.
Remember, Chasing Storms Isn’t Everything…
Have you ever sat out on your porch and just watched a thunderstorm? How about shot photos and videos from that porch? I know I have. Not every storm warrants a chase. Sometimes you just want to sit at home and let it come to you, and enjoy what it has to offer. I have many fond memories with many great people just sitting out on the porch, or in a barn, or garage, just experiencing a storm for what it is. Sharing stories about past storms and other weather events. If you’ve never stopped to enjoy nature, I highly suggest it. It’s good for you!
I make sure not to overlook the rest of the world around me. There are amazing sights to behold out on the road. Nature is full of beauty, and it’s all there, just waiting for someone to capture it. Animals, insects, plants, flowers, trees. The skyscapes, sunsets, puffy cumulus clouds, wispy cirrus, and more. The fall colors, rain showers, fresh snow, rainbows, ice formations, I love it all. The world is ever changing. You will never be able to get the exact same photo twice, so don’t pass up the opportunity if it presents itself. Sometimes though, you really have to look for it. But the rewards can be wonderful. You just never know what you’ll find when you’re outdoors, experiencing all that nature has to offer. I ask that you take a moment, look around you, stop and smell those flowers. Take that walk on the beach, or down to the lake, through the woods, or through a field. Really get in touch with nature, because after all, we are all part of it, as it is a part of us.