Expectation for any storm chaser might represent the culmination of an extraordinary day. On May 24, 2016, this tornado was just the beginning.
I’ve been chasing storms since 1997, heading out to Tornado Alley each spring to pursue extreme weather. Some years don’t produce much, and of course, just because a storm happens doesn’t mean you’ll be there to see it.
The 2016 season was stunning in terms of supercells and especially tornadoes, and I was lucky enough to capture several impressive storm events. May 24 stood out, with a supercell near Dodge City, Kansas, that produced multiple tornadoes, not to mention hail, a rainbow, and dramatic mammatus clouds with the sunset. (Another of my images in The Spinning Sky series, Terrible Beauty, captures a wide shot of the supercell at the end of the day as it produced a large tornado while beams of light pierced the cloud.)
This storm produced one tornado after another; at one point, three were on the ground at the same time. Expectation marks the first tornado I saw that day with my storm-chasing partner that year, Kathy Velasquez. We’d made a forecast and were in just the right place to see the storms go up and the first of many tornadoes form.
When you’re chasing storms, you make a lot of decisions on the fly. I want to stay close enough to get good pictures but far enough away to stay safe. And if a tornado is in progress, you have to decide whether to stay in place and shoot it from where you are, or move closer to get a better shot so the storm doesn’t get away from you.
In this case, we did move to get closer to the storm but not before reveling in this moment. You wouldn’t know it from this image, but there were probably a couple hundred storm chasers pursuing this cell. Among the advantages of hanging back during any chase are gaining a wide shot of the storm structure, getting more unusual photographic angles, and safely avoiding the crowd.
When a tornado occurs in the middle of a field and is not an immediate threat to life or property, it almost seems like a peaceful phenomenon, the culmination of a perfect gathering of atmospheric ingredients. I made a choice in editing the photo to emphasize the loneliness and dreaminess of the scene by eliminating the power lines at the horizon.
In a landscape like this one, over a green Kansas wheat field, a tornado is almost otherworldly. It seems as if it can’t touch you, can’t disrupt the tranquility of the day. Yet its beauty contains violence. Will it come to you? Will you venture forth to confront it? Or will it pass you by?
It’s symbolic, of course; you’re filled with expectation, but the tone of that expectation reflects who you are and where you are in your life. A tornado is a danger and an opportunity when you’re a photographer chasing storms. It’s a messenger from the sky. What does it say to you?
Watch video of the epic May 24, 2016, tornado chase that led to Expectation.
See my original chase report.
About this image: Expectation from The Spinning Sky series by Chris Kridler; tornado over a wheat field near Dodge City, Kansas, 2016.