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9 Extraordinary Weather Events Caught on Camera

See the amazing beauty behind dramatic and dangerous storms, captured by photographer and storm chaser Eric Meola.

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fierce beauty-storms of the great plains book coverCourtesy Eric Meola

Wild weather you have to see to believe

Extreme weather has become more and more common every year. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2019 was the fifth consecutive year with more than ten weather and climate disaster events that caused $1 billion in damage and loss. That’s the first time on record this has ever happened, though crazy weather has occasionally changed the course of history. But there is beauty even in the most dangerous storms—and photographer and author Eric Meola highlighted the best of his storm-chasing in his new book, Fierce Beauty: Storms of the Great Plains. Check out some of the incredible images he captured, along with his memories of the awe-inspiring weather he witnessed.

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lightning show weather eventCourtesy Eric Meola

Lightning show

“A pearlescent cumulonimbus cloud shot 10 miles straight up above our heads while bolt after bolt of cloud-to-ground lightning struck the earth, as fireflies pulsed in the darkness, telegraphing the night’s mystery in flashes of light.” —Six Plumes of Lightning (Stamford, Nebraska). From strange lightning-strike rashes to exploding trees, here are 10 weird facts about lightning strikes you probably don’t know.

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rainbow in a stormCourtesy Eric Meola

Rainbow in the storm

“Rainbow and falling hail is a startling phenomenon—a white cloud of falling hail condensing in the air, causing a rainbow to form within it.” —Rainbow and Falling Hail (Keota, Colorado). Check out these other stunning rainbow pictures that will instantly brighten your day.

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dark stormCourtesy Eric Meola

Darkness falls

“When I started chasing storms, I watched the sky turn the darkest black, as if I was looking up into a celestial sphere in a night deprived of stars. Dark gray ripples shimmered in the void, and my perception was that a giant black curtain hung over a stage, undulating with the wind. The darker the sky became, the more I had an ominous feeling that what I was about to witness was an apocalypse, and I was pulled between running away and walking toward some malevolent force that was about to reveal itself.” —Chaotic Sky (Barnhart, Texas). Have you always been fascinated by the weather? Here are 13 things your TV weather forecaster won’t tell you.

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tornado alley stormCourtesy Eric Meola

Tornado alley

“A few days into my first storm chase on the Great Plains, I got very lucky. A gentle tornado touched the ground near the town of Viola, Kansas, then pirouetted across the grass; and for just a moment I thought all tornadoes were gentle vortexes, spinning like ballerinas on the big, open prairie.” —Tornado (Viola, Kansas). Storms sometimes seem like they hit without any warning at all, but that’s not completely true. Here are a few bizarre things that happen when it’s about to storm.

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supercell stormCourtesy Eric Meola

Supercell storms

“In slow motion a supercell formed, pulling hundreds of acres of red clay topsoil more than ten miles up into a roiling sky. We drove for hours through rain, hail, and thick, choking clouds of brown dust, watching the radar as a ‘wheel of fortune’ tracked our path on the back roads of towns that appeared as fleeting shadows through dust-streaked windows.” —Harvested Field with Hail-Filled Supercell (Kanorado, Kansas). While extreme weather might lead us to say “it’s raining cats and dogs,” we mean that figuratively, of course…but here are 10 of the strangest things that have actually fallen from the sky.

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golden hour stormCourtesy Eric Meola

The golden hour

“This remains one of my all-time favorite images, and was taken in the very last minutes of a long, otherwise uneventful chase day. In this single photograph, there is lightning, with a setting sun, the spectacular inflow tail of a supercell, and a field of wheat in the foreground. It is one thing to photograph a scene like this, and quite another to come upon it down a long road and see it get closer through a van’s windshield.” —Supercell at Sunset (Haviland, Kansas). Weather at any given moment is often more complex than you realize, and that’s doubly true when there’s a storm on the horizon. Here are 22 things you didn’t know about thunderstorms.

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storm clouds at sunsetCourtesy Eric Meola

Clouds at sunset

“Luck and perseverance are bookends to photographing and chasing storms on the Great Plains. You feel a lot of adrenaline pumping as cumulonimbus clouds metastasize, spreading out over miles of land and rising tens of thousands of feet into the stratosphere.” —Cumulonimbus Cloud at Sunset (Oglala, South Dakota). For more gorgeous images, check out the most spectacular sunsets from every state.

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ominous cloudscapeCourtesy Eric Meola

An ominous cloudscape

“Whenever a photographic assignment took me out to the middle of America, I was smitten with the openness, the landscapes of infinity, the storm light and the skies, the mythic country of the prairie and the plains that informs the romantic ideal of the place we call the heartland.” —Rear-Flank Downdraft Region of a Supercell (Wheatland, Wyoming). By the way, knowing these 6 types of clouds can help you predict the weather.

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danger in the distanceCourtesy Eric Meola

Danger in the distance

“Late one evening, in the pitch black of night, a tornado rotated along a mesa’s edge in South Dakota, spinning with energy. A cumulonimbus fireball pulsed with light above it, crackling with thunder and shooting out lightning. As I stood on the Great Plains in this landscape of fierce beauty, I felt completely at peace, as if in a space that transcended meditation. Here, there was only nature’s wild, spitfire turbulence, exploding above the road in front of me. Looking at the line on the horizon’s edge, I knew one thing: This is the place I want to be.” —Nocturnal Tornado (Buffalo, South Dakota). Next, check out the most colorful natural wonders on Earth.