Out in the Great Plains in the central United States from Texas to the Dakotas, much of the interesting landscape is in the sky. Storms develop from the clash of cold air from the Rocky Mountains and the north with warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. They have great clouds as they move over relatively flat land. These supercell storms can often rise to over 50,000 feet in elevation.
This past April, I went on my second trip with Tempest Tours, a storm chasing company. We spent the week in Texas chasing tornadoes and supercell storms. There were two drivers and a tour director who were all meteorologists along with eight participants on the tour. Several of the participants were serious photographers but everyone was a lover of storms.
We met every morning in our hotel with the meteorologists. They have access to online weather models which they used to decide where we needed to be later in the afternoon. We would then pile into the vans with all our gear and drive, sometimes as much as three hundred miles. As we approached the area where the storms were, you could feel the adrenaline rush as “the chase” was on.
These supercell storms often were accompanied by heavy rain, lightning, large hail and, if the conditions were good, a tornado. As the storms were moving, we tried to get ahead of them for the best images. Depending on our location and the speed of the storm, the tour director would tell us how much time we had at each stop.
The stops could be anywhere from two to ten minutes and we had to be ready to quickly pile back in the van at a moment’s notice. After a stop, we would drive up the road to look for another spot to stop and photograph from. On chase days, we routinely stayed out until after dark.
Most of my images were hand-held at higher ISO because, other than for lightning images at night or when we had a long stop, there was normally no time to set up a tripod. I had to move quickly, compose, and shoot. I brought two Nikon full-frame cameras with two lenses and a tripod for the trip. I used a 16-35mm lens and a 28-300mm lens on the bodies and had both out at each stop.