Storm chasing photographer Mike Hollingshead makes a living following the worst storms in America, from snarling tornadoes chewing up the Kansas farmland to supercell thunderstorms massing over the Dakotas.
A Nebraska-native, Hollingshead used to watch the Midwest’s extreme weather from hills that overlooked his town. After seeing some “crazy storm photos” on the Internet, Hollingshead knew he had to track down the powerful storms. Armed with only a map and a video camera, Hollingshead drove his sedan out to Iowa, where he lucked into a tornado on his first day.
15 years later, Hollingshead is still chasing storms, often into danger. His style is to get right in the path of the storm. While he says it’s less scary than you think — because most of the storm consists of heavy rain — it’s still extremely stressful.
“Most storm chasers don’t put themselves in the path [of the storm] … but I like the view there the most,” he says.
Hollingshead shared some of the most “beast” storms he’s ever chased with us, but you can see more of his work at his blog, where he shares pictures and stories from the chases.
The storm chasing season begins in April, before dropping off quickly in July. He says the best months are May and June. This vivid double rainbow was captured in Kansas.
Hollingshead uses computer models to narrow down where storms, like this supercell in Nebraska, will be. Even with the models, its often impossible to know if a storm will be worth photographing before you get there.
Some stormchasers use a tornado intercept vehicle (pictured) to film from the center of a tornado. Hollingshead uses a standard Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Supercells are thunderstorms that are characterised by a deep, persistent, updraft. Because of their massive, rotating nature, supercells often resemble 'alien motherships.'
Hollingshead called this Valentine Nebraska Supercell from 2009 'one of the most wicked storms I've seen.' Wind speeds exceeded 100 miles per hour and there were baseball-sized hailstones falling from the storm.
This supercell photograph was taken at a York, Nebraska truck stop after a day of chasing storms. During the day, Hollingshead saw three tornadoes produced from this supercell.
Hollingshead loves shooting storms, but he is fascinated by any type of weather phenomenon. Here, he captured a convective cloud -- clouds that form vertically from the instability of the atmosphere.
This is a 'squall line' in Nebraska. A squall line is a string of thunderstorms that forms along a cold front. It is often accompanied by heavy rain, hail, and tornadoes.
This photo from 2005 was taken just five hours west of Hollingshead's home. He called this Nebraska storm 'non-severe.'
This supercell thunderstorm set a record for hail size. In Vivian, South Dakota, a hailstone was found that was 8 inches in diameter and weighed nearly 2 pounds.
Hollingshead started chasing this storm near his home in Nebraska. Seven hours of driving later and he got this shot.
Hollingshead says that the biggest problem chasing storms today isn't the storms themselves, but the crowds that follow them. Having lines of cars waiting for a storm can become very dangerous. For that reason, he chases storms in the Dakotas and Nebraska where there are fewer people.
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