Forbidding Beauty: Tornadic Storms across the Great Plains

Severe storms slam the Great Plains of the United States each spring, spinning columns of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico until they stand on edge and race across the prairie. Before nightfall, lives may end, torn apart as shards of wood and glass and steel slice the air, mixing earth with sky in clouds of dust and rain and hail. A few days pass and then a new storm lifts the ground up, leaving hell below, leaving one man’s land a few counties away on another’s, leaving some people dispossessed and others merely wanderers.

In 1977, photographer Eric Meoloa became interested in storms after a road trip across Nevada to photograph an album cover for musician Bruce Springsteen. While driving in the desert, they encountered a violent storm, and Springsteen wrote a song about the experience called “The Promised Land”, saying later of those photographs that “Eric caught some great pictures but what he really captured was something in the sky and in the lay of the land that deeply revealed the grandeur and character of the country.”

Moala was transfixed as well by the display of nature’s fury, stating: “I always wanted to go back to that day when we drove up on a hilltop and watched as lightning revealed the valley floor.” And went back he did, several years ago to capture the tornadic storms of the Great Plains, the area in America’s heartland west of the 98th meridian and east of the Rockies. Driving through the area known as Tornado Alley – from the Rio Grande in southern Texas, north to the Canadian province of Alberta and Saskatchewan – he photographed a forbidding landscape of elemental forces, where immense storm percolate miles above the ground, rotating with energy until tornadoes spin on the horizon that give the land a haunting beauty.

The Tornado Alley of the United States

Lightning strikes. Stamford, Nebraska, June 21, 2017.
Tornado with wall cloud. Minneola, Kansas, May 24, 2016.
Tornado. Camp Crook Road, South Dakota, June 28, 2018.
Tornado, Carpenter, Wyoming, June 12, 2017.
Supercell at sunset. Haviland, Kansas, June 17, 2017.
Supercell at sunset, Flagler, Colorado, May 20, 2014.
Tornado. Woonsocket, South Dakota, June 18, 2014.
Cloud to cloud lightning. Douglas, Wyoming, June 23, 2018.
Hailstorm. Denver, Colorado, May 21, 2014.
Supercell at sunset. Flagler, Colorado, May 20, 2014.
Cattle and storm. Limon, Colorado, June 5, 2014.
Road with outflow and shell cloud. Grand Island, Nebraska, June 13, 2017.

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