According to a new report by the United Nations, due to rising global temperatures and other climate changes, there has been a soaring rise in the number of extreme weather conditions for the last 20 years. Storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, and other natural disasters are constantly heard of these days. While these weather conditions pose a serious threat to life, some people use the opportunity to turn their fear into exhilaration.
Edgar ONeal, a storm chaser and photographer for the past nine years, is one of many who enjoys capturing these fleeting events. “I came into this job for a very specific reason,” he explains.
“I relocated to Oklahoma ten years ago, and living here, as they describe it, is basically living in Tornado Alley. So, one, I had access, and two, the year I arrived here, my family and I had to flee the world’s largest tornado. It was the El Reno tornado of 2013. The tornado measured 2.6 meters wide. I didn’t know anything about radar reading at the time. Nothing about storms made sense to me. I never wanted to feel like that again after that day. So, I decided to study more about it, and I was hooked.”
ONeal had been capturing and chasing storms for the sheer joy of it, but after seeing his TikTok following grow as a result of his content, he decided to make it a full-time profession. “Because of my TikTok, I realized I could do this full-time.” I went from having 300 subscribers to having 200,000 subscribers all of a sudden. The game changed for me. I used to do photography on the side to make money, and I still do it, so I simply quit my formal work at National Care Services and am now doing storm chasing and photography.”
While storm photography can be thrilling and nerve-wracking, it is not for everyone, and prior knowledge and understanding of weather are required. With a background in psychology, ONeal attended a meteorology course and advises anyone interested in storm chasing or photography to do so as well. “At my wife’s office, there was a guy who had been a reasonably decent storm chaser for about 25 years and an amazing storm photographer. So, I started going around with him for around two and a half to three years. At the same time, I went to the Storm Prediction Center for the United States at the National Weather Service in Norman. That’s where you’ll get all of the severe weather forecasts for the whole United States. They had a 16-week free course and after completing the entire program and learned how to forecast on my own because that’s really important if you’re going to be a storm chaser.”
“Having some kind of understanding in this subject is crucial if you want to photograph storms,” ONeal says, citing his meteorological studies and real-life experience.
“I often tell people it’s a little bit more difficult than you think because when storms form, you have to know where they’re going to form.” Then there are several, and you must be on the correct one. Then, to be on the right one, there are only one or two suitable sites to photograph that storm.”
HOW TO STORM CHASE?
I pay attention to weather models to see when the systems will occur, but it doesn’t get truly precise until the short-range models come into play, which is a day or two out.” I discover the exact spot where I want to wait for storms to start after looking at short-range models. Ideally, I arrive before storms form, so I move from pristine blue skies to baby white clouds before they turn into a massive storm. Once the storm has formed, you choose which one you wish to chase, and when you navigate to the best location to capture it. Don’t get discouraged if the weather does not comply as predicted. Weather and its patterns are quite unpredictable, and there are instances when they are a total bust. Nevertheless, take your chances.
EQUIPMENT USED TO CAPTURE THE STORMY MOMENT
ONeal’s equipment consists primarily of GoPro 9 cameras. “They’re the simplest. Those are mounted all over my vehicle.” Nikon Z6ii Mirrorless camera for stills, Panasonic 981, and other video cameras for tighter and zoomed-in images. He also travels in a 2013 Subaru Impreza he refers to as his “chasing vehicle,” which features connected power to the roof for GoPro cameras and a Weboost Cell Phone Booster.
TIPS FOR THE PERFECT CHASE
A lot of storm photography is simply having a lot of expertise and knowing what you’re looking at in the skies while also paying attention to all of the other weather variables around you, such as temperature, humidity, and wind direction. You can make poor decisions, especially if you enjoy chasing closely, as I do. I sometimes attempt to go within a few hundred feet of tornadoes. And to do so, you must be very certain of what you’re doing. Because, like myself, there are adrenaline junkies, that jump straight into it, but if you go out there without that information, you risk endangering the other individuals as well as yourself.
As a result, you must learn everything you need to know as a storm photographer. I am always watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading books. So that I can have a better chance of getting those iconic images and being in the right spot. Then there’s the concept of safety. You need to know what kind of clouds you’re looking at and what kind of storm you’re facing. All that matters. In terms of resources, I can only speak to the ones I’m familiar with in the United States. Storm Spotter Training is a network that prepares people to become storm spotters. I usually recommend that folks begin there because it is free and anyone can do it. There’s also a treasure trove of resources on YouTube and other e-learning websites.
HOW CAN YOU MONETIZE SUCH PHOTOGRAPHY?
Many people are interested in monetizing or making money from storm chasing. So, there are a few possibilities. You could aim to become a good photographer and then sell your images or videos to a news agency, for example. But, to be honest, that isn’t a lucrative profession. It’s something I’ve done before. My advice to them is to start building their own personal brand, as I did. If you want to try to generate money off of it, I would advise go ahead and start focusing on the branding aspect, as well as your social media, since making money is a grind. Storm chasing is one of those activities where making money is difficult since, there are hundreds of others out there doing it, lowering the value of the profession. I had to think outside the box, and I decided that in addition to photography, I’m going to pursue a career as a social media celebrity who storm chases so that people want to join me.