There are no “surprise” thunderstorms for storm chasers like Mike Marz. With fervent intensity and logistical rigor, he consults forecasts and connects with fellow chasers online. When large, rotating thunderstorms called super cells emerge, St. Paul-based Marz often drives for several hours to witness nature’s fury.
Cruising through corn fields as towering black clouds crowd the horizon, he forges on until the magic happens. A twisting white funnel appears over a hill, forming a seemingly impossible link between ground and sky, sounding like a rushing waterfall. He screams in triumph and wills his car closer.
“Even when I see tornados today—and I’ve seen a lot of them—you still get lost, completely, in the moment. You more or less black out,” Marz explains. “It’s hard to remember the experience because you’re in such awe of what’s going on at the moment. That’s why it’s nice now that the cameras have gotten better, so you can remember it that way.”
The Last Storm
At 31, Marz has actively chased storms for a decade, and first got hooked when he saw Twister back in ’96. A few years ago, he got a silver-screen credit of his own in The Last Storm, a short documentary about an epic chase that Marz embarked upon with his buddy Mark Zabawa, who has terminal cancer.
The stylish film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018, captures the rhythms of storm chasing—weeks of research, endless driving, stinging disappointment when a promising super cell fizzles, and the joy when a tornado finally appears. It also showcases Marz’s modest approach to chasing.
“Basically, all you need is a cell phone,” he says, “I don’t have anything else in my car. I don’t have special tires or lights. I just go out there with my cell phone and a charger.”
The way Marz tells it, storm chasing is perfect for the social distancing era. Many chasers fly solo or with a single co-pilot and spend most of the big day in a car or on the side of a dirt road. The only significant investment needed is time and knowledge. Chasing safely and successfully requires an intimate knowledge of how storms develop and move, and the patience to keep trying all summer long.
Watch The Last Storm below, and learn more about director Liam Saint-Pierre at his website, liamsaintpierre.com