Earlier this year, I found myself sitting at a table at the National Storm Chaser’s Summit in Oklahoma City, wondering why we were all here. In this room were people who would claim to be Christians, atheists, and all manner of other viewpoints. They had come from the East Coast, West Coast, and everywhere in between. Some had even come over from Europe and Australia. Yet here we all were, staring at pictures of and learning about . . . clouds. I mean, they were big, intense, swirling, scary, and awe-inspiring clouds, but they were still clouds. And it got me thinking: Why do we chase storms? Why do people drive thousands of miles, or even fly across the globe, to the Great Plains of the United States to stare at spinning clouds? The answer seemed obvious, and yet not.
As a photographer, words are not my natural medium. I feel that my photos provide a better answer to this question than I can give. So I am including a set of photographs to help answer this question. But I will also attempt to offer some thoughts, in addition to the photos here.
As God’s image bearers, we have been designed to recognize power, beauty, and majesty on display. And there seems to be a natural human longing to seek out things that display incredible majesty. Essentially, we are all longing for God without all of us knowing it or even wanting to know it. We were made to worship the one true God, and he poured into his creation such that the world around us displays his attributes (see Psalm 19:1-6; 104:24, and Romans 1:19-20). This is why the Grand Canyon exists, and why it was made into a national park. This is why people drive thousands of miles to stare at powerful clouds and have conferences about them. We are really longing for God himself.
Of course, many choose to worship the thing itself rather than the Maker. But it is fascinating to see how the love of storms provides common ground across all manner of viewpoints. And that common ground gives me a door to build relationships with people I would otherwise have nothing in common with.
Personally, I find that storm chasing is a way to watch God’s creation put on display. There is also the thrill of adventure as the atmosphere often does things we don’t expect, all the while adhering to the strict laws of physics put into place by God.
This fact explains at least in part why I love storm photography. Photography itself blends a love for visual arts, the need to visually document things, and a love for technology – not to mention the addictive nature of pushing buttons. When you add to that an intense love of nature, science, and weather, then storm chasing becomes the perfect fit.
I love pictures. I always have. I could stare at some pictures for hours. Art ran in my family. When I was a kid, I loved drawing, but I never pursued it professionally. When a camera was handed to me in high school, I started snapping pictures of everything that interested me. Most often, this was of nature and especially the sky. In college, this love of snapping pictures came with me right into storm chasing.
Photography offers the opportunity to document something visually, as well as capture something artistic. It is very common for me to snap pictures of a storm or event that is not particularly visually pleasing, simply because I want to document the science of what happened and any clues that might lead to understanding why. Most of these photos never see the light of day. But they are there for me.
Storm chasing also offers the opportunity to bond with friends, as you are essentially trapped in a car together for hours at a time. I frequently travel 200-300 miles round trip in a single day just for the opportunity to behold God’s majesty on display in His skies. It’s a privilege to build friendships at the same time.
Another aspect of storms themselves, however, is more difficult for me to wrestle with. Storms can and do cause very serious harm to people – harm that is very real and very painful. And I don’t know at this time what to say about it. While resisting trite answers, I would say that the creation is fallen, but still reflects God’s glory and majesty. Plus, chasing storms gives me at times the opportunity to serve my community in a small way. For those of us who are well-informed about storms and the science behind them, storm chasing offers the opportunity to give some advance warning to those who may be impacted by these storms. Granted, it is by no means the only nor primary way of doing this. But providing information about what is actually happening under the storm base to those in the forecast offices is something worth doing.
Storm chasing stirs the heart and mind. And it is fun. It can draw the hearts of both believers and unbelievers to see the beauty, power, and majesty of our God. I know my storm-chasing adventures have deepened my longing for not just for what I see through my lens, but for our awe-inspiring God.
Zachary Biggs is a meteorological software programmer, photographer, husband, and father. He enjoys living in the storm-chasing capital of the world, the great city of Oklahoma City. With a Bachelor’s in Meteorology, he vocationally programs weather radar for the National Weather Service, while doing storm chasing and photography on the side. He loves chocolate but is not entirely sure it loves him back. You can find more of his art at www.pursuingthetempest.com.
Zachary Biggs, “Pursuing the Tempest: Why We Chase,” An Unexpected Journal: Leisure 6, no. 3. (Fall 2023), 159-169.