Growing up, Rick Lipscomb was terrified of severe weather—so much so that he couldn’t bear to watch the tornado scene in the “Wizard of OZ.” For the past 32 years, though, storm chasing and landscape photography has been his true passion.
When he’s not chasing storms, Lipscomb spends his time teaching weather safety to children. On March 30, Lipscomb was the main speaker at a Storm Chasing Meets Photography class held by the Georgia Professional Photographers Association and The Turner Center for the Arts.
Joining Lipscomb was his storm-chasing partner of a little over 6 years, Kerri Copello, WFXL Fox 31 news manager and meteorologist.
Lipscomb recounted his experience chasing the Tuscaloosa Tornado that destroyed Tuscaloosa and Birmingham areas in April 2011. The tornado, which was 10 mph shy of being categorized an EF5, reached a maximum path width of 1 ½ miles. The Enhanced Fujita Scale rates the intensity of a tornado, ranging from EF0 to EF5. Wind speeds in excess of 200 mph classify a tornado as an EF5.
“The actual storm that created the Tuscaloosa Tornado developed in Mississippi and remained a tornado producing supercell for 7 ½ hours,” Lipscomb said. “It finally piddled out and almost went into North Carolina.”
These days, anyone with a cell-phone might feel the desire to capture footage of a severe storm or even a tornado.
“When it comes to storm chasing, anyone can do it,” Lipscomb said, but he also strongly cautions that the “cool factor will get you killed.”
There are several things to consider when storm chasing. A few tools of the trade include knowledge of what, and where, you are chasing, as well as the dangers associated with chasing such as lightning and downed powerlines and trees.
Copello urges potential storm chasers to “chase smarter not harder.” To achieve this, Copello suggests picking a location to set up at, getting there early, and waiting for mother nature to do her thing.
Storm spotters can be an essential resource in storm assessment. With proper SKYWARN training, a storm spotter can be extremely helpful with a weather services’ decision to issue a watch or warning, as they may see things a radar cannot. Storm spotting differs from storm chasing.
“Storm chasers are mobile,” Lipscomb said. “A lot of them out west will cover hundreds of square miles a day trying to get where they need to be.”
Storm spotters, on the other hand, typically go to local areas to hang-out and watch for severe weather.
“We have no control over the weather,” Copello said. “Sometimes we’re just lucky enough to catch the beauty.”
Storm chasing can be dangerous but, as Lipscomb’s photos confirm, “there’s beauty in mother nature.” If you have a passion for photography and storm chasing, consider combining the two for a unique hobby.
Looking to further your photography skills? The Turner Center for the Arts is offering an Advanced Photography Class with Javon Longieliere. The class begins April 23 and will be held every Tuesday until May 28.