A Rotating Thunderstorm, Closer Than You Have (Hopefully) Ever Seen Before

A timelapse of a supercell beautifully captures the anger of nature.

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"It took four years," Mike Olbinski writes, "but I finally got it."

What he got, in this case, was an amazing -- and, quite literally, awesome -- timelapse of a supercell: a rotating thunderstorm that is almost, but not quite, a tornado. The storm here was "not just a rotating supercell," Olbinski notes, "but one with insane structure and amazing movement."

This particular storm occurred in Texas -- near the town of Booker, in the northeasternmost corner of the state. Olbinski, a wedding photographer and part-time storm chaser, has been visiting the Central Plains, he says, since 2010. And on his fourth trip to the region, he came upon the storm.

Here's how Olbinski turned "raging storm" into "numinous video":

We chased this storm from the wrong side (north) and it took us going through hail and torrential rains to burst through on the south side. And when we did ... this monster cloud was hanging over Texas and rotating like something out of Close Encounters.

The timelapse was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens. It's broken up into four parts. The first section ends because it started pouring on us. We should have been further south when we started filming but you never know how long these things will last, so I started the timelapse as soon as I could.

One thing to note early on in the first part is the way the rain is coming down on the right and actually being sucked back into the rotation. Amazing.

A few miles south is where part two picks up. And I didn't realize how fast it was moving south, so part three is just me panning the camera to the left. During that third part you can see dust along the cornfield being pulled into the storm as well...part of the strong inflow.

The final part is when the storm had started dying out and we shot lightning as it passed over us.

Between the third and fourth portions we drove through Booker, Texas where tornado sirens were going off ... it was creepy as all heck. And intense.

What's amazing, though, is how Olbinski's medium has transformed the storm into something whose creepiness -- and even whose intensity -- are easy to forget. A storm in proximity is much different from a storm seen through the comforting distance of a lens and a laptop; through Olbinski's rendering, with help from Kevin MacLeod's score, the supercell becomes an object of aesthetic wonder. You have to remind yourself that, to people who lack the luxury of a screen, a storm like this is not merely wondrous. It is also terrifying.

For more work by Mike Olbinski, visit http://www.mikeolbinski.com/.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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