20 April, 2018 By: Vanessa Pogorelic
When facing the force of a North West storm, most people would find the safest place possible and ride it out. But for James Taylor and his group of storm chasers it’s more fun to ride straight into it.
Checking the weather forecast after recent storms, Broome local James Taylor is contemplating what the next few days might bring.
“In the past week or two it has quietened down a lot,” he says.
“But I’ve got my fingers crossed we might get a few large storms in the next week or so.”
Not many people get up in the morning hoping for a stormy day, but for Taylor—founder of the North West Storm Chasers group—there’s nothing more breathtaking than the sight of a massive thunderhead climbing high into the vast Kimberley skyline.
He’s not alone—the Facebook group he established, more than five years ago has more than 4000 followers who share his passion for wild weather.
“I was surprised how well it took off. People from right across the area, from as far as Exmouth and Karratha to Kununurra, all share their storm images and stories on the page.”
Waiting for a bolt from the blue
Taylor’s main interest is capturing storm activity on camera and video, keeping a close eye on information from the Bureau of Meteorology for signs of an approaching storm, especially those with electrical activity. He says you develop a bit of an instinct for what’s on the way.
“I monitor radar images from the Bureau, but I don’t rely fully on forecasts. Basically you’ve just got to look at the sky.
“We’re blessed here in Broome. It’s a very flat area in the Western Kimberley so you can see for two, three or four hundred kilometres away on a good day.
“You can watch different cloud structures at different times of the day moving in different directions and see the big storms coming. A bit of local knowledge also helps.”
Close to the action
With the Kimberley region a hotspot for thunder and lightning storms they never have to wait for long. At the first signs of a looming storm, Taylor and his mates gather their gear and hit the road for the chase, which, given the great expanse of the region, can mean travelling hundreds of kilometres in pursuit.
“It’s a very big area up here so 200 or 300km is really nothing. I had some good chases last year between Fitzroy Crossing and Derby, about 300km from Derby and all the way back to Broome, over around four hours.”
His recent highlight was chasing the tropical low that preceded Cyclone Joyce earlier this year, taking the group on a two-day, 1000km round trip from Derby to Sandfire.
“It was a big chase. The tropical low was moving across the Kimberley at the time.
“The first night in Derby there was a lot of distant lightning all night long. The next day we basically went from Derby to Sandfire with the storm chasing us until the next night. It was very exciting.”
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Avoiding close calls
Despite the apparently reckless nature of his hobby, Taylor says staying safe is his number one priority.
“Safety is paramount, especially with some of these big lightning storms. When they get too close the safest place is always in the car. You can leave the camera outside—we use equipment like lightning triggers and remote controls so you can control your camera from the safety of your car.
“It’s actually pretty hairy when you get caught in the middle of it, especially with all the rain.
"At times you have to pull over as the rain becomes blinding so you pull over and let it pass. You have to just drive to the conditions.”
Taylor says that although he’s been able to get close to the action without incident so far, he still gets the occasional reminder of the power and unpredictability of nature.
“A few years ago I was photographing Gantheaume Point lighthouse here in Broome. I was about 50m away at the time when a big bolt of lightning struck the top of the lighthouse. It definitely wakes you up!”
Originally from Victoria, Taylor says his father inspired his interest in observing storms.
“We’d go out and watch big lightning storms. I was also into surfing then so I had to watch the weather. I guess it wasn’t until I moved to the Kimberley that I really fell in love with it and really appreciated how big an impact it has, especially up in these parts.”
Taylor loves the vastness and extremes of the Kimberley region and for him seeing nature put on a show against that backdrop make it all the more spectacular.
“Being able to witness the smallest cloud turn into the biggest thunderstorm, right before your eyes within a matter of a few hours— it’spretty awesome.”
Image credit: James Taylor