UWF graduate turns storm chaser

By Lauren Haggett, University Communications

A graduate of the University of West Florida is now living life on the edge as a storm chaser. Jim Edds, a 1984 chemistry graduate, discovered his true calling in life after working as a research chemist in Pensacola in 1992. Today, he is his own boss following his dreams of storm chasing and storm filmography.

“The company I worked for in Pensacola was bought out and was moving its lab to North Carolina. I opted not to go,” said Edds. “It was during my eight months of unemployment that I really thought about what I wanted to do next.”

Edds’ journey of self exploration led him to the Florida Keys to work for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 1993. This relocation allowed him the opportunity to further explore his hobby of underwater photography and filmography. Edds began working with a daring trio in 1996 as an underwater photographer, capturing their extreme underwater exploits on film. This meant getting up close and personal with alligators in the Everglades as well as sharks. A couple of years later, Edds accompanied the U.S. Freediving team to Italy as their team photographer. In the same year, Edds went on his first storm chasing adventure, Category 2 Hurricane Georges, with storm chasing expert, Jim Leonard.

“He took me down to Key West early that morning, as power transformers exploded along the route, and showed me the storm chaser ropes,” said Edds. “Things like where to park your car and how to figure out where the eye of the hurricane is by watching the wind shift. After experiencing 110 mph winds blow through Key West, I was hooked.”

Edds began using vacation time from work to travel around chasing and filming various storms. He filmed typhoons in Guam, waterspouts off the coast of the keys and a hurricane in Bermuda.

“I would consider myself more of a cameraman,” said Edds. “You have to be able to package the footage of the storm in order for it to sell.”

Edds sold his first footage in 1999 of the waterspouts he filmed near Marathon, Fla. In Bermuda in 2003, Edds was the only storm chaser and filmographer on site for the worst hurricane to hit Bermuda in 50 years, Hurricane Fabian.

“Fabian was a category three hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph,” said Edds. “Despite that, I did really well and got some great footage. It was so much fun, and in the end, CNN came to me for footage of the disaster.”

In 2004, Edds got his money shot, so to speak. Hurricane Charley struck West-Central Florida as a category four hurricane and Edds was able to capture the event.

“The footage I took during Charley is what allowed me to quit my day job a year later,” said Edds. “I picked a good time to leave too, because 2005 was a blockbuster hurricane season.”

That year Edds chased Hurricane Dennis in Pensacola, Fla., Hurricane Emily in Tulum, Mexico and in October he experienced Hurricane Wilma first-hand. Wilma struck South Florida and the Keys and left 75 percent of Key West underwater.

“Life’s too short not to do what you want and what you love,” said Edds. “You have to go for it, and then you figure out a way to make money at it and you keep pushing.”

Since January, Edds’ footage has been featured on four National Geographic television shows, both for hurricane and tornado footage. In addition, some of his hurricane footage will be featured in the upcoming movie, Dolphin Tale, starring Morgan Freeman set to hit the big screens in September 2011. His work has also been featured on the Travel Channel, ABC and frequently on the Weather Channel.

“What other profession could I do that would get me on ABC and the Weather Channel?” said Edds.

Edds moved back to Pensacola and now focuses on storm chasing and photography full time.

“I’m employee of the month every month now. It was a long road to get my own business going full time but that’s half the fun,” said Edds. “The next step is to take the storm photography worldwide, because there’s always a storm somewhere in the world; you just have to find it.”

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