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JUNE 2005
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Weather Animation
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Brian Strauss

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Weather Photographer On Assignment

    I was in Italy looking for traditional festivals related to weather. In a small village near Naples, legend has it that centuries ago the people brought a statue of the Virgin Mary from the town up onto a hillside. When that happened the village experienced a horrible period of drought. When the villagers eventually brought the statue back into the town, the weather shifted and the drought ended. Every year since then, the townspeople—dressed in beautiful robes and traditional outfits—carry the Virgin throughout the town.
    Late in the day, as the procession was finishing, one of the villagers approached me and said, "You should go around the corner. It's very beautiful there." On assignment, you hear that from people often. Most of the time it's nothing, and you miss what you were shooting in the first place. But when I eventually did go around the corner, I was stopped in my tracks. 
    In the heart of this little village, where all the streets came together, there was a lovely square lined with magnificent trees. Little white bulbs were strung on power lines, and a large church presided over the scene. As I took it all in, I thought, This is what makes this business so amazing.
    I was at World Cup skiing in Zauchensee, Austria, where ski techs will do a run down the slope to check out snow conditions, crystal structure, surface temperature, air temperature, and the immediate forecast. All this is done in order to pick the perfect pair of skis from a selection of dozens. In World Cup skiing, where a few hundredths of a second is the difference between winning and losing, all factors must be considered.
    I was up in the ski house photographing Willi Wiltz, the ski tech for champion skier Bode Miller, when it came close to the time for his race. I started to ski down an icy, World Cup skiing track. Mind you, I had all my equipment with me. All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of the Italian women's ski team. My ego was on the line as I skied down with all this gear hanging off me, regularly falling face first into the snow, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. It's funny in retrospect, but it was so embarrassing at the time.
    A new early de-icing warning system was being tested at Denver International Airport. I confirmed with United Airlines maintenance crews that they would alert me when conditions at the facility allowed for a de-icing, as well as a good photograph.
    In March 2003, Denver experienced a "hundred-year blizzard," creating some of the worst conditions the city had seen in 93 years. Denver International Airport was shut down for days, and the city's side streets were impassable. The street where I live in a Denver suburb qualified as one of those side streets, but the conditions were approaching perfect for my de-icing photo.
    As DIA dug through the snow and readied to reopen, I was told to be at the airport very early on Friday morning. So what does a dedicated National Geographic photographer do at a time like this? I got my 11-horsepower snowblower—approximate weight of a 1966 Volkswagen bug—and spent four-plus hours on Thursday clearing a 100-yard-long (90-meter-long) path through three-plus feet (one meter) of wet and heavy snow to get to our closest plowed street. Four a.m. Friday morning came early—and with it a need for four Advil—but I got the photo.
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