Trapped, stuck up against an over-turned semi-trailer and waiting to die, Daniel Shaw is lucky to be alive.

In 2013, Shaw unknowingly drove into the eye of what is now known to be one of the biggest tornadoes in United States history, Daily Mail Australia reported.

Upon driving into the storm, Shaw, from Sydney, had a semi-trailer hit the back of his car, before pulling over and watching the huge truck turn over in front of him.

Daniel Shaw and Willoughby Owen annually go to America to chase storms and get amazing images. Photo / Supplied
Daniel Shaw and Willoughby Owen annually go to America to chase storms and get amazing images. Photo / Supplied

"It was without a doubt one of the scariest experiences of my life. I was waiting to die, I was trapped, and I was stuck up against an overturned semi-trailer waiting to be picked up and thrown."

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For many, storms are terrifying and more than enough reason to close the blinds and stay in bed, but for a pair of thrillseekers, they actively chase the eye of the storm.

For Shaw and friend, New Zealander Willoughby Owen, storms have been a passion since they were young children.

Now they routinely visit the United States to go and see some of the world's most dangerous tornadoes first-hand.

Shaw is a storm spotter and storm chaser from Sydney. His primary focus is to witness Mother Nature at its most beautiful, but also at its most deadly. Shaw is now a proud volunteer of St John Ambulance and is trained as high as he can clinically to know how to help in times of need.

Shaw's interest began at just age 11 after watching a lightning show in Bondi, and his interest grew as he got older. Originally a photographer and videographer for major networks and newspapers in Australia, Shaw was the one the media would call when a storm raged across Sydney.

"As I started to work with media I always had a fascination for storms and I'd actively chase them for the media," he said.

In 2004, Shaw went to the States and set out on his first ever storm chasing tour, where he saw what a real storm looked like.

"At that point, I knew I had my calling and from that point forward I learnt as much as I could about storms and severe weather and how to follow it."

In 2011, everything changed.

What used to be a fascination for Shaw because a shock to the devastation and deadly nature these storms caused.

"In the city of Joplin, Missouri I bear witness to one of the most deadly tornados in US history," Shaw said.

"When I was in Sydney, I wasn't fearful of them, but in America I became fearful of storms."

Compared to the States, Australia is extremely lucky when it comes to the severity of our storms.

"We call Australia the lucky country, but I don't think we understand how lucky we are when you can wake up every single morning and know your house won't end up in the next state," Shaw said.

He returned home, where he learnt first aid and is now a proud volunteer of St Johns Ambulance and trades as high as he can clinically to know how to help in times of need.

Although Shaw loves storms, he understand that there are limits around weather that need to be respected.

"Some can be wonderful and some will be setting out to kill you and you need to know when to back off. That's probably one of the biggest skills you need to know when you chase the US storm systems. Is knowing when to back off and when to run."

There's a number of aspects in order to know what you're doing when it comes to chasing severe weather systems. Safety, knowledge and forecasts all come into play. Although Shaw isn't trained as a meteorologist, he reads and understands weather models.

Shaw is lucky to be alive. In 2013, he should've been killed in what has now been regarded as the world's largest tornado – the El Reno tornado, west of Oklahoma City on May 31.

Owen was in shock when he was in North Laramie, Wyoming, last week and saw this tornado form in front of his eyes. Photo / Willoughby Owen
Owen was in shock when he was in North Laramie, Wyoming, last week and saw this tornado form in front of his eyes. Photo / Willoughby Owen

The 4.2km wide tornado descended itself upon hundreds of storm chasers.

"It killed three of our colleagues," Shaw said.

"I very nearly lost my life that day. And on that day I was trying to be careful. Even though I was spotting and communicating with the weather service, this storm twisted and turned like no other storm ever did before and it caught a lot of people out, in fact nearly every one of them."

When asked what it was like to be risking his life in the eye of the tornado, Shaw laughed and asked how much time he had to explain.

Shaw drove straight into a rain wrapped tornado, thinking it was four miles away from his location.

"Having the medical knowledge I did gave me a good understanding of exactly how I was going to die," he said.

Willoughby Owen however, originally from Hamilton, New Zealand, got into storms in 2005 when some of his mentors returned from storm chasing in America.

