After four hours and several hundred miles of driving, landscape photographer Mitch Dobrowner is just getting started.
He chases storms for a living, tagging along with veteran storm chaser and videographer Roger Hill. What began as an experiment for Dobrowner has now become his most passioned subject.
He was working on a landscape series in New Mexico in 2008 when he heard about a storm happening at Shiprock. For 10 days, he drove 300 miles to and from the storm, attempting to capture the image that he had in his mind. When he finally got it, he knew he was hooked.
And now, so are we.
Dobrowner began working with Hill and they became a regular team, taking 10-day trips to Tornado Alley. They would cross as much as 7,000 miles of American countryside chasing different storms.
“That first trip, we started in Rapid City [South Dakota], thinking we were going to Canada,” Dobrowner told Chris Boot in an interview in 2012. “But we ended up in Amarillo, Texas.”
Hill taught Dobrowner everything he knows about meteorology, storms, and the unpredictable nature of chasing some of the most dangerous supercells in the United States. Having Hill around, knowing how storms operate, and what to do when things get bad, lets Dobrowner focus on making incredible photos.
“When shooting, I have to be focused and prepared to make quick decisions,” said Dobrowner. “This takes my total concentration, especially when there is so much going on around you — wind, rain, lightning — and with compositions changing moment to moment.”
Dobrowner’s work was just released in a book called “Storms” in September and is currently on display at the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles until Oct. 26. See more of Dobrowner’s work at his website.
During the first storm Dobrowner chased with Hill, he became awestruck by the storm as it moved toward them at 40 miles per hour. 'I just stood there, mesmerized, with Roger shouting, 'We gotta go! We gotta go, now!'' said Dobrowner.
During spring in Tornado Alley, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, cold air from the Rockies, and the eastern jet stream collide, resulting in violent storms.
As the storms move north, they become slow moving and often turn into supercells, the most severe type of thunderstorm.
Hill gets Dobrowner to the right locations to photograph the storm, analyses the radar, determines the stability of the atmosphere, and arranges an exit strategy.
When they chased this storm in July 2010, an ABC News crew tagged along. They thought they were watching from a safe distance when it suddenly changed directions and began to shoot baseball-sized hailstones at them. It destroyed the ABC News crew's cameras.
'This was a storm that we chased from the Texas panhandle all the way into eastern New Mexico,' Dobrowner says.
'My experience of this storm was like watching a monster in the dark -- as we were not able to see it until a series of lightning bolts rang down from the sky,' Dobrowner says.
Storms can change form fast. With the right wind conditions, they become what storm chasers call a 'mothership,' which is marked by its distinct structure and appearance of floating.
'My goal was to capture the image of a storm that emulated an atomic explosion,' Dobrowner says of this picture.
Storm chasing isn't all action. Sometimes, Dobrowner can spend up to a week in his hotel waiting for a storm to reach the right conditions for photographing.
When a tornado starts to die, it begins to 'rope out,' as seen in this picture. Dobrowner had been trying to capture this picture for years, which he likens to something from 'The Wizard of Oz.'
Storms can leave a trail of devastation. On the way back from chasing one storm, Dobrowner saw 100 miles of corn decimated.
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