Storm chaser James Taylor hunts cyclones in the Kimberley
Storm chasers in WA’s north can travel thousands of kilometres in one wet season. (Supplied: James Taylor)
While many residents of Australia’s north-west escape the tropical heat over the Christmas holiday season, Broome storm chaser James Taylor would not wish to be anywhere else in the world.
“It is the best time of the year to be in the Kimberley,” he said.
“I’ve got friends who come over to Broome from Darwin and Perth to stay with me over the wet season and to join me on a storm or cyclone chase.”
The photographer and passionate storm chaser has spent the past 12 years pursuing wild weather in the Kimberley.
A spray painter by trade, a storm chaser in the wet season. James Taylor wouldn’t want to be anywhere else during the Kimberley’s wet season. (ABC Kimberley: Leah McLennan)
Australia’s north-west is one of the most active regions in the world for thunderstorms and lightning.
From December through to March each year, the Kimberley experiences frequent storms and occasional cyclones.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s David Murray said five cyclones were expected to traverse Australia’s north-west over the 2018–19 season.
On average there were 10 to 13 tropical cyclones in the entire Australian region, four of which typically cross the coast.
“In the Kimberley region we can’t predict where cyclones will form or what path they’ll take until closer to the event,” Mr Murray said.
Watching the weather
Mr Taylor is one of a handful of wild weather chasers in the Kimberley. His Facebook group Northwest WA Stormchasers has 4,500 followers.
Whenever or wherever a storm brews in the region, the group shares the information and photographs on the group’s page.
“Last wet season was my favourite so far — record rainfalls and a couple of cyclones,” Mr Taylor said.
“I drove over 4,000 storm-related kilometres, venturing from as far as Fitzroy Crossing to down near Sandfire, which is almost seven hours’ drive from Broome.”
Mr Taylor is a spray painter by trade, and on the days that he is not rostered on to work he’s ready to chase storms at a moment’s notice.
“Equipment is always fully charged and ready to go, memory cards are clear, batteries are charged. I’m ready to go anytime of the day or night,” he said.
“My friends and family know now that if there is wild weather around, I’ll be out there looking at the sky, watching the clouds.”
‘Eyes to the skies’: members of the Northwest W.A. Stormchasers Facebook group chased more than 30 storms last wet season. (Supplied: James Taylor)
Highlights of a tropical low
When a tropical low moved across WA’s north in February, Mr Taylor was there to capture it with his camera.
“We chased wild weather from Derby to Sandfire over a 15-hour period. It was a great experience with lots of action,” he said.
“We did have a few car issues though: we did an alternator, nearly ran out of petrol, had battery problems, lost headlights in the middle of the night.”
Mr Taylor describes himself as a safety-first storm chaser.
“It is a good rush to be in the middle of it but you have to think safety first, you have to drive to conditions and be extremely careful around lightning,” he said.
Often, he has camped out in his vehicle and waited for dangerous weather to pass.
“Sometimes the rain has been that heavy and the lightning that dramatic that you need to pull over and sit it out,” Mr Taylor said.
“When you’re in the middle of heavy rain in the middle of the night, where visibility is reduced, you’re better off sitting it out and letting it pass.”
Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent in the Kimberley region Grant Pipe warned people of the dangers of being outside during wild weather.
“Conditions during a cyclone and storm can be extremely dangerous with very strong winds, flash flooding, and potentially power lines and trees across roads,” he said.
“It’s not safe for anyone to be outside in those conditions and in doing so, they can put our emergency services personnel at risk.
“We strongly discourage anybody putting themselves in harm’s way during a significant weather event and we expect everyone to stay safe by following emergency services’ advice.”