CNN Photos

Professional storm chaser

Before the movie “Twister,” before the Discovery Channel started running specials on storm chasers, before the channel even existed, Jim Reed was fascinated with weather.

He has been photographing the weather for 21 years, but it all started when he was a kid growing up in Illinois. “I would climb trees one summer, and that winter they’d be destroyed by an ice storm. That really makes a difference, when as a kid, something you can rely on is gone.”

While the weather sparked an interest, Reed went to the University of Southern California to learn to make movies, but again the weather stole his attention.

“One of the first things I recognized was that we were constantly being interrupted by the weather,” he said. “It got to a point where it was so annoying and in my face that I finally paused and had this epiphany where I just said ‘I’ve got the right idea, I should be looking through a viewfinder, but I’m picking the wrong subject. I should be photographing what is interrupting all these shoots.’”

So Reed began focusing his creative efforts on the weather. At first he wrote about it for Popular Science, Weatherwise and eventually Scientific American.

Then, while living in Los Angeles, he saw a piece of news footage showing motorists using an overpass to seek shelter from a passing tornado. That video inspired a move to Kansas so he could be closer to the storms that had captured his attention and interview and write about the people who were documenting the weather.

At that time he says he knew little about storm chasing, but he asked lots of questions.

“I never had a goal to become a storm chaser,” Reed said. “I liked photographing our changing climate, I like photographing the weather. It was so satisfying that I stuck with it and started to do it on my own. I was the journalist interviewing the climatologists and meteorologists and legendary storm chasers; then all of sudden I was doing it and I was the one being interviewed. It made me realize how passionate I am about our weather.”

When he goes out to shoot a storm, he says he takes an artistic view to create spectacular images. “I have a recipe, I look for interesting shapes and colors and textures and contrasts and tones. My emphasis is the beauty.”

“My goal is to create a photograph, and not merely take one or snap one off. I look for storms that are picturesque and not moving too fast,” Reed said.

He says he tries not to “chase” storms. “We call it ‘storm chasing’ but it’s more about intercepting. Literally chasing something is not the way it’s done. I do everything I can to be out in the field long before the tornado watch is ever issued.”

Reed takes a very Zen approach to capturing a storm.

“It’s almost like nature and I are going back and forth, there’s this synergy. I’ve done my homework, I’m prepared, I’m there well in advance. It’s almost like the energy knows that. I’m so much easier to please than people that just want a tornado. Morally, I feel weird encouraging the atmosphere to produce a tornado. I don’t want to put that kind of karma out there. If it’s going to produce it, it’s going to produce it.”

- Cody McCloy, CNN