Mike Hollingshead, Shooting the Storms

The photographer responsible for our stunning cover and opening spread discusses the stories behind the storms.

The amazing image that opens our story was shot near Grand Island, Neb. Photo by Mike Hollingshead

The amazing image that opens our story was shot near Grand Island, Neb. Photo by Mike Hollingshead

Mike Hollingshead has been chasing storms since 1999. In 2004, his storm photography became his full-time job. He drives more than 20,000 miles a year to capture his unique stills, shooting with a Canon Digital Rebel SLR.

The storm in the spread photo that opens our story (right) was an amazing, slow-moving supercell that moved just north of Grand Island, Neb., Mike says. “I think it was producing hail to baseball size for much of its life,” he says. “It took on some crazy saucer shapes.” In spite of its ominous appearance, “the storm was quite high based and never really posed any tornado threat,” Mike notes. The “darkness” in the clouds comes from the fact that it carried so much dirt and moisture because of its strong inflow.

Photographers who look closely will notice some “grain” in the photograph. “That photo was basically shot in the dark,” Mike says. While the late twilight contributed to the exposure of this extraordinary photo, the lightning contributed most of the light, making the captured moment all the more rare.

The cover of our Spring 2010 issue. Photo by Mike Hollingshead

Our cover photo (left) was “sort of an atypical storm in that it was barely moving at first,” Mike says. The storm had spawned a tornado, but when it was shot here, it was not as dangerous, “just a mean ol’ storm,” Mike says.

Many times storms obviously aren’t capable of producing tornadoes. But even more often, the ones that do can’t do it again, as they get what is called “outflow dominant,” Mike says. “There’s just too much cold air coming down near the storm’s base, undercutting it. That’s just not very supportive of producing tornadoes at that point.” So this one spawned one early on, then raced on as a high-precipitation supercell.

When we contacted Mike about helping us with this story for FarmLife™, the hardest part was picking the right shots from his incredible storm library. To see more of his stunning photography from a dozen years of chasing, check out the link below.

Mike Hollingshead’s storm imagery, organized by year: http://www.extremeinstability.com/imagesbyyear.htm

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