Friday, May 6, 2011

Next Stop Oz!

 Bob Cammarata

Some of us have one great story to tell, and some of us have been blessed with adventure after adventure, in pursuit of the Great photo.  Bob Cammarata not only has the stories, but he is also a master story teller and phenomenal photographer.

Bob is graciously sharing this second story with us:  A harrowing tale that he and his brother experienced back in 2006.  And yet it is so timely during this period in which Mother Nature has been mercilessly wreaking furious havoc over our entire planet.

Links to Bob's other stories:

"On Snake Mountain"
"When Mother Nature Lends a Hand"

Thanks so much for visiting "Tales of Relentless Pursuit." If you have a free moment or two, please check out my Photography Website, Your Best Shot, and sign up for the mailing list! And also consider sending the link to this blog to your circle of friends.

Michelle Alton


Next Stop Oz!

As an avid outdoorsman, I’ve always been fascinated with the weather. It’s the only thing mankind as a society hasn’t yet figured out how to control. Heck,..our rate of success in forecasting what we predict will happen tomorrow is 50/50 at best (as proven by the times spent shoveling 10 inches of partly cloudy off our driveways). And so the weather remains that last great mystery--Mankind’s final frontier.

As an outdoor photographer, it stands to reason that weather-related phenomena have always ranked high among my lofty lists of favorite subjects. Menacing cloud formations, lightning strikes, hailstorms, floods, you name it and I’m there with camera in hand!  But sadly, my aspirations to witness and photograph the ultimate display of Nature‘s fury of an actual tornado forming and touching down has forever seemed to be an un-attainable goal. For years I’d envied and admired those guys and gals I’d seen on TV and in movies chasing those menacing storms and was awed by their heroism and their rates of success. They were actually living my dream!

Back in June of 2006, while heading home from one of many cross-country road trips, I had what was likely my best opportunity to realize my life-long ambition. It was a sultry summer day on eastbound I#70 as my brother Vince and I descended from the dizzying heights of Colorado’s Vail Pass toward the High Plains. We were headed home from a week of photographing wildlife and scenics in the Rockies and it was immediately apparent how much hotter it was as we traveled through the flatlands east of Denver. It was mid-afternoon and with the summer sun shining brightly, we traversed the interstate through Eastern Colorado toward the Kansas border. And though the sky was clear overhead, we noticed an ominous accumulation of gray clouds several miles to the north which indicated that a storm was brewing. We watched the storm intensify as we drove along and eventually, the photographer in me took control of the wheel and we exited the highway at the next road headed north to try to get a little closer.

Bands of Rain

Finger of God
Those who are familiar with Eastern Colorado know that the side-roads are flat and straight so it wasn’t long before we caught up to what had developed into a really nasty thunderstorm! Sinister gray/green storm clouds streamed bands of rain and hail frequented by vicious lightning strikes and booming thunder. The extremely hostile conditions seemed perfect for tornadic activity to develop. Could this finally be my chance? But we were dangerously close to the action and as much as I’d aspired to photograph an active tornado, I wasn’t too fond of the prospect of meeting Dorothy and the Munchkins just yet. We wisely decided to track east and parallel the path of the storm.

The first road east was unimproved but was far enough away to follow the storm from what seemed a safer distance. We drove along that dirt road for many miles watching the skies and waiting for any new and exciting developments to occur. We pulled over many times to document the cloud formations lightning strikes and sheets of rain while overhead we remained dry. It was perfect! But when our road took a dog-leg to the left and we found ourselves heading north, things began to get a little dicey. The sky in the direction we were now driving was the darkest we’d seen yet!

I suggested going back to where we had been driving earlier but a quick glance in the rear-view mirror indicated that the conditions behind us had also taken a dramatic turn for the worse. A massive wall of mysterious, anvil-shaped gray clouds had formed in the sky behind us. Fascinated with this newest development, I pulled over to grab a few more photos but when I opened the door to step out, I was nearly knocked to the ground by the power of sustained gale-force winds. Fortunately no rain was falling and despite the imminent danger, I braced myself against my Jeep and kept shooting. Then, it happened!

Somewhere near the axis of the wall cloud, a steady stream of gray dust-like material appeared and crept ghost-like along the ground toward the tip of the anvil.  As the eerie ghost began to rise skyward toward the menacing cloud, I shouted in excitement, ”Hang onto your hat. ..THIS IS IT!” We were sure that we were witnessing the makings of a true twister!

Wall Cloud

Wall Cloud with Ground-Level Activity

Vertical Motion

I continued firing away to document all evolving stages of development but was somewhat saddened when no actual rope was able to make landfall. At least not that we could see. We remained at that site until the storm began to show apparent signs of weakening then plotted a course back to the highway.

