As a 21-year-old wedding photographer from southern Italy, Angelo Concilio had few problems finding picturesque landscapes for marriages near his home city of Salerno.
But this area of natural beauty hides a dark underbelly, a mighty meteorological force that rears its spectacular head between March and November every year. And so, when Covid put paid to his day job, Angelo knew exactly where to turn. For even in a pandemic, Italy’s storm season would not be halted.
We spoke to Angelo about his new role as a storm chaser, finding out why his risky career move is yet to receive the backing of his parents…
Before the pandemic, my day job was as a wedding photographer. The beautiful landscapes that form my home region of Campania make for wonderful pictures of a couple’s special day, and growing up here in Salerno has ensured that I have always had an interest in landscape photography, too.
We are fortunate to have the Amalfi Coast to the west, and Cilento National Park to the south. Our coastline overlooks the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Gulf of Salerno and the Gulf of Policastro. It is an area of natural beauty. But it is also a perfect canvas on which storms can paint their beguiling magic.
I have always been fascinated by storms. As a child, I would even wake up during the night to admire the lightning that struck the city. I had a great fear of summer storms, when a strong contrast between the hot and cold air would cause them to be particularly violent. When the electrical discharges fell a few meters from my home, I was terrified. I even hid in the closet, I was so afraid.
But my fear didn’t affect my interest. I was in awe. As a young boy without a computer, I wasn’t able to access meteorological forecasts or detailed weather maps. But if I heard thunder, or sensed the sky was threatening, I would wait primed with my parents’ camera in the hope of capturing a fleeting moment forever.
Before long, my landscape photography focused almost exclusively on the niche that was getting the most attention and bringing me the most joy: storms. What once frightened me now gave me a strong adrenaline rush, especially the first time lightning struck just a few metres away and resulted in a spectacular photo.
I have never studied meteorology in school, but I am part of a storm chasing team in which there are meteorologists present. I have also been studying thunderstorms for a few years now as a self-taught student. I now know that the best time to go storm chasing in Italy is between March and November, when the contrasts between cold and warm air are at their highest. At the end of winter, with the lengthening of the days and the longer daylight hours, the ground heats up more than in the colder months. Consequently there is more energy in play.
Living a few kilometres from the southern Apennines, thermo-convective thunderstorms often occur during the afternoon. They are characterised by the development of huge cumulonimbus ‘anvil’ clouds that develop up to the highest limits of the tropopause: the boundary in the Earth’s atmosphere between the troposphere and the stratosphere.
I am also a qualified pilot. In 2017, I got my first flying license with a Cessna 172 at the Costa D’Amalfi airport. Flying gives me a unique perspective and evokes many emotions. Being in close contact with the sky and clouds, you get a completely different perspective seeing the world from above. Viewing the Amalfi Coast from on high is one of the most beautiful experiences you can ever have.
At the height of the thunderstorm season, it’s possible to see storm cells at sea, often associated with the arrival of a cold front that accompanies them. These are viewed as being more dangerous, since the warm sea provides more energy than the spring or winter months. Most of the time they develop at night, when it is easier for us storm chasers to photograph lightning associated with waterspouts or tornadoes.
For me, the best conditions in which to shoot storms are when there are isolated thunderstorms expected. This ensures the rest of the sky is clear and clean, especially during the darkness of night when you can admire the lightning bolts flashing out from the storm. Known as ”positive lightning’’, it is perhaps the most fascinating electrical manifestation that can develop from thunderstorms. These are extremely powerful discharges that are among the longest lightning that can be observed during a thunderstorm. Arising from young cumulonimbus clouds, they have the peculiarity of appearing to fall from a great distance from the cloud that generated them.
Unfortunately, following restrictions due to Covid, I wasn’t able to continue my work as a wedding photographer. But this did give me more free time to study and dedicate myself to storm chasing, and I’m now certain that this is what I want to do with my career. My hope is to one day join a team of storm chasers in the USA and around the world, working with The Weather Channel or National Geographic. I would love to go to Venezuela where electrical storms are guaranteed almost all year round on the Catatumbo River and Lake Maracaibo.
It’s not the news my parents want to hear. My parents don’t really agree with what I do because, although it’s fascinating, seeking out extreme weather is also a very dangerous job.
My near miss came on the evening of October 3rd, 2019. Some weather models had offered a small chance of thunderstorms, and right on the Gulf of Salerno there formed a self-healing thunderstorm. This is a phenomenon that feeds itself and regenerates due to the contrast between the warm and humid low altitude air and the cool and drier high altitude air. On this occasion, it brought gusts of over 60mph and a flurry of hail, hitting first the city centre, then the coastal area.
In a hurry to capture it, me and a friend positioned ourselves a few metres from the beach to shoot some lightning. And while the picture that came out is amazing, I was almost killed as two bolts struck just a few hundred metres from our beach.
I’m not naive to the risks. But these can be reduced through experience, and respect. Respect for Mother Nature, and her capabilities.
My parents remind me there is a lot less risk in photographing newlyweds. It’s true. But for me, there is also a lot less excitement.
To read more about Angelo’s storm chasing experiences in southern Italy, head to DiscoverInteresting.com