Storm chasing and capturing the beauty of mother nature is my passion. I try to get out as often as possible to chase storms in Iowa and surrounding states but sometimes its hard to get to storms that are many hours from home when your working full time. So each year over the past 5 years I take two weeks off work to head out to the Great Plains and the Midwest searching for all types of severe weather. Storm chasers call this “Chasecation”. This year I went out on Chasecation June 2 – 16. It’s a little later than I normally go because in May I traveled to Arches and Joshua Tree National Parks for night skies photography.
2018 has been an interesting year when it comes to severe weather patterns across the US. Severe weather and tornadoes are down this year with drought conditions widespread across the southern Plains into portions of the Midwest. As June approached it was becoming clear that the overall weather pattern would not be conducive for widespread severe weather. A large dome of high pressure anchored over the central US would keep the jet stream far to the north with limited opportunities for widespread severe weather. I briefly considered cancelling my chasecation and look for setups close to home this summer. But after thinking about it and looking ahead at the weather forecast a few days before departure I decided to keep chasecation on the calendar and go.
Weather forecasts are key in order to get into a good position to find photogenic storms and this year the forecasting was difficult. I had to look for small disturbances in the atmosphere, frontal positions, moisture availability and other factors to figure out if they would produce severe weather. While a few of the days where down or travel days from a chasing perspective, several other days presented themselves as decent storm chasing days. And on those days I took full advantage of the situation. It’s not impossible to find photogenic storms even in years like this one if your willing to drive long distances to get to severe weather. During this years chasecation I spent several 10+ hour days in the car simply to get into position to target severe thunderstorms.
Once you arrive storms are not a guarantee. Its very possible that no severe weather develops. Its frustrating for sure and this years chasecation had a few days like that. Either the storms didn’t develop in the target location or the target was wrong. It happens and its easy to get upset with yourself when that happens. I fell victim to this and thats OK. All storms chasers have felt this pain. It is, however, a learning opportunity and I feel that this years mistakes will make me a better chaser and photographer in the future.
So where did I end up this year? My chasecation travels took me from Iowa to North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas. It was my first time to Montana and North Dakota so that was neat visiting those states for the first time. Total miles traveled on chasecation this year came to 6203! For that effort I intercepted and photographed 3 tornadoes. The tornadoes were not very photogenic and short lived. Fortunately they didn’t cause any damage. Tornadoes are not the only reason I go storm chasing. I found several storms that had beautiful cloud structure. Some storms put on a great lightning show and I was able to capture lightning photos. I’m not the kind of storm chaser that gets all bent out of shape if I don’t see a tornado. As long as I see angry skies while I’m enjoying the outdoors I’m a happy camper. Also I get the opportunity to see parts of the United States that I don’t get to see on a day to day basis as well as meeting many people along the way and making new friends.
This years chasecation also gave me the opportunity to keep improving on my extreme weather and landscape photography. When out in the field intercepting a storm I always try to look for something neat to have in the foreground. That doesn’t happen all the time so when your presented with a “boring” foreground I made the best of it. I tried different camera angles or looked for things that would give me leading lines to the storm such as roads, crops, or fence rows. I focused on using what I was presented with to make the foreground work with the storm I had intercepted. I feel that I did a really good job at that this year.
Its also important that when your out and about chasing storms be sure to get out of the car! As long as safety permits get out with your camera and take those photos. Don’t sit in the car and let the storm pass you by. Or worse let a once in a lifetime photo opportunity pass you by.
I’m looking forward to the remainder of the severe weather season in Iowa. I’m sure a few more chase opportunities will present themselves before we head into the cooler weather of fall. Be sure to keep an eye on this photography page for new photos that will be uploaded from my adventures this spring.
© Willard Sharp