One of my favorite "passions" in photography is hopping into the car and head out to the Plains for an afternoon/night of storm chasing. I've always been mesmerized by the weather and specifically, severe storms. I think it was growing up in the San Luis Valley and seeing electrical storms pass through that started my fascination with storm chasing; electrical storms are dry thunderstorms that produce frequent lightning but drop little to no rain.
Fast forward to 2006, I got my first taste with storm chasing with my friend Jeff Dokmo in Gunnison, Colorado. We caught a thunderstorm passing over Gunnison while we were at the airport toying around with long exposures, this was the first lightning photo I ever took and it's safe to say that this baited the hook.
That was a really fun night but I had to wait over a year until I got my next chance to take photos of lightning, when there was a very strong thunderstorm that rumbled through Monte Vista, Colorado and parked over the Sangre de Christo mountains to the east. To this day, I've never seen a thunderstorm with this much lightning and clear skies all around. I don't know the cloud height, but the mountains at the bottom of the screen go above 14,000 ft., so I think the cloud tops were easily over 40,000 ft.!
More than a couple years went by after this night and I found myself back in the mountains outside of Gunnison, coming back from seeing a play at the Creede Repertory Theater, when another great lightning producer was just ahead of me along Colorado Hwy. 149 near Powderhorn.
What I enjoy so much about chasing around lightning and severe storms is that the power of nature is on full display and you will feel so humbled watching a towering thunderstorm rotating, threatening to drop a tornado. This is a fun hobby that I like to do whenever the conditions are just right along the Colorado plains, I'm just not dedicated enough to chase a storm outside of Colorado...yet.
Here are a few tips and warnings about storm chasing and the dangers of this hobby.
- Always have an escape route. Odds are that you are not a meteorologist and though your RadarScope app is helpful, you can put yourself in extreme danger by not having an escape route.
- DO NOT take shelter under an overpass, or a gas station canopy. Never a good idea!
- Lightning can extend for miles ahead and behind a storm, so even if the rain has stopped you may not be out of danger. No photo is worth getting struck!
- Know the roads you are using, if you get in a bad situation you don't want to be at a dead end on a county road.
- Storm chasing is becoming more and more popular, DO NOT cause traffic jams with other storm chasers. Get out of the way and recognize when the situation is best left to the pros.
One thing you can also do is study weather and know the anatomy of a thunderstorm and where the safest section is and learn where the "bear cage" is at so you can avoid it. Also, please obey all traffic laws and drive responsibly.
Here are a few highlight photos that show the beauty of lightning and severe storms.