High Plains Drifter

disclaimer:  "The meteorological views/forecast thinking expressed are those solely of the author of this blog
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"

September 3, 2005

Hurricane Photojournalism: In the Storm

Filed under: Editorial — Mike U @ 10:51 pm

Storm chasing has certainly taken on a whole new meaning when it comes to tropical storms – especially over the past couple of years, as there has been an exponential growth in Great Plains chasers who seek to chase these incredible natural phenomena. It used to be that the limit of hurricane chasing would be high-end Category 2 type storms, at least when it comes to chasing the eye – or at the very least, get to within 5-10 miles of the coast to witness the eye before it “fills in”. There are several elements of the hurricane intercept and documentation that are lures to many who chase them. The experience of the eye. The incredible local variations in wind speed, direction, and pressure in a matter of only minutes. The Surge. Water in motion that cannot be explained unless you are there. And the wind itself. It must be incredible to witness firsthand.

Hurricane chasing is a logistical nightmare. You have to deal with power outages, shortage of fuel, shortage of food/water and even shelter. Especially in times of mandatory evacuations. After everyone has fled, including emergency response personnel, you are pretty much on your own, and when you try to leave, what about washed-out roads and litter of debris? It is these very reasons that I have no interest in the hurricane chase. There are others, however, who prepare for these very things in order to acheive the fullest in their experience.

Hurricane chasing, for those that do it most ethically and SAFE, are really photojournalists. It goes beyond just storm chasing. It is not simply just to get the shot, but to also tell a story.

The photojournalistic aspect to “tell the story” has prompted a few of the most passionate and dedicated hurricane chasers to push the limits of human capability to get these shots in the most extreme conditions. I think Hurricane Katrina certainly showed which chasers/photojournalists indeed are willing to take more risk. The risk-takers are the photojournalists who make a living out of it. A few of the chasers/photojournalists have become more well-known among the storm chasing community (and beyond) based on their most recent work the past couple of years, including Jim Reed, Doug Kiesling, Chris Collura, Jeff Gammons, Mike Theiss, Jim Leonard, and Jim Edds… just to name the most reputable ones.

I think there is a fine line, however, between these photojournalists mentioned above and those chasers who just simply shouldn’t be there; the chasers who don’t necessarily prepare for the intercept properly and are more of an obstacle to those around them than anything else. One such case from Katrina was from these guys. The “Stormgasm” crew, according to their accounts, appeared to be unprepared for their intercept and got to the point where they had to physically be rescued by a rescue boat. Over the past couple of years, these guys have developed a fairly poor reputation among the chasing community for their extreme chasing tactics and poor ethics – particularly their very controversial June 2004 Manchester tornado video when at least one member of their crew was dancing and frolicking as a tornado blew away a farm house.

Hurricane chasing/journalism is dynamic, and I know that I certainly have no future intentions of chasing hurricanes, simply because I know that there are just too many unpredictable things that can lead to very unsafe situations. I will stick with supercell thunderstorms, simply because I understand these storms far better and their damage capabilities are far more localized than hurricanes, and that is the bottom line for me. I’m not out to photograph/videograph destruction, but rather the artistic beauty of the atmosphere. For me, the artistic beauty of hurricanes is the view from above; the high-resolution imagery taken from satellite. This is absolutely amazing to me, and I’ll continue admiring from afar. That said, I respect my hurricane chasing friends Jim Leonard and Jim Reed, especially, because time and time again, they get it done right, even if they do put their life at risk, and they share their stories and photography/videography around the world allowing ordinary citizens vulnerable to these storms to gain a true appreciation for what the atmosphere and ocean can really do.


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    Comment by TheDevilIsInTheDetails — November 7, 2005 @ 12:51 am

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    Comment by TheDevilIsInTheDetails — November 7, 2005 @ 1:26 am

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