Nature, the largest canvas of creativity and beauty, has inspired humans since the beginning of time with the beauty of a sunset, luminescence of the moon, vibrancy of flowers, the grace and intrigue of wildlife. Not many people, though, run toward the magnificence of nature’s forces and tame its terror by extracting the beauty. But that’s exactly what Colt Forney does as a storm chaser and photographer.
Colt Forney’s dream of chasing storms began when he was a kid growing up in rural Kansas—the perfect place to be fascinated with severe weather. When he was three or four, Colt remembers running with his family to a neighbor’s basement, seeking shelter in response to a tornado warning.
“The siren was howling, and I remember looking up and seeing how angry and green the sky was,” Colt says. “I became fascinated by weather from that point on.”
By the age of ten, he had witnessed numerous severe storms and even a couple tornadoes. The beauty and power of the storms drew him to every book on atmosphere and severe weather he could find. He remembers, “I collected and watched every tornado VHS in existence.” In middle school he attended SKYWARN spotter training hosted by the National Weather Service (NWS), a program which relies on volunteers to identify and report local storms to help keep their communities safe.
A storm doesn’t stay still and neither could Colt. Once he could drive, he started following storms—chasing his dream farther and farther from home. In May of 2008, he witnessed his first tornado outbreak in western Kansas. Since then he has logged between 20,000—40,000 miles a year chasing tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, and supercell thunderstorms across the country.
In 2008, Colt moved to Oklahoma where he would earn his bachelor’s degree in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. During college he spent his free time and summer vacations chasing storms and studying firsthand the information he was learning in classes. But chasing a storm wasn’t as hard as solving advanced math problems. “I am much more comfortable forecasting than deriving equations,” he admits.
Before long, Colt’s desire to encounter extreme weather extended beyond mere personal fascination. In 2009 he purchased his first DSL camera and began capturing these storms he so admires.
“Inevitably [I] got into photography as a way to be able to share the incredible power and beauty of nature with others,” he says. “I’ve also gotten into landscape and astrophotography after spending countless hours on the road chasing storms and touring and traveling the gorgeous countryside.”
During college, after witnessing a stunning tornado in western Oklahoma, Colt, along with some fellow meteorologists and chasers, formed a media licensing company, Basehunters Chasing, LLC. Basehunters continues to be committed to “capturing and sharing the most unique severe weather footage and photos on the market.”
Their secondary, perhaps more important, goal is to promote severe weather awareness in communities. This objective grew from their experiences of witnessing the devastation that the monster storms reek on towns and people. In May 22, 2011, Colt experienced his most defining moment—the sort of moment that might have scared him away from following his dream. After an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, Colt helped pull people from the rubble of their town. Again in May of 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma, he helped with search and rescue when an EF5 went through the heart of town. “You know tornadoes can be violent, but until you are there witnessing it first-hand, it’s hard to grasp the magnitude of the destruction,” Colt says. Rather than running scared from the trauma, Colt became more passionate about promoting severe weather education.
It was a shared enthusiasm for storms that brought together Colt and his wife Lauren whose stormy obsession also began when she was a child waiting out a storm in a basement. With degrees in Political Science and Public Policy along with her background in weather, Lauren’s mission is to enhance community weather awareness. Like Colt, Lauren enjoys the scenery, the landscape, and the storms themselves. And it’s a good thing. “My wife, Lauren, and I now essentially live on the road about half of the year, photographing storms and taking other photographers along with us on our adventures,” Colt explains. During the off-storm season, the couple gives school presentations on severe weather and safety.
Their platform for influence is constantly expanding. Colt’s not just in Kansas anymore; he’s chased storms through thirty-nine states and two foreign countries and has shared his story in interviews on CNN, FOX, and CBS. His footage has appeared on most major news outlets and on National Geographic and ESPN. Colt continues submitting storm reports to the NWS via Spotter Network. He also recently appeared on a commercial for pixels.com, a website on which he sells prints of his awe-inspiring storm photography.
Through the years, Colt’s passion has only grown.
“One of the most incredible things about chasing is seeing the power and beauty of nature. It’s fascinating studying how the atmosphere works and being able to see those processes unfold first-hand. Although there have been many awesome advances in meteorology, there is still so much unknown.”
And with his courage to continue chasing his dream, who knows what new things Colt might discover along the way.