But the fun wasn’t over yet!  A huge wind-driven dust storm blanketed the road ahead of us reducing our visibility to near zero.  We could not see the road ahead and even worse, we could no longer monitor what was going on in the skies above. Eventually, the wind subsided and the dust dissipated to the point where visibility was restored and we could see that the skies overhead had thickened further to an ugly charcoal gray. The first few trickles of rain developed into a raging torrent. Then came the hail! Horrendous swarms of quarter-sized meteoric pellets blasted into the windshield with a force that I was certain would shatter the glass. I remembered having earlier referenced meeting Dorothy and the Munchkins but now, Scarecrow’s memorable catch-phrase seemed somewhat more germane: “…  IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN!!” 

This was pure insanity!
The horrific hailstorm continued for what seemed an eternity and when it finally ended we pulled over to assess the damages. Careful inspection indicated that my vehicle had miraculously survived the icy onslaught with no visible dents or cracks. For that, I felt relieved but I was aware that we had since become encircled by an opaque blanket of growing gloom. True, the rain and hail had ended but the wind had mysteriously expired to a breathless whisper. The atmosphere was viscid and leaden with the aroma of ozone and an eerie silence of death permeated the surrounding landscape, save for the incessant rumblings of muted thunder emanating from high above a dark canopy of cloud. This was our most frightening time of all! I remember thinking, “This can’t be good,” and vowed to get us away from this monster--and FAST!

Mesocyclonic Supercell

As we hurried along our escape route toward the interstate, Vince noticed yet another strange development in the skies overhead. A broken semi-circle of lighter-colored clouds had formed and appeared to indicate possible rotation. And, it was growing! At first, I shrugged off his discovery as merely an over-active imagination at work but the circular formation continued to manifest itself into a defined mesocyclonic supercell.  Hovering over the High Plains like the mythical Mother Ship from Independence Day, this latest atmospheric phenomenon proved to be the most fascinating and photogenic development of the now dying storm. It seemed somehow ironic to have risked life and limb only to be rewarded with the best photographic opportunity during the storm’s demise.

And so I guess my rendezvous with the tornado will have to wait until next time. Until then, tell Scarecrow I said “Hey. “

Bob Cammarata's Personal Bio:

I am a Maryland photographer who specializes in nature in all its forms.
For as long as I can remember, my love for the outdoors has inspired me to capture nature's beauty and intrigue. My primary interests photographically
involve traveling the country and getting up close and personal with subjects in nature. My travels have taken me to every corner of the U.S. and parts of Canada but in today’s economy, it’s becoming evermore difficult to plan a road trip unless it’s all downhill!

I prefer to shoot in full-manual 100% of the time because I believe that it affords the ultimate in control and accurately represents the challenges and rewards that this great art has to offer.

I’m an active member of and a regular contributor to their Forums and Newsletters. My photos have been published in business brochures and on
Bugguide and other popular wildlife sites and many have been sold as fine art prints.
Lately though, I do this for fun.

I believe photography to be the therapy which keeps one sane in a crazy world.
Feel free to visit my website at

  All photography by Bob Cammarata


What do you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below or email me
 with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog. If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me [at this moment there are only two stories still on tap--we need YOURS!].  And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you!

Michelle Alton





Joe DiGilio said...

Great story Bob. Loved the tempo and your choice of words. I was on the edge of my seat all the while. You got some terrific shots too. Thanks for sharing your extraordinary experience with us. Mother Nature, like the Sea, can be a hard task mistress.

Carolyn Fletcher said...

A great story among many of yours! We share a dream..If I was, say 50 years younger, I'd love to be a storm chaser. They just fascinate me. Now tell us the bat cave story! It's a good one!

Anonymous said...

Ron McEwan wrote---Are you nuts!!! I live out here in tornado alley. Why you think we put holes in the ground for.

Love the story, and yes I have seen many a storm out here, but without a camera.

Monnie Ryan said...

Growing up in southwestern Ohio where, like Oklahoma, the wind comes sweepin' down the plain (and living now where a tornado ravished much of the town in 1985, missing our house by less than a mile), high winds scare me half to death. Interesting story and terrific photos!

Anonymous said...

Compelling and well written account, Bob!! Love this line: "viscid and leaden with the aroma of ozone and an eerie silence of death"...very poetic and frightening...I lived in TX and NC for some time and never got to see a tornado but did see some "greenage" once or twice. Southern California (where I now reside) has such boring weather!!

Great shots too!!!

Robert Bemus

Anonymous said...

Wow. I was spellbound, and as an author, mesmerized by the photos which I could not even begin to shoot myself. Thank you...Oz will never be the same without you....

Dave Phalen said...

My head knew you survived but reading your wonder4ful story my heart worried that you had gone oof to meet Dorothy an Toto. The photos are beyond amnazing!!

Giff Beaton said...

Gripping story and really well written, I felt like I was riding along with you! Backed up by the usual wonderful photos... please submit more stories and photos!