'Pursuit' Is a Stunning Paean to Thunderstorms

'Pursuit' offers a vivid tribute to the beauty of storms — and to the value of perseverance. (Photo: Mike Olbinski/Vimeo)

Storm chaser Mike Olbinski is a maestro of time-lapse weather videos, many of which have appeared on MNN over the years. Yet despite his familiarity with atmospheric whims, the spring and summer of 2017 tested him a little more than usual.

After bad luck and self-doubt led him to miss a spectacular storm — what he calls "the best structure of the year" — Olbinski found himself weeping and despondent. He had spent weeks away from his family in pursuit of rare opportunities like this.

"It may not be easy to understand why, but when you work as hard as I did this spring, a moment like that can break you," he writes on his blog. "I failed myself. And it seemed like the easy choice to just give up and head for home."

But instead of giving up, he pulled it together and gave himself another chance.

"I realized it was only 4 p.m. and the storms were still ongoing. Maybe if I could get in front of them the day could be saved," he writes. "Ninety minutes later, I got out ahead and saw some of the best structure I'd seen all spring, and a lightning show that was so incredible it's one of the very last clips of this film."

The result is "Pursuit," a vivid and hypnotic masterpiece of storm photography. It's distilled from 27 days of storm chasing across 10 states, an odyssey that put 28,000 miles on Olbinski's odometer and consumed more than 90,000 time-lapse frames.

The video opens with a tornado being born in time-lapse, an elusive sight captured beautifully in 4K resolution. And it only gets better from there, with mesmerizing shots of mammatus clouds and the aforementioned lightning show, which Olbinski describes as "the best nighttime lightning and structure I've ever seen." (Warning, though: The rapid flashing creates a pretty intense strobe effect.)

It's worth setting aside seven minutes to watch the entire video, whose majestic scenes and original score — composed by musician Peter Nanasi — make time fly. But while there's something cool in almost every second, things get especially wild in the last minute or so, starting with a lightning bonanza at the 5:43 point.

And one of the most breathtaking parts of "Pursuit" is the ending (starting at about 6:18), which features rare undulatus asperatus clouds painted by a North Dakota sunset. Olbinski released raw footage of this spectacle in June, explaining it was "too unreal to let sit on my hard drive for months" while he made his time-lapse compilation. As MNN's Michael D'Estries wrote at the time, the wavy, low-lying clouds and uncanny colors look like a "fluid sunset" flowing over the Great Plains.

Mountains, canyons and other long-lasting natural wonders tend to get more attention, but videos like this can help more people appreciate the ephemeral beauty that unfolds over our heads. And while "Pursuit" could be the title for almost any storm-chasing film, Olbinski picked it with a loftier double meaning in mind. Mustering perseverance in the face of misfortune is a broadly valuable ability, he notes, whether you're chasing storms or something more abstract.

"That's why this film is called 'Pursuit,'" he writes. "Because you can't give up. Keep chasing, keep pursuing. Whatever it is. That's the only way to get what you want."