If you live in the Freestate, Gauteng or KwaZulu Natal, you’ve surely seen your share of supercells. Some of these massive thunderstorms, often stretching further than the eye can see, were captured by filmmaker Chad Cowan and compiled in this incredible time-lapse.

Over the course of six years, from Texas to North Dakota in the USA, Cowan captured life cycles of these thunderstorms. He writes that what was initially for observation purposes soon became almost an obsession to capture the most photogenic supercells.

“After more than 100,000 miles on the road and tens of thousands of shutter clicks later, this is the result,” Cowan writes. And the result is pretty spectacular.

In the video you’ll see how the storm “rolls in” bringing incredible cloud formation and lightning.

Supercells are often called rotating thunderstorms – referring to a vortex of air within a convective storm. This is also known as a mesocyclone.

How supercells are formed

A graphic explaining how supercells are formed

Moisture moves into the precipitation free from the side, and merges with a line of warm uplift region. Here the tower of the cloud formation is tipped by high altitude shear winds that cause a horizontal curl of velocity. This is also known as vorticity. As the clouds spin they gain altitude (usually between 17 000 and 21 000 metres). This creates the largest storms.

The video below – also by Chad Cowan – illustrates this quite well.

For more incredible storm videos head over to Cowan’s Vimeo channel, Stormlapse.

Videos credit: Chad Cowan