"They came back and we had like a weather meet and they showed a video and that was just it for me," Owen said.

Owen's interest in weather and storms began at the age of 13. He's always loved the challenge that broadcasting weather brings. Although storm chasing wasn't Owen's plans for the future, he said he always would've ended up in some kind of weather-related career.

"I didn't expect to be storm chasing over in America pretty much every year, it does get very addicting over here."

Like Shaw, Owen's life was also put at risk in El Reno.

"That storm was very dangerous. The largest tornado developed very quickly, it wasn't normal," Owen said.

Normal tornados usually go from South West to South East, but Owen said that this particular storm had a "hook echo" on the radar, going in all different unpredictable directions.

It was so unpredictable that it began to overtake the storm chasers, who were out in numbers due to the close proximity to Oklahoma City.

"We were going 90km/h, as fast as we can down this dirt road. But luckily it just turned away from us. If it had kept going east it would've taken out quite a few storm chasers because the roads were clogged and people didn't have their escape route sorted."

'I've always been into weather, since I was about 13, because it's just such a challenge to broadcast and get right,' Owen said. Photo / Willoughby Owen
'I've always been into weather, since I was about 13, because it's just such a challenge to broadcast and get right,' Owen said. Photo / Willoughby Owen

Looking back on that day, Owen is wary of preparing in advance and keeping escape routes open.

"In hindsight we should've sorted out our escape routes a bit better. Maybe we could've dropped south instead of going east, but it was quite a wide tornado, 2.6 miles wide."

El Reno killed three well known storm chasers, scientists who put probes out and got right into the notch of the tornado.

Owen's passion from storms comes from the challenge. He loves not knowing if the plans are going to work out and with the large land to cover, plans are critical.

"It's a really good feeling if it works out. You target in the morning, and it's not easy to say 'oh there's a storm that's going off' but what you've got to realise is that the distance is so huge you can't just drop south – because that's a two hour drive," he said.

When asked about his best moments in the States, he recalls a recent experience.

Last Wednesday evening in Central Plains north of Laramie in Wyoming – Tornado Alley, it's called – Owen was chasing a storm that he witnessed form first-hand.

Clouds were going up, supercells were turning and strong echos appeared on his radar, just turning and turning. Once he got over the mountains in Central Plains, he saw the big bell shaped super cell cloud.

Looking back on their experiences, both chasers believe that being prepared and having escape routes is a key tool for chasing. Photo / Willoughby Owen
Looking back on their experiences, both chasers believe that being prepared and having escape routes is a key tool for chasing. Photo / Willoughby Owen

"Then we saw the tornado drop down and we jolted for it and the tornado and the structure was right in front of us for a good one hour."

According to Owen, that storm in Wyoming was "an accident". A weather accident.

"It wasn't forecasted. Weird things happen. Weird things happen on the plains. Sometimes it's science, sometimes it's experience. And it can be just straight dumb luck," he said.

When he came across the storm, Owen was frozen in shock. He couldn't believe what he was experiencing, describing his reaction with an interesting term.

"Stormgasms. Where you go mental. You go off your chops. You're asking yourself, 'Is this real?' This is what you build up for, this is what you wait years and years for, and it's actually happening right in front, and it happens within five minutes."

Shaw describes Owen's photos from last week as some of the best in the next two to three decades, frustrated at the fact that he didn't witness the storm himself.

Both men are veterans when it comes to storm chasing in the United States, with 10 years' experience. They agree that no matter how good a storm may be, you always have to keep chasing, and there's always more to learn.

No matter how good a storm may be, both men say always have to keep chasing, and there's always more to learn. Photo / Willoughby Owen
No matter how good a storm may be, both men say always have to keep chasing, and there's always more to learn. Photo / Willoughby Owen

The storm chasers acknowledge that it's hard and takes determination, as all the driving can often lead to no results. For them, there's three places that they frequent – the car, the hotel and the side of the road.

"There's a lot of people in the world who contact storm chasers who say 'I want to be a storm chaser', 98.5% of it is driving, 1.4% is trying to work out where to go, and 0.1% of it is seeing a Tornado," Shaw said.

Although Shaw chases for the media and prioritises safety, working with emergency management services and Owen chases for the challenge and picture opportunities, both men share a common goal and the same passion for storms.