The Story of a... Storm Chaser

For Lee Nicholas, 45, of Longwood, getting in the path of lightning means he’s that much closer to capturing the perfect storm on camera.



Norma Lopez Molina

As a kid I was terrified of thunderstorms. I hid under the bed, grabbed my teddy bear. But when I was 15, I actually saw a funnel cloud make contact with the ground maybe two or three miles from my house and that was it. That was the ultimate. I was hooked.

I’ve never seen two storms that were alike. It’s always something different every time you go out. You never know if you’re going to see one, miss one, be miles away or right underneath.

I try to get as close to a storm as I can without getting killed.

Anytime you go out chasing storms with a metal [camera] tripod you’re going be in harm’s way. I’ve never had anything real close, or maybe I have and I just haven’t realized it. I mean, 15 feet from a bolt of lightning would have most people freaking out and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I have my camera open?’

I’m scared of storms sometimes. You’ve got to have a little fear, otherwise you’re not human.

I’ll go right up to the Georgia border in the late fall, early spring, when the cold fronts are coming in and ride parallel to the storms and choose which cells to go after so I’ll end up right in the middle of a storm.

I’m old school. I don’t have a laptop to track storms. I just call home and say, ‘Honey, check the radar.’

There’ll be times where I’ll go out chasing all day and all I will do is spend time in Denny’s drinking coffee because there is nothing happening.

I’ll call into the National Weather Service with things I’ve seen. Twice, information I called in got them to post severe thunder storm warnings, which was cool because it was like I was responsible for that.

If it’s a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, the only coast I’m going to is the Pacific. But if it’s a Category 1 or 2 I’ll go and check it out.

When I’m chasing, either the Tornado soundtrack is playing in the car or Metallica­—those boys were made for storm chasing.

To storm chase you’ve got to be passionate about it and a little more on the edge than the average Joe. You don’t have to be a daredevil. I mean, I’m not a daredevil. I won’t jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute and yet these guys who do jump out of airplanes have told me they wouldn’t go out with a camera in a lightning storm.


WHEN THE WEATHER’S CLEAR, NICHOLAS WORKS AS A TRAVEL CONSULTANT

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