If you see a red Subaru parked under the storm with a flannel and baseball cap-wearing fella standing by it, feel free to say hey! I intentionally keep myself pretty incognito while I'm out there. I don't drive an armored tank, I don't have any flashy lights or a recognizable paint job. It's a pretty anti-social thing for me and I'd rather not draw any attention to myself. That being said - if you see me, say something!
The Cloud Mobile
SKYDRAMA is run by myself - Andrew Pritchard. I'm a meteorologist born and raised in the American Midwest with a childhood fascination with thunderstorms and tornadoes that turned into a lifelong passion.
I never stood a chance. I suppose I feared storms for a couple of years of my life. Around age 2, I was awakened by a nighttime thunderstorm. My parents scooped their crying toddler from his bed and took me onto the porch of my grandparent's home in the small Midwest town of Aledo, IL. From the safety of my parents' lap on that porch swing, I watched the driving rain, bright lightning, and loud thunder. They didn't seem to bother me after that. From then on when storms rolled in, you could find me in the yard with my dad, both of us craning our necks back, staring up at the sky, often "looking for rotation". My young mind couldn't fathom what the clouds spinning in a circle might look like.
My dad always had an interest in severe storms and tornadoes. He was a storm spotter as a young adult, and the stories of his first tornadoes kept me on the edge of my childhood seat.
My path was further solidified when my dad friended the new Chief Meteorologist in town, Ed Kieser, at WILL-AM 580/FM 90.9. Ed became a local weather celebrity who also had a passion for severe weather, specifically tornadoes. Are you catching a theme here? Their powers combined to create a tornado-obsessed child who spent more time watching tornado videos on VHS and Beta tapes than watching cartoons. Ed would eventually give me my first part-time job as his weather office assistant.
My parents bought me a little Kodak 110 camera to play around with when I was 6 or 7, but I quickly wanted more. I took on a daily newspaper delivery job, a paperboy, if you will, and saved away my money until I could buy my own 35mm film SLR. When I was 12 I decided I wanted to be able to rewatch the storms I was witnessing and saved up my money for a Sony 8mm camcorder. It was time to go!
My dad and Ed Kieser would go off with the folks in the Dept of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois in search of tornadoes which left me devastated every single time. "Wait until you're 18!" they told me. When you're a 12 or 13-year-old kid, your 18th birthday feels like an eternity away. I still got my fix, filming storms that rolled into Champaign-Urbana from the garage, and then compiling little highlight flicks using my camera and multiple VCRs plugged into each other to share with family and friends.
...And 15, 20 years later, I guess I'm still doing the same thing. The only difference is, time did pass, and I now have the luxury of meeting the storm out on the prairie rather than pleading with the sky to send the action to my backyard.
The sky is always up to something. Even if it looks benign, it's still sitting up there scheming.
The atmosphere is my religion, and the wind is my God.
The open sky will always be my escape. I'll take the hits in any form I can - stepping out onto the porch first thing in the morning and breathing in the untapped energy of the day, walking a trail with my family, or having the topsoil around me sucked into a growing supercell. Fresh air and the open sky breathes life into this body.
When I'm not out observing the weather in the open, I'm forecasting it from the office. My day job is Senior Meteorologist for Nutrien Ag Solutions, working in our Champaign, IL office and spending much of my day forecasting short-term high-impact weather events and their impact to agriculture in the US and Canada. I also independently operate Chambana Weather, providing local weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities. I provide daily weather forecasts and live severe weather coverage for Illinois Public Media, WILL AM 580/FM 90.9, (Central Illinois' NPR). I also work closely with local school districts and the County Emergency Management Agency in severe weather preparedness efforts.
I am truly living my best life.
I'm lucky enough to be married to my childhood crush, the first girl I ever held hands with, my best friend, Sophie. We haven't been together since those junior-high days, and we went on to live mostly very different teenage and college years, though social media and living in the same town kept us connected. While I never imagined we'd even so much as end up back in the same circle of friends as adults, she always had a special place in my heart.
She made the mistake one day in the early 2010s, of commenting on a Facebook upload of a recent storm chasing photo I'd taken saying that I was, and I quote, "one of her most interesting Facebook friends". You tellin' me that all these years later, the Sophie that I've had a quiet crush on thinks I'm interesting?
One day the universe decided to intervene. We ran into each other at the supermarket, and then at restaurants, and then at shows, and eventually we were running into each other on purpose. And then, like breathing air into my lungs, she just became a part of my life.
A lot of what I do now I owe her a thank you for. More than just being there to run the house when I need to run with the wind, her partnership saw me through some of my darkest young adult years and helped me find the courage inside myself to right my ship. She calls me out when I'm off course, but gives me the space to grow. She's helped me learn to be vulnerable and to take risks in letting my true self show through my work.
Between all that, we have so much fun that it doesn't even feel fair. When I'm not chasing the wind, I'm feeling it out in the woods with my love - my eyes to the sky above, hers canvassing the ground for the beauty below.