Writer Joseph J. Airdo // Photography by Tori Jane Ostberg
Photographer Tori Jane Ostberg spends several weeks each year living on the road in pursuit of untamed skies, driving tens of thousands of miles to go wherever the weather leads her throughout the North American Great Plains and Midwest.
In the summer, she chases the “uniquely beautiful and vastly underrated” southwestern monsoon across her home state of Arizona, which she notes could not be more different than the weather-related events that occur in most other regions.
“Every so often, I see plains chasers come out, thinking that it will be easy-peasy, only to quickly get frustrated,” Ostberg says. “You cannot chase out here like you do in the plains. It is a very different beast, and it is incredibly unique. The only other place on this entire planet that gets a monsoon season is South Asia. We get our very own monsoon pattern here in our little corner of the desert. Lucky us!”
This month, Images Arizona is grateful to be able to showcase some of the storms that Ostberg has chased and photographed around Arizona, many of which were part of this summer’s monsoons.
Although the National Weather Service’s official recording of just 0.15 of an inch of rainfall at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport marks the Valley’s driest summer ever — accentuated by a record-breaking 55 days at or above 110 degrees, 31 of which were consecutive — Arizona’s monsoons still managed to wreak havoc around our state this season.
Characterized by electrifying lightning, tumultuous winds, blinding dust and microbursts of rain, Arizona’s monsoons are certainly scary sights to behold — and even scarier to experience. Yet Ostberg runs eagerly toward them in an effort to capture these riders in the sky forever on camera — the epitome of catching lightning in a bottle.
Tori Jane Ostberg says that storm chasing and photographing extreme weather-related events have taught her patience and extreme perseverance.
“They have taught me that I am absolutely able to handle even the most stressful situations,” Ostberg explains. “Every single chase season, there are at least a couple of minor disasters to be taken care of; and, so far, I have been able to handle every last one of them.
Ostberg adds that her hobbies have also taught her an incredible amount about the amazing natural processes of our planet’s atmosphere, as well as the beautiful, fleeting nature of life.
“No two storms will ever be the same and no one storm will ever happen again,” the photographer acknowledges. “We need to witness these processes with the understanding that we are experiencing something incredibly unique.
“Doing this has taught me to appreciate all of that — and, of course, to always make sure that I have my SD cards with me.”
‘It’s A Twister! It’s A Twister!’
Storm chaser and photographer Tori Jane Ostberg will never forget her first-ever big-leagues tornado-chasing adventure.
“It was May 7, 2016,” Ostberg says. “To say it went well would be the understatement of the century — except, in this case, my definition of ‘it went well’ is that my friends and I lingered a little too long after a beautiful Colorado tornado touched down and we ended up being the ones getting chased.
“It followed us very closely up the highway until we were able to find an eastbound road and whipped around onto it, narrowly avoiding being hit ourselves, while we watched it destroy a house and cross the road right behind us. It was eventually rated a high-end EF2.
Later that year, one of the photos that Ostberg took of the tornado placed second in National Geographic’s Nature Photographer of the Year competition.
About the Photographer
For as long as she can remember, Arizona native Tori Jane Ostberg has been hopelessly obsessed with extreme weather.
“As a kid, I would turn The Weather Channel on and let it play for hours,” says Ostberg, who recalls going door to door at the apartment complex at which she lived to warn her neighbors about incoming storms. “Never mind that we live in the desert so it was never like there was a hurricane coming.”
While in high school, Ostberg — whose childhood hero was Tucson storm chaser and photographer Warren Faidley — realized that by incorporating photography into her obsession, she could keep the storms that she experienced with her long after they passed.
“However, to this day, it is first and foremost about the storms for me,” she says. “If I forget my camera at home, it is mildly annoying but, ultimately, what I care most about is being in the storm. The photos are my trophies that I get to keep forever as a record of the storms I track down and hunt successfully.
“Of course, the art of photography is now deeply ingrained in me as well and I find that, like any photographer, I am also very motivated by creating beautiful imagery. My photos are quite literally little pieces of my soul imprinted in pixels forever; beautiful little pieces of everything I have ever wanted to do and everything I have ever hoped for all rolled into extraordinary — and at times extreme — imagery.
“I hope to share the incredible, sublime beauty of severe weather with the world as I see it: as equal parts beautiful, humbling and frightening; and as much a grand spectacle as a force to be respected and revered.”