The midwest has some of the most extreme weather in the US and these are the photos to prove it

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Storm chasing photographer Mike Hollingshead makes a living following America’s worst storms, from snarling tornadoes chewing up Kansas farmland to supercell thunderstorms in the Dakotas.

A Nebraska-native, Hollingshead used to watch the Midwest’s extreme weather from hills that overlooked his town. After seeing some “crazy storm photos” on the internet, Hollingshead drove to Iowa, where he lucked into a tornado on his first day.

Fifteen years later, Hollingshead is still chasing storms, often into danger.

“Most storm chasers don’t put themselves in the path [of the storm] … but I like the view there the most,” he says.

Hollingshead shared some of the most “beast” storms he’s ever chased with us, but you can see more of his work at his blog, where he shares photos and stories from the chases.


Hollingshead started chasing storms in 1999 as a hobby, before going full time in 2004.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

The storm chasing season begins in April, before dropping off quickly in July. He says the best months are May and June. This vivid double rainbow was captured in Kansas.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead uses computer models to narrow down where storms, like this supercell in Nebraska, will be. Even with the models, it’s often impossible to know if a storm will be worth photographing before you get there.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Some stormchasers use a tornado intercept vehicle (pictured) to film from the center of a tornado. Hollingshead uses a standard Mitsubishi Eclipse.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead shoots from the inside of his car to protect himself from getting struck by lightning.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Supercells are thunderstorms that are characterized by a deep, persistent, updraft. Because of their massive, rotating nature, supercells often resemble “alien motherships.”

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead called this Valentine Nebraska supercell from 2009 “one of the most wicked storms I’ve seen.” Wind speeds exceeded 100 miles per hour and there were baseball-sized hailstones falling from the storm.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This supercell photograph was taken at a York, Nebraska truck stop after a day of chasing storms. During the day, Hollingshead saw three tornadoes produced from this supercell.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead loves shooting storms, but he is fascinated by any type of weather phenomenon. Here, he captured a convective cloud — clouds that form vertically from the instability of the atmosphere.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This is a “squall line” in Nebraska. A squall line is a string of thunderstorms that forms along a cold front. It is often accompanied by heavy rain, hail, and tornadoes.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This photo from 2005 was taken just five hours west of Hollingshead’s home. He called this Nebraska storm “non-severe.”

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This supercell thunderstorm set a record for hail size. In Vivian, South Dakota, a hailstone was found that was 8 inches in diameter and weighed nearly two pounds.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This summer storm in Fairburn, South Dakota, produced baseball-sized hailstones.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

This shelf cloud is called a “whale’s mouth” by storm chasers.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead started chasing this storm near his home in Nebraska. Seven hours of driving later and he got this shot.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability

Hollingshead says that the biggest problem chasing storms today isn’t the storms themselves, but the crowds that follow them. Having lines of cars waiting for a storm can become very dangerous. For that reason, he chases storms in the Dakotas and Nebraska where there are fewer people.

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Mike Hollingshead/Extreme Instability