Have you ever gone storm chasing? I mean, driving around for hours, watching (or in my case, photographing) those angry-looking clouds that sometimes form tornadoes? Well, I did just that a few weeks ago …
DISCLAIMER: Storm chasing may expose chasers to many hazardous and powerful elements of Nature, including large hail, destructive winds, flying debris, lightning, tornadoes, etc. There are also dangers associated with travelling, such as slick roads, poor visibility, traffic, flooding, etc., all of which may put the chaser’s life at risk. Learning to deal with these conditions is best done by understanding supercells and thunderstorms, and riding with an experienced chaser before attempting to chase on your own. The author of this post does not encourage careless storm chasing and is not responsible for any consequences that may result from reading this blog. Kids, don’t try this at home without the supervision of an adult.
The start of our storm season
On the evening of June 8, the news came out that we had the right conditions in place to get some very active weather in Alberta. Reed Timmer, a professional storm-chaser from the US, tweeted he and his crew would be driving the Dominator 3 up to Alberta in expectation of an outbreak of tornadic supercells – the 2018 Storm Season was about to start.
When fellow photographer Mark Jinks put out an Instagram story looking for a navigator to chase storms with him the next day, I jumped on the opportunity. I had been wanting to meet Mark in person for a while and I knew he was experienced in storm chasing, so I had no concerns about his ability to keep us safe.
We decided to meet at noon on June 9. After a quick explanation on the use of apps like RadarScope and the rationale behind our plan of action, we left Edmonton heading east. Reed had indicated in his tweet the region where supercells would form and we knew that those could spawn tornadoes, so we followed his advice. As we drove by Glendon (AB), I took the opportunity to snap a shot of the World’s Largest Pyrogy!
We arrived a little early in the region and managed to watch just as a squall line (shelf clouds, strong winds, rain) was starting to form supercells, with rotation. Fortunately, we didn’t get any rain or hail on us, only a little wind. Our plan, which we executed quite well, was to anticipate where the storm was going and stay ahead of it. By doing this we avoided the rain and had quite a few chances to photograph the storm in all its glory.
The worst was still to come
Just before 2200h, we needed to get some dinner. The sun was setting; it was definitely time to call it a day. After about one hour sitting at a restaurant, and losing the signal from one of the weather radars around us, we studied the best way back to Edmonton. As we left the town of Meadow Lake (SK), we were caught by a massive downpour only 5km out of town. With the conditions quickly deteriorating and becoming quite unsafe, we decided to return to Meadow Lake and wait it out, but the storm had cause a blackout and the city was completely dark. We then had to spend an extra hour watching the thunderstorm before we could finally head back.
Arriving home around 0700h, after almost 18h of storm chasing and with the memory card full of pictures, I can finally say I am a storm chaser. Or at least tick off that bucket list item. Many comments on Instagram in response to this last image led me to believe that a storm of that magnitude is not exactly common in the prairies and that I was very lucky to witness such raw power from Nature. I am quite happy I had this experience.