Valley photographers discuss passion for chasing storms - Tucson News Now

Valley photographers discuss passion for chasing storms

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Storm chaser Bryan Snider. (Source: CBS 5 News) Storm chaser Bryan Snider. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Storm chaser Michael Olbinski. (Source: CBS 5 News) Storm chaser Michael Olbinski. (Source: CBS 5 News)

Three veteran storm chasers tracking an EF-3 tornado near Oklahoma City were killed Friday.

Authorities said Tim Samaras, his son Paul and colleague Carl Young couldn't get out of harm's way in time.

It's an example of how dangerous of a profession storm chasing can be.

"I think there's a rush that you get," said Bryan Snider, a storm chaser and photographer from Maricopa. "Maybe 'euphoric' is the best way to describe it. Capturing something of Mother Nature is truly a passion of mine."

Snider has been chasing storms for more than a decade, starting in the Midwest and then Arizona.

Last Thursday he made the trip to Oklahoma City, where he encountered the region's latest round of tornadoes.

"Storm chasing in Oklahoma is, to me, it's almost like you're playing in Major League Baseball," Snider said. "Here, it's Triple-A."

He was accompanied by a veteran storm chaser and meteorologist who helped get them close to the twisters without putting them in danger, enabling Snider to capture some powerful images.

"I shot video in the direction I thought the tornado was," he said. "When I was able to put it on a computer, I realized I was only a few miles away from a monster tornado that looked huge."

While storm chasing in Arizona is not as dangerous as it is in the Midwest, Snider said he and another storm chaser/photographer had a close call last year on the Bee Line Highway near Payson.

"The sound of thunder went off and at that point I literally ducked - you know, hit the ground," he said. "At that point, me and another storm chaser, Mike Olbinski, we're like, ‘Alright - we're outta here.'"

A photograph Mike Olbinski took that night shows the darkness around them.

The next shot shows the same area illuminated by a lightning bolt overhead.

Perhaps one of Olbinski's most famous storm images is a time lapse video of a massive haboob sweeping over the Valley on July 5, 2011.

"I love weather so much," he said. "And this is my outlet. I finally discovered my outlet to, I don't know, show it to other people."

But when it comes to chasing tornadoes, which Olbinski hasn't done yet, he feels it's worth the risk - if done for the right reasons.

"If their intentions are to save lives, study the tornadoes so they can get more data, so the Weather Service can understand and predict when we're going to have them, then I think it's good," said Olbinski.

Snider agrees and said, "If the research helps us understand a tornado just that much more or helps us understand how to predict them that much more, even give just enough better warning, then I think it's worth it."

Snider is in the process of putting together a mini-documentary on his storm chasing experiences and will soon post it to his website, where you can also view pictures and videos he has taken.

Olbinski also has a website that features breathtaking images from across Arizona.

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