By Alex Jones
THIS IS the incredible moment a lightning strike rips through a TORNADO during a fierce storm – a vanishingly rare phenomenon according to one of the world’s leading storm photographers who was CHASED for several miles by the twister before he managed his epic shot.
Taken earlier this year, the once-in-a-lifetime shot was taken during a thunderous supercell storm above Kansas. Other striking shots show a huge twister rampaging through farmland in front of some bewildered cows and an extraordinary series of lightning forks underneath a menacing sky.
More upsetting images show the wreckage these powerful storms can leave behind – including a family home that has been totally obliterated.
The awe-inspiring shots were captured by tornado hunter Greg Johnson (49), of Regina, Canada, who risks life and limb to snap these breath-taking pictures. According to Johnson, 2019 has been “particularly wild” for severe storms with several of the terrifying weather events falling outside of the typical tornado season (April-June). Despite travelling tens of thousands of miles every year chasing storms, he admits it is as stressful as ever capturing his exhilarating photos.
“Every storm provides scary moments,” explained Johnson, who uses @tornadogreg as social media handle.
“The biggest issue is the road network and trying to position somewhere that allows for good photography. In the case of the shot with the lightning passing through the tornado, in the moments leading up to this shot, the tornado was actually chasing me! There were no roads which allowed me to turn and get out of the way so I simply had to keep moving forward with the tornado in my rear-view mirror. When I got far enough ahead, I was able to stop and capture this image.
“As a storm photographer, clearly I am shooting in stressful situations all the time. Generally, I am shooting from a moving vehicle, however when I am able, I do like to put the camera on a tripod to improve the quality of the shots. To capture lightning a slow shutter speed is required. The biggest challenge however is finding and getting to the storm. Road navigation, meteorological forecasting and timing are the biggest hurdles.“
Johnson’s remarkable imagery, captured throughout 2019, was predominantly snapped on the plains of Canada and the United States – often referred to as ‘Tornado Alley’. He was particularly pleased to grab the supercell storm photos over the American Midwest this summer.
“These are images of the photogenic supercell storm near Colby, Kansas,” the 49-year-old explained.
“A supercell thunderstorm is the most violent of all storms and is characterised by an updraft, where a tornado would develop, and a nasty downdraft, the area with rain and massive hailstones. In the one photo you can see that the lightning strike is actually going through the tornado. This is a very rare phenomenon.
“There are some close-up tornado images too. These were taken at McCook, Nebraska. This tornado missed the town by several hundred metres but it did destroy one home and cause injuries to one elderly couple.”
Gut-wrenching devastation is an inevitably in Johnson’s line of work and he has heard of countless tales of close calls or deadly incidents. This year alone an estimated 39 people died due to tornados in the United States, almost half of the global total (91). The hardcore storm chaser explained how the death toll may have been even higher and more tragic if it weren’t for a leaky basement.
“You can see a flattened house in some of my photos,” he added.
“The tornado happened at Linwood, Kansas which is a suburb of Kansas City. I watched from roughly two kilometres away as a massive tornado cut a swath through Linwood on 28 May. Later as I surveyed the damage, I met this couple, Ryan and Jessica Romans who had literally lost everything in the storm. They had an 8-week-old daughter Emma. Originally they had planned to ride out the storm in their basement, however it started to flood so they decided to drive to a family members home. It was a great decision because when they returned to their home, there was absolutely nothing left.”
But despite the trauma and dangerous nature of his work, Johnson is thrilled to have a front row seat for some of nature’s greatest spectacles.
“There is a sense of accomplishment to find a tornado and photograph from a location that most photographers will never get to visit,” said the tornado hunter.
“If I want to fly to Norway and take a photo of a beautiful landscape, then I can get in a plane and fly to Norway. So can anyone else. But not everyone can put themselves in front of a deadly tornado and capture images from a few hundred yards away.
“We can control a lot in our lives. The work we do, how we raise our kids, where we live, what we eat, the friends we make along the way. But we cannot control the weather. I hope when people look at my images that they realise just how powerful nature is and how much respect the planet deserves.
“There are a range of reactions when people see my shots. Some people are in awe. Some people are terrified as they trigger a memory of a near miss of their own. Some people frankly think the images are fake because they can’t believe that someone would be able to capture them. The common connection however is that most people think I am nuts.
“It is surreal reflecting on the photos because I am in-the-moment when I am shooting. I often look back on the images and say ‘holy crap! I can’t believe I was actually there!’”.
For more information about Greg Johnson, please visit www.tornadohunter.com