This May, a massive supercell storm ripped through the countryside just outside of Dodge City, Kansas. It produced more than a dozen tornadoes, upending a semi and ravaging multiple homes. And Max Conrad was right in the middle of it.
“At one point, there were three tornadoes simultaneously on the ground,” he says.
Dodge City was just one stop on a two-week twister road trip. Conrad is a software developer by day, but spends his free time chasing storms and snapping photos. He and two friends flew all the way from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany to drive 700 miles a day through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The trip was a hugely stormy success.
Conrad’s fascination with storms started as a child, but he didn’t chase them until college about 15 years ago. At first, he only tracked local storms, but eventually hooked up with other enthusiasts online who encouraged him to explore farther. Soon, Conrad was hunting storms all over Europe. He even taught himself meteorology and forecasting, skills that definitely come in handy while looking for the next twister. But none of the storms in Europe compared to the legend of Tornado Alley. This year, Conrad finally got his chance.
The team split responsibilities: one drove, one navigated, and Conrad read the weather. He poured over websites like the Global Forecast System to figure out where a storm might occur. Once they had a location, the group sometimes drove five hours to catch the supercell.
Then came the waiting. Skies might be clear when they got there, but in a few hours, those tranquil clouds transformed into churning storms. Conrad was always on alert in order to get the perfect shot. “You’re in a hurry to set up your gear with the camera, and simultaneously look at the weather radar,” he says. “If we’re lucky, storms pop up next to us.” Sometimes the chasers drove alongside a storm for a few hours, but always at a safe distance.
Conrad lugged around a Canon EOS 60D and 70D camera, as well as a wide angle and a telephoto to zoom in on the chaos. Afterward, he tweaked the colors a bit in Adobe Lightroom. The photos capture the incredible power and size of storms as they sweep across the landscape. To Conrad, the images are totally worth the risk. That, and the pure adrenaline that comes from tearing down a road at 70 miles per hour with a tornado on your tail.