After making my first trip through Tornado Alley during storm season this past May with two friends, I was blown away by the things the sky is capable of creating. Mountains, monsters and waves can appear out of nowhere, only to vanish within a matter of minutes. Here are some of the highlights from my springtime adventure in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

[Ed. note: All photos by author. Check out more of her work on her Instagram account.]

1

This is an image I dreamed of long before I set foot in Kansas. I asked my friend and fellow photographer Mike Mezeul if he could snap a few shots of me in a white dress -- with a tornado in the background. It may have been a pretty ambitious request, but we were both determined to make it happen. I was able to put my own camera down long enough to change my clothes and stand in a field for a few minutes, completely transfixed on the force of nature in front of me. I’ll never forget the intensity and beauty of this moment, and I’m so grateful Mike was able to capture an image of it that will last forever. Author’s note: I never would have attempted to get this close to severe weather had I not been in the company of professionals -- and you shouldn’t either. My friend Mike has over 15 years of experience shooting storms, and we were also joined by a meteorologist from the National Weather Service. Hours were spent analyzing data and discussing safety, and if there was a situation that felt questionable, we always played things on the conservative side. Nature is an awesome thing, but we have to remember to respect her -- and look out for one another. Photo by Mike Mezeul

2

From learning about the formation of storms to the categorization of tornadoes, this trip was a big learning experience for me. I didn’t know what mammatus clouds were until I saw them for the first time, and it’s safe to say they might be my new favorite type of cloud. They’re shaped like cotton balls and depending on where you’re positioned, it can feel like you’re under an entire ceiling of them.

3

Just as impressive as the snaking funnel clouds are the supercells that build up over the farmland in the midwest. This tornado-warned storm never actually touched the ground, but watching it twist and expand over the course of a few minutes was a completely hypnotic experience.

4

We spent the entire day chasing a tornado-warned storm that looked like it was going to explode, but just before sunset, the skies above us cleared and all we were left with was a lightning storm 10 miles away. We turned down a deserted dirt road to watch the storm, and after killing our engines, my friend busted out a portable speaker and started playing Native American flute music. As the storm moved away from us, the stars came out and I noticed a handful of fireflies fluttering around. From the perfect live soundtrack to the flashes of light all around me, it was one of my favorite moments on the trip.

5

This photo was taken the moment the first of six tornadoes made contact with the ground near Dodge City, Kansas on May 24, 2016. I had never seen a tornado before, so you can probably imagine the thoughts racing through my head as I clicked away on my camera and watched the skies swirling above me.

6

The tornado isn’t the only part of the storm that rotates. There’s a layer of debris around the tornado that flows like the skirt of a flamenco dancer, and the ceiling of clouds above the funnel are constantly moving too. However, I think my favorite thing was the undulating motion of the grassy fields surrounding the storm. Watching the wind transform a solid patch of earth into what looks like a giant green and gold ocean is something I could have watched for hours.

7

Data analysis is a huge part of successful storm chasing, but to be perfectly honest, luck has more to do with it. Seeing two tornadoes on the ground at the same time is not something most people will get to see in their lifetime, much less photograph. It still blows my mind that something like this is real — and that I was given the chance to observe it with my own eyes.

8

After seeing two tornadoes touch down at the same time, it seemed only fitting that we stumble across a double rainbow. However, this pair of multicolored arcs came with an incredible twist. Not only were they streaking across one of the darkest skies I’ve ever seen, but a giant anticrepuscular ray was illuminating them from the ground up.

9

Tornadoes and supercells may get the most attention, but the way sunbeams shoot across the sky before and after these intense storms is like something from another planet.

10

You haven’t seen clouds until you’ve spent a few days in the midwest during storm season. Not only are they often too massive for even the widest of wide angle lenses, but they’re capable of absorbing every last bit of light and color in the sky.

11

As thrilling as it was to photograph these storms, it is also important to remember that with them can come death and destruction. Thankfully none of the tornadoes I witnessed hit any residential areas, and if they had, I would not be sharing these images. Storm chasers make locals nervous, and seeing as there are hundreds of them on the roads passing through small towns, it’s easy to see why.

12

Sometimes I wasn’t able to get my camera set up fast enough to shoot the rays bursting through holes in the stormy sky. But there were no less than five moments each day where sunbeams this intense were popping up somewhere — it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

13

Due to the weather, sunsets were a bit of an afterthought on this trip, but when you’re an hour away from any severe storm activity and the sun is dropping, pulling out your camera seems like the logical thing to do.

14

This day was technically a bust because we didn’t see a tornado, but watching this monstrous supercell eat up the horizon in Leoti, Kansas was still pretty satisfying. I can’t tell whether it’s a snake head or a dragon, but there is definitely an animal in here somewhere.

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