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Sunday, November 30, 2008

April 6th, 2006 -- me and my friend Josh are following a storm in northcentral Kansas. Unfortunately, we were on the back end of this one, which made it hard to catch. About 15 minutes after we shot this, this storm put down a tornado.

When you're underneath a storm, sometimes you lose track of how incredibly massive it is. The clouds at the top of this picture are nearly nine miles straight up -- almost twice as tall as Mount Everest.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

May 29th, 2008 -- Kearney, Nebraska had just been struck by an EF2 tornado, tearing down trees, knocking over homes, and stacking cars atop one another. A few hours later, near sunset, this scene unfolded -- the beautiful (but harmless) mammatus clouds of the now-distant storm, high overhead.

Friday, November 28, 2008

May 26, 2006, Central Kansas -- The edge of a supercell turned squall line. It took us about half an hour of driving through intermittent hail to get ahead of this thing, which came as a bit of a surprise, as the storm accelerated east at 50mph while we were under it.

I'm honestly not quite sure about the cause of the purple color. The sun was setting and the storm was producing copious quantities of hail and lightning. My guess is that the reddish sunlight mixed with the bluish color of the lightning inside the clouds to create the rather bizarre color that came out in the photo.

This was one of the most beautiful storms I've ever seen, despite being what Kansas residents would call a "garden variety squall". That's the great part about storm chasing -- you never know when a storm is going to figuratively knock your socks off. (The terrifying part is that you never know when a storm is going to literally knock your socks off.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

One of the Doppler on Wheels radar trucks scans a previously tornadic supercell Republic County, Kansas in May of 2004. Run by Dr. Josh Wurman out of Boulder, Colorado, the DOW trucks are part of a research effort known as "Project ROTATE". They drive these babies near storms and gather high resolution radar data in an effort to better understand tornadoes.

This particular truck has since been retired for a newer, upgraded truck. You can see the DOW trucks in action in the Discovery Channel series "Storm Chasers".

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Near O'Neill, Nebraska, June, 2004 -- the same storm as from yesterday's picture. This was one of those scenes I just had to stop the car and photograph. I wish I'd shot it when the tornado was still conical; at this point it is "roping out" -- or elongating and getting skinnier, a process most tornadoes go through before dissipating.

The tornado appears white because I am shooting it from the west. The sunlight, coming in from the west, reveals the true color of all tornadoes... white. They are nothing more than clouds (and a bit of dust), after all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

O'Neill, Nebraska, June, 2004 -- I just pull up after a large cone tornado blows through. The damage you see here is likely caused by RFD winds, not the tornado itself. Back when I shot this, I was still pretty green at chasing -- not knowing what "atomized rain" meant, I darn near drove into the tornado itself. As you can see, people in Nebraska are great -- the storm isn't gone more than three minutes, and already the community is clearing the road.

Monday, November 24, 2008

April 24, 2008, somewhere near Hoxie, Kansas. We'd been hovering in Atwood, Kansas for a couple hours, waiting to see which nearby storm would take over and dominate the area. It ended up being a storm just to our southeast. We jetteed east, then south to catch up with it right about here; I shot this out the passenger window as we raced south to Hoxie. In the distance, you can see a pretty low wall cloud.

I don't think this storm ever really produced a tornado, though it threatened to do so several times. If you watch "Storm Chasers" on the Discovery channel, this is the storm the DOW team attempted to intercept in episode one of season two.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The damage a tornado can leave in its wake is surreal, both on the macro and the mirco scale. This is a dollar bill that was literally embedded into a bathroom door near Aurora, Nebraska on May 29th, 2008. The occupants of the house survived without injury in the home's basement.

Since I first released this photo, a family member of mine told me that this picture was making the rounds in the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, where the bill was minted.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A storm drifts over interstate 80 west of Kearney, Nebraska, September 15, 2006. This looks menacing, but it didn't really get wound up for another 25 minutes. By then, we'd stupidly abandoned the storm and gone after another, reminding us of a lesson that most chasers know -- a bird in the hand is almost always better than two in the bush!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This was the storm we nearly gave up on. We spent most of April 23, 2006, sitting in the parking lot of various hotels in Hays, Kansas, quietly sucking down free wifi internet and watching for any sign of initiation -- the moment when storms start firing. It was getting late, and the day seemed a bust. That's how it goes sometimes; you drive forever, show up where you expect to see a storm, and nothing happens.

