Stormy weather as therapy

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When she was a student at Brooks Institute, a prestigious photography school in Santa Barbara, Calif., Robin Lorenson was often asked what she wanted to do with what she was learning there.

“I’d tell them, “I want to be a storm photographer,’” she told me. “All my instructors were like, ‘Why are you here?’”

She was, after all, studying the industrial science of photography – not how to take pretty pictures of storm clouds. But Lorenson said she enjoyed the instruction nonetheless.

“Weather is my passion, but photography is also my passion,” she said.

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Her training at Brooks has been valuable since she returned to her home state of Kansas and began photographing weather, she said.

“It’s helped me immensely…it’s been unbelievable,” said Lorenson, 29, a native of Salina.

She will be showing examples of severe weather that she has photographed over the past year or so during Final Friday tonight. Her show will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Picture Framing & More, 323 N. Mead, in Old Town Square.

She saw her first tornado on May 8, 2008, on the high plains of western Kansas – a landspout that gained notoriety among storm chasers and others because of Lorenson’s video of weather photographer Jim Reed running toward the stationary tornado in the final moments before it dissipated.

“I was like, ‘It’s a landspout, this is awesome! Oh, my gosh! What’s he doing?’ when he took off running toward it,” Lorenson said of Reed, with whom she had an internship while taking courses at Brooks.

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Her most memorable storm chase came later that same month, when she and Reed were driving through northwest Kansas. Multiple tornadoes had touched down near Quinter in Gove County. They were returning to Hays, convinced the violent weather had ended for the evening.

“It’s dark, and all of a sudden we get a report of two tornadoes heading north, and lo and behold they’re within a quarter mile of us – and I can’t see them,” Lorenson said. “That struck a nerve.”

Her father committed suicide when she was 12, Lorenson said, and she found solace and healing in being outdoors and losing herself in studying the weather.

“It was my way of spending time with him,” she said. “It helped me cope and deal with everything, sitting outside in the wind and rain.”

But that night, she said, “my coping mechanism turned into one of my triggers.”

She worked through those emotions with the help of a therapist, and hopes to find a way to use her weather photography as a way to help others heal.