Michael Bath: storm chaser
BEING stuck in the middle of a violent thunderstorm might scare the pants off you, but Michael Bath reckons it's a blast.
That's why the McLeans Ridges resident last weekend positioned himself at South Gundurimba - directly in the path of the vicious super-cell storm where it could lob hail stones the size of golf balls at him as he sat in his car listening to it fill with another layer of dings and watch them bounce off the paddocks around him while a few kilometres away a gentler aspect of the storm would give the community a soft white-Christmas look.
Only a few days earlier, Mr Bath had been ankle deep in snow 300km away at Guyra, on the New England Highway between Glen Innes and Armidale, in a snow storm that swept over the Northern Tablelands reaching
as far north as Tenterfield and as far south as the Blue Mountains.
The sudden mid-spring snowfall would have caught thousands of people unawares, but not Mr Bath. He positioned himself to be where the snow would be deepest - 10-15cm, compared to the 2cm powder coating that dusted Tenterfield.
It's been that way for more than half the 45-year-old's life now: chasing after storms to get into the places where there will be the deepest snowfall, the heaviest rain, the biggest hail stones, the strongest wind, the greatest number of lightning strikes.
It's an obsession, Mr Bath concedes.
"It began when we had a couple of big floods (in Lismore) in 1987. I just became obsessed with the weather and what causes floods."
And he's not alone. Mr Bath said there were maybe a dozen storm chasers operating on NSW North Coast and
South East Queensland. They often went out in groups - or just ran into each other at storms - and sometimes had meetings to show off the photos and videos they had collected.
Some of those photos and videos could be spectacular. Mr Bath earns his crust working for the Early Warning Network, but has a nice sideline selling some of his more spectacular lightning photos as art pieces on his own website, Lightning Photography, including his own calendars.
And while storm chasers are essentially weather nerds, the hobby, with its tales of derring-do, plays much better at parties than more traditional nerdy pursuits, such as collecting comic books, playing World of Warcraft, or calculating pi.
Even so, one must beware one's own zeal.
"It does come up at parties, but I try to not rave on about it too much because it might get boring," Mr Bath said. "But when people talk about some big event that's effected them in their lives, it's a good talking point.
"There are not too many people who are storm chasers but ... everyone can relate to it because everyone experiences the weather."
Mr Bath's obsession with the weather even plays well in his relationship with his wife, Alison, who will often head out with her husband to watch, film, and photograph weather.
"She's not into storm chasing, but if we're going somewhere and it's interesting weather she'll take some photos," he said.
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