Drone pilot/storm chaser makes cool year-ender weather video

A Canadian storm chaser has pulled together a video from the 2020 chase year in Ontario. Andrew Macklin says he condensed 30 hours of storm footage down into four minutes. The best part? There are plenty of drone shots.

For many, storm chasing is a passion. It’s a combination of science, sleuthing, photography, videography, plus the sheer adrenaline rush of witnessing the raw power of Mother Nature. Many years ago I accompanied some Canadian and US chasers on a tour through tornado alley. They were long days (there’s a ton of driving involved), but I saw the most amazing storms of my entire life.

Back then, reliable consumer drones didn’t exist. Now, they’re often part of the storm chaser’s toolkit.

The backstory

There’s a guy we follow on Twitter. His name is Andrew Macklin (@amacklin10). He tweeted about the release of his video, so we had to click. What’s more, we had to ask him a few questions.

Hey! It’s Andrew!

Andrew is a biochemist by training and runs a research lab in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). And his love affair with severe weather goes back a long way:

I have been fascinated with storms since I was a little kid and almost went into Atmospheric science for my University degree. Right after graduate school, I treated myself to a 7-day storm chasing tour in Tornado Alley where I got to ride along with trained chasers. It was a blast and it re-ignited a passion for severe storms. Ever since, I have chased storms solo around the lower Great Lakes as well as the traditional tornado alley States. I have seen nine tornados and counting.


How did you get into drones?

That was our next question, because everyone has a story. Here’s Andrew’s:

After trying my hand with action cameras, I immediately saw the possibilities of applying drone photography with storm chasing and had to give it a shot. In 2016, my Dad was the best and gifted me a Quantum Follow-Me, but repeated connection issues made me quickly switch to the DJI Spark. The Spark was a great beginner drone that I took with me on hiking trips in the Western USA. But storm videography is trickier than mountainous landscape photography. The Spark couldn’t handle the surface winds ahead of the strong storms which lead to unusable, shaky footage and many float-away close-calls. I upgraded to the Mavic Air 2 for this video which performed much better, although it still does have problems on the really windy days.

Why are drones useful for storm chasing?

Well, they can obviously give you that aerial perspective. They can help you get a better shot while away from a point that’s potentially dangerous. Plus, they can be tremendously advantageous depending on terrain. In some of Tornado Alley, you’ve got that Big Sky where you can see pretty much 360° from your car. In the Canadian province of Ontario, you’re likely to be contending with hills and often trees on either side of the road. So you can’t really see the big picture from your vehicle. We ask Andrew about this.

“The aerial footage provides a novel perspective that ground footage previously couldn’t create,” he says. “This is especially true in recording and surveying tornado track damage paths.”

Okay, let’s see the video

Ask, and ye shall receive. Here it is:

Final thoughts

We asked Andrew if he had any advice for people considering picking up storm chasing (and using drones). Here’s what he said:

Join the storm chasing community online (Twitter, Discord) to expose yourself to resources. There are online webinars that cover a wide range of storm chasing expertise from the basics (CanWarn/Skywarn Spotting webinars) to more advanced graduate school lectures on Youtube. I used to audit university meteorology lectures in the evenings.

And the drones?

Once you’ve sharpened your knowledge, and practiced, then you can throw the drone into the mix. There are now caveats to storm chasing with the goal of drone footage. First, you need to be more aware of your positioning relative to the storm because if you have a tornado-warned storm approaching you at 40mph, you need to account for the additional minutes needed to deploy your drone and to land your drone (as opposed to simply driving away). There is also a significant risk of losing the drone. You need to keep an eye on approaching strong wind gusts and avoiding incoming precipitation that could ruin your flight or turn your drone into a hazard to others.

DroneDJ‘s take

We love extreme weather, and totally see the appeal. And while it’s a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-laden pursuit, it can also be dangerous. You need to understand what storm systems can do and be able to read radar imagery like the back of your hand.

By all means, if it appeals to you pursue it. But listen to Andrew’s advice. Learn about what you’re doing before you just hop in a car based on a weather warning. Ensure you’ve got the right weather software on your phone and can understand it. Connect with experienced chasers who will both know where to head… and what to avoid.

It’s truly a fascinating past-time; if I’d started younger I would have been a total convert. But just show a health respect for Mother Nature. She’s unpredictable, and you need to be armed with knowledge.

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