Storm Chaser

My enthusiasm for wild weather started at a very young age, I can remember growing up in Washington State the sheer power of the storms that would blow in from the north. Torrential rains and wild howling wind blowing over trees and knocking out power lines. The rolls of thunder in the distance would shake the house, frequent flashes in the sky preceded by even more growling thunder.

As a boy I wished that I could see the lightning as I huddled in the corner of my bed. Sometimes I would build up the courage to peer out the window only to be disappointed that the heavy clouds and the tall trees virtually blocked the bolts and all that was visible would be a sheet of light. As I grew older I would stand outside and try to face the wind as it pushed me back as if it had a will of it’s own.

I remember just after high school I joined the Marines, it had been a little over a year and my training was complete enough for me to travel overseas. Okinawa Japan, that was my first stop, I remember the first day there and the first storm. As I walked up to the Chow hall from the barracks it began, my first monsoon. It started with a few drops and within a few steps buckets of warm tropical rain. I was soaked to the bone and very impressed. As I returned back to the barracks to dry off and put on a fresh uniform I saw it over the ocean, the most massive storm I had ever seen and with it equally powerful lightning. I stood in the window and gazed in amazement as a super typhoon began to head my way. I was then completely addicted to the monsoon and the power of the storm.


Many years later I find myself in southern Utah and the desire to try and catch that lightning I had longed to see as a boy. Observing a storm was no longer enough. The problem with lightning is that it happens only for a split second, not enough time to get a good long look. Photography was the answer. I was already a photographer, but had never captured lightning. This would lead me down another crazy path with no end in sight. My first year chasing it included long drives for hours each night. I would find myself on top of some hill at 2:00 am, shooting lightning bolts hours from home. The little town of Veyo, Utah offered me lightning all night long, if I drove up Highway 18 vast stretches of open land to the North West just above Gunlock reservoir. St George area did not always play out. Lightning nights were fewer, so the miles on my truck ticked by. Veyo, Cedar, Coral Sand dunes, Zion, wherever the lightning went, I was not far behind.


I am often asked if I have ever been close to being struck by lightning. There were two close calls in my novice days. One so close to my truck there was no delay! I was instantly blinded by the brightest light and slightly concussed by the massively loud explosion of sound, my bell was rung! As soon as I regained my composure I thanked God for the warning and proceeded to head off of the hill I had so foolishly climbed to get a closer shot at the lightning. The second was the same night as the first photo. Again I was foolishly standing on top of another hill looking across as the storm headed towards me and feeling pretty safe because the picture I had just captured was some distance away. What I hadn’t noticed was the buildup overhead, it was pitch black and I hadn’t felt a drop of rain when once again, Boom! I was blinded by the bright flash and the sound of the thunder was reminiscent of my days in the Marines during explosive training. It was loud! So loud my ears were ringing.  Again I thanked the Lord above for His mercy and humbly climbed down off my perch. Even with these two events and a few that were not quite as close, I haven’t lost my desire to chase and capture the power and beauty of the magnificent monsoon thunderstorms. Every year, every storm I impatiently watch the weather maps and lightning trackers waiting in anticipation of another opportunity to take the risk, feel the rush and try and catch another storm here in southern Utah.

Paul Smith

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