Catching up with ‘Tornado Girl’

Last Final Friday, I went to take a look at an exhibit featuring the landscape and weather photographs of Katherine Bay, a Mulvane native who now calls Wichita home. The Eagle first wrote about Katherine back in 2002, when she gained national attention for being a teenage storm chaser.

Since then, she has traveled tens of thousands of miles documenting tornadoes, hurricanes and other forms of severe weather. She’s worked with National Geographic, Twentieth Century Fox and numerous national television networks.

But she tells me her most popular photograph is one she shot right here in Wichita, in the back yard of a condominium near 21st and Ridge.

It’s a photograph of twin lightning bolts taken earlier this year. She captured it during “four hours of constantly taking pictures,” she told me. “Four hours. I’m out there with a cable connected to my hand
that goes to the camera and every five seconds taking a picture.”

She went through 32 gigs of memory in her photo card that night. That’s “quite a few shots,” she said with a chuckle.

Most of them didn’t have a thing on them. She didn’t realize she’d captured the twin bolts until she was going through the images some time later.

“People seem to love them,” she said.

While she was given the nickname “Tornado Girl” a few years ago, she confessed they aren’t her favorite weather phenomenon to photograph.

“People see tornadoes all the time now. Everybody shoots tornadoes now…well, if I see a tornado I’m going to shoot a tornado…but I like the structure of the storms better than I like the tornado.

“The lightning is probably one of the hardest things to shoot and to get a really good shot of…but it’s also my favorite to shoot because it is the most challenging. You have to work at it to get it.

“I do find it to be the most rewarding when you shoot all day and you get tired and you don’t look at the images for weeks and you finally go back and you find that one shot you didn’t have any clue you even took.”

More of her photographs can be seen on her Web site, www.katherinebay.com.