But not that day; at around six in the evening, we noticed rows of cumulus clouds stacking up to our east on the NOAA satellite images. Cumulus clouds are those big cottonballs you see drifting overhead in the spring and summer; when you see them starting bunch up and get taller, a storm could be brewing. So we jetted east of Hays, ran into fellow chasers (hey Amos!), and watched this storm evolve over our head. Beautiful, just beautiful.

This was shot atop a hill in rural northcentral Kansas, looking west just after sunset. I only took a few from here -- it was one of those "run out, take a picture, run back in" type deals, as standing atop the tallest hill for miles with a metal tripod in an electrical storm is one way to get yourself your own FARK headline for all the wrong reasons.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

June 6, 2007, in North Central Nebraska -- night had nearly fallen. We were just ahead of a massive gust front -- a large area of wind rushing out of a line of storms. Looking at the horizon, we suddenly realized we were about to be enveloped by a Haboob -- a huge dust storm, rolling across the prairie.

This picture is a happy accident. I meant to focus on the horizon; instead, I stupidly turned the focus ring the other way, to focus on near objects. I fired the flash to light the foreground, and this is what I got -- thousands and thousands of dust particles flying through the air. We got out of there pretty quick after this -- dust this thick isn't terribly good for cameras.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pulling off the gravel road, we could just barely make it out in the distance -- a wedge tornado crossing the interstate, just south of Quinter, Kansas on May 23, 2008. It was too late to get ahead of the storm; all we could do was watch it retreat into the distance. The day wasn't over, though; there were more storms to come, and the chase went on into the night.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Storm chaser Darren Addy watches a severe storm retreat in southcentral Nebraska, September 15, 2006. Much of the time, chasing is driving, driving, driving, and waiting -- but in the end, all you're hoping to do is just this -- watch a storm.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We were finally far enough ahead of the squall line to get a distance shot -- and now the sun was going away. I notice this man, who turned out to be a Canadian chaser, standing alongside the highway, posing as his friend snaps a photo. In the distance, the squall was advancing like something out of a science fiction novel, roiling with turbulence.

This was shot on May 16, 2006, in northcentral Kansas. The leaning effect you see with the man is actually due to the inherent distortion of shooting with such a wide-angle lens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is the destroyed bedroom of a home south of Aurora, Nebraska. The family who lived here were fortunately not in bed -- but were instead all huddled deep in the basement when the tornado struck. The twister shredded the house, but everyone escaped without injury. If you look close up above, you can see some corrugated sheet metal - this is part of a grain silo that originally stood about a hundred yards away. The silo was destroyed and part of the metal was wrapped around the roof of the house.

This damage was caused by the storm that is pictured in yesterday's Big Storm Picture, on May 29, 2008.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Finally, out ahead of this thing!" Just east of Kearney, Nebraska, I finally emerged far enough ahead of this supercell to get some good photos of the entire sky spinning like a top. Prior to this I'd punched along I-80 underneath the RFD (an area of strong winds to the rear of a storm) and through the hook (the area most likely to form a tornado) -- now I was finally in the inflow, the area near and ahead of a storm that draws air up into it. If you're ever near a storm and feel the wind at your back, blowing up into it -- you're in the inflow.

By this point, the storm had already dropped several tornadoes and torn up a swath of Kearney. After this photo, it kept marching east, where eventually it destroyed homes near Aurora, Nebraska. This was one of the more visually impressive - and structurally bizarre - storms I've ever chased.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"What the hell is THAT?" Zipping east down I-80, just minutes after watching three tornadoes tear through the town of Kearney, Nebraska, I come across this... thing. It's big. It looks like it belongs in Iraq. It's the TIV2 -- the Tornado Intercept Vehicle, version 2. Built by Storm Chaser and IMAX photographer Sean Casey and clocking in at no less than 16,500 pounds, the 6-wheel-drive TIV2 with armor plating and bullet-proof glass is nothing short of a tank -- a tank designed to get him and his crew INSIDE a tornado for the ultimate shot in his IMAX film. If you get the Discovery Channel, you're probably already familiar with Sean and his new wheels -- Storm Chasers is quite a good (and popular) show.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

