This is what an Alberta thunderstorm looks like from 40,000 feet

WestJet pilot is an avid photographer and an amateur storm chaser

Weather from plane

Matt Melnyk snapped this photograph at 40,000 feet above southern Alberta. (Matt Melnyk)


Matt Melnyk has photographed thunderstorms from every angle, including 40,000 feet in the air.

The WestJet pilot is an avid photographer and an amateur storm chaser with the group AlbertaWX Central Alberta Storm Chasers.

Melnyk has taken hundreds of photos, and said when there's severe weather he feels far safer in an airplane than on the ground.

"It's pretty much uneventful, because we're at such a high altitude," he said. "We're at 40,000 feet and many of the storms only grow to 30,000 to 35,000 feet."


A thunderhead peeks through a cloud formation at 40,000 feet. (Matt Melnyk)

Pilots see storms well in advance on their radar. Though he has never been caught in one, last summer Melnyk had to make a major deviation from the intended route to avoid a big storm in Saskatchewan. 

"We just fly around it," he said.

It's a much different story when he's chasing storms on the ground.

"That's when you start seeing the shelf cloud formations, the tornadoes, the hail and everything," he said. "They're definitely more spectacular to photograph from the ground."

Saw tornado touch down near Calgary

Melnyk had both feet firmly on the ground when he photographed a tornado that touched down in Calgary on July 10.

Tornado near Calgary

This tornado touched down near Calgary on July 10, 2017. (Matt Melnyk)

Driving home from one of his storm chases, he saw a dark cloud, parked and checked his radar. The storm system "looked pretty big," so he stuck around to see what kind of pictures he could get.

"Then I saw the funnel cloud," he said. "It was spinning."

He reported the tornado to Environment Canada.

Melynk said he stays safe on the ground by keeping close track of the weather.

"I look at my radar with the several apps that I use," he said. "When we see the heavy precipitation coming, we jump in the car and drive away somewhere safe and get another look at it."

Severe weather warnings were issued in northern and central Alberta almost every day in July, said Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak.

Edmonton was the exception, and has seen fewer severe weather warnings this year than in 2016.

"Last year, there were severe thunderstorm warnings for the city of Edmonton on six different days," Kulak said. "But this year, they've only been there for two days."

Lightning and rainbow

Matt Melnyk snapped this photograph near Three Hills, Alta. (Matt Melnyk)

More On This Story

More from CBC News

Tell us what you think