Eric Meola would be the first to admit that shooting dramatic storms in the Great Plains isn’t always glamorous. Horizontal rain hits your face like ice. Baseball-size hail pounds down from the sky. Winds of up to 50 miles per hour threaten to knock you and your tripod to the ground. “You really get a sense of just how unbelievably powerful these storms are,” says Meola, a photographer from upstate New York who has driven 900 miles across the country in a single day to capture them on camera. “The reality is fairly grim.”
The images, though, are stunning. Meola’s decades-long fascination with midwestern superstorms culminated with a photo book, Fierce Beauty: Storms of the Great Plains, published in November. It showcases 105 photographs that Meola took between 1977 and 2019, from the Rio Grande in Texas to quiet country roads in South Dakota.
Meola rose to fame taking portraits of Bruce Springsteen in the seventies (he shot the album cover of Born to Run, among other iconic images). And he took his first storm picture while on a road trip with the Boss in 1977. As the two traversed Nevada one evening, the blue skies suddenly darkened and lightning lit up the world in front of them. Meola snapped a photo; Springsteen took it as inspiration for his hit song “The Promised Land.”
In 2011, Meola witnessed a storm destroy the town of Joplin, Missouri, and decided to dedicate a full project to the wild weather and midwestern landscape he’d fallen in love with years ago. “If you put the storms aside, which are very seasonal, the Great Plains are extraordinarily beautiful,” he says. “There’s something serene about the flatness and openness.”