In the wake of Hurricane Irene, photographer Mitch Dobrowner reflects on capturing another incredible phenomenon of nature—massive super-cell thunderstorms.
Since I was a kid, I’ve loved being caught in thunderstorms. Those memories have always excited me. Today, as a fine art photographer, my passion is photographing landscapes in the nastiest weather I can possibly find. So the natural question for me was: Why not try to “experiment” and chase after the nastiest storm systems possible as an extension of my landscape work?
As I researched the subject of storm systems and how they formed, I came to appreciate the complexity of these large structured super-cells, which are massive storms with deep, rotating updrafts that sometimes spawn tornadoes. As a photographer, I always counted myself lucky to be in the right place at the right time, especially if a storm system was moving through. But I wanted to actively pursue them. Since storms are a process, not a thing, I needed help, so I went on a hunt to locate a guide. I soon connected with Roger Hill (regarded as the most experienced storm-chaser in the world), and he introduced me to Tornado Alley and the Great Plains in the U.S.
In July 2009, Roger and I tracked a severe weather system for nine hours—from its formation outside of Sturgis, S.D., through Badlands National Park and into Valentine, Neb. We eventually stopped in a field outside of Valentine and stood in awe of the towering super-cell. It was building with intake wind gusts of 60 m.p.h.+, and I felt like we were standing next to a 65,000 ft. high vacuum cleaner. Its formation had an ominous presence and power that I had never witnessed or experienced. I remember turning to Roger, who was standing next to me, and saying in the howling wind, “What the f—! You have to be kidding me.” It was only the second day of my “experiment,” but I knew without a doubt that this experiment would become a project.
Words are inadequate to describe the experience of photographing this immense power and beauty, And the most exciting part is with each trip I really don’t know what to expect. But today I see these storms as living, breathing things. They are born when the conditions are right, they gain strength as they grow, they fight against their environment to stay alive, they change form as they age, and eventually they die. They take on so many different aspects, personalities and faces. My only hope is that my images can do justice to these amazing phenomena of nature.
This month premier fine art book publisher 21st Editions will publish the first books of Dobrowner’s photographs, ‘The Prism Edition’ monograph, which comes with one of four different 16″ x 20″ contact silver gelatin prints; and, ‘The Deluxe Edition‘, which includes 12 platinum prints (nine of which will be bound). Readers can customize their book by selecting any three as loose prints.