May 23, 2008 -- just southwest of Quinter, Kansas. To the north of this mess, (not visible), a wedge tornado is crossing Interstate 70. I regret not being further north and getting better shots of the twister -- but sometimes nearly every angle on a storm is incredible.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Quick, find something photogenic!" We'd just finished punching through the hail core of a storm that had transitioned from a supercell into a the beginnings of a squall line; twenty solid minutes of driving through blinding rain and pea sized hail, and now we were in the clear, out in front of this thing. Darren, who was driving, noticed a barn coming up to our north. A quick pull off, and we jump out of the car. I slap down the tripod and take this photo, which to this day is one of my favorites. Just as fast, we're back in the car, speeding off -- the winds are picking up ahead of the gust front and the squall is racing at us at almost 60 miles per hour -- we don't want to battle it again.

This was shot in northcentral Kansas on May 26, 2006.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Today's photo is of a man -- who shall remain nameless -- climbing up a windmill shortly after a storm passed in rural central Nebraska on September 15, 2006. Windmills are a dime a dozen on the Great Plains, and with the grand windstorms we see, you can understand why.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Today's photo is from near Valley, Nebraska. This is part of a line of storms that struck eastern Nebraska and western Iowa that day, killing four Boy Scouts just across the border, north of Omaha. It was a very tricky system to chase, as the tornadoes were embedded in a squall line (a long line of storm that usually produce a great deal of wind and rain, but rarely tornadoes) and were moving very rapidly to the northeast. An entire carload of storm chasers accidentally drove into a tornado a bit north of my position; they ended up on the Today Show.

This photo is looking to the southwest. I'd just finished shooting the approaching squall directly to the west when I looked almost directly up to my southwest and caught this wall cloud rapidly approaching my location. A wall cloud is a rotating cloud that lowers from a supercellular storm and is often a precursor to a tornado. I packed up right after this photo and booked it east to Omaha.

This photo was shot at sunset in western Iowa on April 15, 2006, at the end of a long, frustrating day of chasing. There were tornadoes that day, but I missed them.

This is an extreme zoom-in on "convection" of a storm about 15 miles away. Convection are those pillowy, cauliflower-like clouds you see rising out of a storm. They're caused as massive, turbulent updrafts loft moisture in high into the sky where it condenses into clouds -- and eventually rain. As the moisture condenses, it releases heat, which drives even more moisture even further up.

This photo was shot just east of O'Neill, Nebraska. This tornado appears white because I was shooting it from the west, and the sun, a bit low in the west, is lighting up the funnel. Almost all tornadoes are white (they are giant spinning *clouds*, after all); a tornado usually appears grey or dark because rain and other clouds prevent most sunlight from reaching it, and because most of the time chasers take pictures of tornadoes from the east -- catching the side of a tornado that faces away from the sun. This was a rare exception to that rule... and so it looked snow white.

This was shot back when I was still using film, and thus the grain.
On May 7, 2005, a supercell went through Holdrege, Nebraska, and put down a small, dusty tornado. The twister spun up to the south of town and then darted northeast, just missing the Holdrege airfield. In continued north and either lifted or hopscothed north until it got just east of Kearney, Nebraska.

This is a photo taken from the dash of my windshield as I drove south down Highway 183 into Holdrege. (I was shooting film back then -- thus the film grain.) In the distance is a large, lowering, disorganized "wall cloud" -- a cloud that is often a precursor to a tornado.

The view when I got to the south end of town. This is looking almost directly up into the sky with a very wide angle lens. I ended up backing off a bit, as I didn't want a tornado to drop on top of me.

The local Family Dollar store -- with a tornadic debris cloud about a half mile behind it. This is looking to the east.

Looking east down 11th Avenue. You can see the debris cloud in the distance. Forunately, the damage from this tornado was minimal, as it only tracked over farmland, taking out a barn and a few pivots.
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