One Night
Two Supercells
Infinite Amazement

Alma, Nebraska (19-20 June 2011)

by Roger Edwards

A long, tiring and sometimes nerve-wracking trip across eastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska, in search of photogenic and rotating storms, left us running on fumes and stopped in Alma for the night. We had seen a couple of photographically difficult storms and a brief, distant tornado with no photo, enduring many hours of hard driving involving enervating natural and human behavior. Dead tired, on edge, needing to calm down and get to sleep, we didn't realize the best was yet to come, by far.

At 11 p.m., the formerly messy and demanding supercell with which we had tangled in fading sunlight still twirled across the Nebraska prairie to our NW. The storm cruised on a steady eastward bearing, coming closer and soon to pass abeam to the north, all while flashing furiously. Constant strobing in the northwestern night sky lured us back onto a nearby dirt road for one of the most astounding and otherwordly spectacles that I have witnessed in over a quarter-century of storm observing. All our weariness and frustrations melted away in the face of an awe-commanding, spinning and sparking spool of vaporous sculpture. All that was left was a glorious reminder of who is really in charge; and it was much needed. These are just three of many, many other similar images from this spectacular storm.




After photographing and watching that gorgeous display, we headed back to our motel room and got ready for bed, grateful for what we just witnessed, and finally at ease. The last thing to do before lights-out was a succinct self-briefing online for the next day's storm forecast.

Well after midnight, a line of storms evolved to our WNW and moved E, becoming anchored by another supercell. A peek outside revealed an even more electrically active scene headed along the very same track as the first! Mind over matter, fascination over fatigue--we got dressed, gathered our gear and headed out to the edge of town again. To us, this storm was at least as astounding in its display of energy and beauty as the first. Judge for yourself.





We shot dozens and dozens of photos, and could have had many hundreds; the lightning was that continuous. Two lightning-illuminated supercells in one night...what more could we want? Yet while that storm was brightening up the sky, hundreds of fireflies arose from an adjoining field, their comparatively faint flashes organizing as a three-foot deep blanket of green twinkles a hundred yards in width and breadth, stirred by the profusion of far brighter flashes arising from aloft. My only regret was failing to attempt to shoot them too. Still, the memories, themselves photographic, will live indelibly within us.

We weren't back in the room 'til after 2 a.m., satiated and restful after a nocturnal feast on the dessert buffet of the smorgasbord of atmospheric violence. The threat the next day woudn't be far away, so we knew we could rest well and sleep in. Between this, and the 8-10 tornadoes we saw later on the 20th in extreme northern Kansas and Nebraska, Elke and I savored perhaps the most amazing two-day storm-observing experience of our time together.

NOTE: All photos © 2011 Roger Edwards, All Rights Reserved. Reproduction without authorization in any medium whatsoever will be strictly enforced by photographer's licensing agent, Insojourn Design and Images, as a violation of Federal copyright law pursuant to 17 USC Section 504b-504c and 17 USC Section 505.

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