Gallery: Amazing storm pictures shot by East Anglian weatherman

EVER since he was a little boy growing up in his native Texas, weatherman Chris Bell has been in awe of the lightning forks and fierce funnels of supercell storms which America is so famous for.

It is a fascination which has remained with the 34-year-old right into adulthood, developing into a fully-fledged passion which compels the weatherman to seek out these storms where others would flee.

And it is from another stormchasing trip in the Great Plains of America that Mr Bell has just returned, complete with a camera full of jaw-dropping images which show there can be beauty in the beast.

Mr Bell, a father-of-one who lives at Foxley, near Bawdeswell and works for Weatherquest, based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said the trip, which finished last week, was a great success.

He said: “We went out there for 12 days and basically we went stormchasing and the main time for that is any time between April and June; that’s when in the Great Plains of the United States you’re at a pretty large risk of seeing large storms and tornadoes.

“I’ve put myself in the way of two of those (tornadoes) before. You get an adrenaline rush just like you would going on a roller coaster – you really get your blood pumping and get excited about it.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get a tornado, although that’s fairly common.

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“More times than not, you’re going to go out there for a week or so and not see a tornado, but there were beautiful storms.

“The most common storms are super cells, a special type of rotating thunderstorm.”

Mr Bell, who is also a weather presenter on BBC TV and radio and an associate tutor on the weather forecasting module at UEA, was accompanied on the trip by a couple of other stormchasers, including Dan Holley.

During the trip, the group travelled more than 3,000 miles through Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado in pursuit of the perfect storm.

And while they failed to come across a tornado, they were able to follow “four really good storms”.

Mr Bell said: “It’s sometimes strange. You go out for 10 to 12 days and have three to four days when you’re actually chasing storms but this time we saw a storm every day we were there at some point.”

Despite the obvious danger associated with storms – and the death and devastation they can wreak – Mr Bell said it is an entirely different hazard they have to be aware of when on the road.

He said: “I always tell people the most dangerous part of stormchasing is being on the road for so long.

“The chances of getting injured in a road traffic accident are way higher than anything else.

“I’ve done more than 1,500 miles of driving in one day before, chasing weather, and you’ve got all these crazy people driving everywhere. That’s the biggest risk.”

But in terms of storms themselves, Mr Bell said the biggest risk was from lightning and the fact that you cannot predict where that is going to go – meaning that sometimes the best thing to do was “get back in the car and watch it from there”.

Getting hit by a tornado however, according to Mr Bell, was way down the risk list in terms of stormchasing, particularly if you know what you are doing and have the kit to map how storms are developing.

The equipment used by Mr Bell and his team included four laptop computers which charted the course of the storms and where they were headed.

They also relied upon radio weather reports which, in America in particular where storms are such a common occurrence, are incredibly accurate.

It is these reports which help not only stormchasers like Mr Bell stay safe, but also the people who find themselves living in the eye of the storm.

Mr Bell said: “We’re out there to see severe weather, but we also have to remember that in real life there are people at risk from this thing.

“If a large tornado passes through a town it can kill quite a few people and devastate towns. We have to have some compassion when we’re out there.”

The potential danger of his hobby will understandably be felt at home by his wife Amanda, who he met while studying at the UEA for a year as part of his undergraduate degree in geology, and his four-year-old son Drew. But despite the risks, it is a passion he has been free to pursue with the full backing of his family.

He said: “My wife understands. She met me and she knew that I love weather. It’s not something I just decided to do.

“It’s been a passion of mine and I can remember watching thunder storms out the window since I was a small boy. I think she understands it’s just part of what makes life exciting for me.

“Some people like riding roller coasters but I like seeing weather in action. There are some people who go out there every year and spend a month but I don’t do that – I don’t think she would like that. I only go every three to four years.”

To see Chris Bell’s stunning pictures, click on the gallery at the top right corner of this story.

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