It was just three days. Just three days between when photographer Camille Seaman first saw storm chasing on television and when she was hunting down a supercell herself. Even ten years later, the experience is still vivid in her mind: “It really was like watching a galaxy being born from a nebula.”In total, Seaman spent seven years searching for gathering clouds in some of America’s stormiest states: Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas.
Her photographs, now brought together in the new book The Big Cloud, are an spectacular document of nature’s power. They show clouds thick and ominous, or funnel-shaped, hovering over a rural landscape or spiked with lightning. For all the drama she captured, she reveals that storm chasing involves a lot of data—and a lot of patience.
South Dakota, June 2008.
There’s a lot of really boring parts, where you’re sitting in a car for many hours and stopping in gas stations for bathroom breaks and bad food,” she says. A day would typically begin with a meteorological briefing. After analyzing everything from dew point to wind direction,
Seaman and her crew would try to pinpoint the location of a potential supercell.Storm chasers have their own vocabularies for meteorological formations.
A supercell can be called a “mother ship,” for its otherworldly, spaceship-like appearance. They’re actually rotating thunderstorms that can generate hail, high winds, lightning, rain, and, occasionally, tornadoes, and they’re often topped by a dense cloud formation known as an “anvil.” That’s something most people don’t want to stand beneath.