The Storm Lapse photography workshop this year stands out as one of my most memorable journeys since embarking on my storm chasing adventures in 2016. Most days unveiled fresh supercell thunderstorms adorned with captivating rotations, breathtaking cloud formations, a plethora of imposing lightning strikes, and even a few tornado sightings. It was a week that fulfilled every expectation one could have for a thrilling week of storm chasing.
This year, our chase expedition spanned from June 24th to July 1st, taking us on a thrilling journey through the heartland of the United States. Our route led us through the picturesque landscapes of Colorado, the windswept plains of the Oklahoma panhandle, the vast expanses of Kansas, the rolling fields of Nebraska, and the wide open skies of southeastern Wyoming.
During the week, three, and perhaps even four, of our chase days saw us in the midst of tornado-warned storms, offering us the incredible opportunity to capture a couple of tornadoes in action. One of these tornadoes boasted a strong rotating base and remained on the ground for 10 to 12 minutes.
While racing to stay out in front of the advancing storm, I seized the opportunity to snap this exquisite shot through the car window using my iPhone 14 Pro Max. The sheer magnificence of these storms is truly breathtaking, and it becomes most evident when you find yourself in a location where nothing obstructs the horizon. There are no trees or buildings to impede the view, only endless farmland stretching as far as the eye can discern, and above all, the boundless expanse of the sky!
The night concluded with an otherworldly cloud formation, resembling a gateway to a different realm.
The sky was completely shrouded in darkness, save for a striking oval aperture at its center, which unveiled the distant tops of yet another storm with a few lightning strikes within. While you can witness this phenomenon in the video, I've included a screenshot for your reference below.
The following morning, we embarked on an early departure to reach the Oklahoma panhandle, where we intercepted a pair of sizable storms in Guymon. The initial storm bore a remarkable resemblance to a colossal mothership, its massive form gliding leisurely overhead. Despite the absence of lightning, the sight was utterly captivating. The curtain of rain cascading from the storm's core, coupled with the play of angles and contrasts against the backdrop of the brilliant blue sky, rendered it an exquisitely beautiful spectacle.
Approximately thirty minutes later, at 6:48 pm, we intercepted yet another storm in Guymon, Oklahoma. This particular storm was accompanied by a substantial display of cloud-to-ground lightning. We dedicated nearly an hour to capturing photographs of this storm as it leisurely traversed from left to right before gradually dissipating. Although it had a tornado warning, it did not produce one during our observation. It's truly remarkable how each storm exhibits its distinct appearance and behavior.
This storm contained a lot of branch lightning, allowing for some incredible lightning photography and timelapses.
As the sun began its descent and the daytime storms journeyed eastward, we embarked on a northern route through Liberal, Kansas, where we stopped during sunset at the Restlawn Cemetery to seize the enchanting hues of pink clouds in the twilight. Our good fortune persisted during our cemetery visit, as lightning activity surged once more from one of the eastbound storms. This particular bolt, featured below, emerged as the pinnacle moment among the frames documented during this captivating timelapse sequence.
The following morning, we departed from our hotel and set our course for Kimball, Nebraska, an area our storm-chasing team believed held the most promising prospects for encountering a severe storm, possibly even a tornado.
As the afternoon transitioned into evening, one of the supercells we were tracking attained a tornado warning status, and we were fortunate enough to bear witness to the tornado's formation. This tornado was the largest I had personally seen up to that point. While it didn't adhere to the classic tornado shape, its rotation and size was awe-inspiring. It meandered across the landscape, moving from right to left, and remained on the ground for approximately 10-12 minutes.
Once the tornado formed, I rushed over and retrieved my tripod and camera to reposition it for the tornado. In my haste, I neglected to tighten the ball head properly. While dashing to my new vantage point, the camera and lens flopped downward, with the lens making contact with one of the tripod legs. Fortunately, no damage occurred, but when I attempted to focus manually, I discovered the lens wouldn't focus to infinity. Frustrated, I swiftly switched to my iPhone 14 Pro Max and utilized its 4K video mode to capture the tornado, thinking it was better than nothing.
To my surprise, the video managed to record a lightning strike within the tornado, a moment my Canon EOS R5 might have missed had I been shooting a timelapse. Sometimes, things align favorably even when it initially appears that luck is not on your side.
After a lengthy day of chasing storms, we made our way to our lodging in Brush, Colorado, strategically positioning ourselves for the anticipated storms the following day. Approximately an hour after arriving at the hotel, our phones suddenly blared with alarms, alerting us to a freshly issued tornado warning.
I had been monitoring the storm on radar even before the warning was issued and had noticed the distinctive hook echo, which led me to suspect the presence of a tornado. The confirmation came with the official alert, and it appeared that the storm was on a direct path toward our motel. Nighttime is particularly perilous during tornado events because their approach goes unseen. In response, all the guests gathered in the hallway on the first floor of the motel, while many of the storm chasers positioned themselves outside beneath the entrance overhang to observe the advancing tempest. Fortunately, the tornado itself narrowly passed to the south of us, but the motel suffered damage from golf ball-sized hail driven by the wind, resulting in a few broken windows
On the following day, the 29th, we decided to stay in Colorado due to the heightened tornado risk in the area. Although the storms we had been chasing this day eventually succumbed to an excess of cold air, it was during this phase of disorganization that we encountered some distinctive low cloud outflows and other low, fast-moving cloud formations.
On our final day of chasing, the 30th, we were treated to yet another impressive supercell to capture on camera. While this storm, too, did not give rise to a tornado, it did offer some striking structural formations.
For me, as a photographer, storm chasing isn't solely about tornadoes. It's about capturing the awe-inspiring sunsets that grace the aftermath of a storm, the enchanting way the low-angle sun illuminates cumulus clouds as the storm retreats, the mesmerizing rotation and motion of a mesocyclone, the dramatic arrival of a storm's gust front, and the electrifying displays of lightning that frequently accompany these meteorological phenomena. Every storm possesses its own distinctive characteristics, and each storm-chasing expedition consistently serves up unexpected surprises, regardless of what the initial forecast may have indicated.