Basketball

STAR SHOOTER

Former Katy hoops standout Rowe’s photo goes viral

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 5/25/21

A random road trip to break up the monotony of a listless Sunday afternoon turned into a life-changing experience Laura Rowe will never forget.

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Basketball

STAR SHOOTER

Former Katy hoops standout Rowe’s photo goes viral

Posted

A random road trip to break up the monotony of a listless Sunday afternoon turned into a life-changing experience Laura Rowe will never forget.

The Katy native went out for a drive with her boyfriend on May 16, looking for something—anything—to do. The couple departed Portales, New Mexico, for Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge about 40 minutes away. Driving back home, they saw a tornado touch down near Earth, Texas.

“We were like, ‘Well, we don’t have anything else to do today. Let’s go chase this storm,’” Rowe said.

Rowe, an elementary education major and shooting guard for Eastern New Mexico University’s basketball team, has always been adventurous, never one to back down from opportunity. It was her admirable fearlessness that defined her high school career at Katy High, where she was an all-state selection and McDonald’s All-American nominee in 2017 before graduating as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,088 career points.

So, storm chasing was simply another cool experience in a life full of fun stories so far.

“It was a beautiful storm,” Rowe said. “We went down all these backroads, stopped for a bit, took a few pictures, hung out.”

Rowe and her boyfriend turned on country music and admired the scenery. Their travels eventually took them down a dirt road in between Earth and Littlefield, where they caught a storm intertwined with a gorgeous sunset.

Rowe’s phone was about to die, so she snapped a few more photos before the couple headed back home.

“And I just can’t believe what has happened since then,” she said.

Rowe, who only started taking photography seriously two years ago when she began learning how to use her boyfriend’s Canon 70D, took a mystical photo for which words do no justice. At 8:42 p.m., using the wide-angle lens on her iPhone 11, she captured a storm cell cloud of yellow, gray, white and pink, sneering above the dirt path, barren green lands, tree shrubbery and electrical power lines.

“At the time, I was just admiring God’s work. It was incredible,” Rowe said. “The storm was huge and twisting and turning, and it was cool to watch it change. It looked like a huge bomb had gone off. I took that one, and I was like, ‘Wow, this looks really cool.’ But it didn’t even come close to actually seeing it in person.”

Rowe first posted the photo on Facebook the next day, May 17, at 1:17 p.m. It had 358 likes, 268 shares and 69 comments as of Monday afternoon, May 24.

“I thought my mom would be the only one to comment on it.,” Rowe said. “A couple people liked it, and then I put it on Twitter. I was like, ‘Maybe Twitter will appreciate this picture.’ I posted it, and I noticed one of the photographers I follow who I think is incredible, Charlie Stout, had been retweeting pictures of this same storm. So, I tagged him, he retweeted it, left a comment, and it took off from there.”

About two hours after posting it to Facebook, Rowe posted the photo on Twitter. It had more than 512,000 likes, 83,000 retweets and 2,000 comments as of Monday, May 24.

“I had no idea this would do this,” Rowe said. “People were asking for prints. It was incredible. The whole thing is a complete and total blessing from God. There’s no way to explain it. I was in the right place at the right time with a good, quality camera, even if it was just an iPhone.”

Stout, a well-known West Texas songwriter who is also a photographer, filmmaker, producer and has more than 12,600 followers on Twitter, said the shot was “incredible.”

“I especially loved how she captured a haphazard sort of symmetry between the base of the cloud and the dirt road,” Stout said. “That’s something I’m always looking for when I’m shooting—some kind of path for the eye to follow through the scene. It adds interest and tells a story.”

Stout thinks the photo resonated with so many people because of its purity. He said professional storm chasers spend weeks on the road, thousands of dollars in hotels, fuel and replacement windshields, in hopes of creating the response that Rowe “quite accidentally” generated.

“I’ve seen people sharing this image as “evidence” of the existence of God,” Stout said. “You’ve really got to move someone emotionally, with what they see in your photograph to inspire them to consider that which is unseen, and I think Laura accomplished exactly that.”

The photo is so unbelievable, many have said it was Photoshopped.

“I don’t even know how to use Photoshop, and if it was, don’t you think I would have taken out the power lines?” Rowe said, laughing. “Do you know how dumb those look?”

Stout helped Rowe set up a SmugMug website account to appease the requests for prints of the photo. Others have told Rowe she should enter it into photography competitions. “Major news sources,” Rowe said, have contacted her for use of the photo, so she hired a lawyer to handle circumstances that deal with copyright. There have been times where people on social media have taken Rowe’s photo and attempted to pass it off as their own work.

But those instances are few and far between compared to all the good the photo has done.

“We’ll see where it goes from here, but even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I have gotten so many really kind emails from people all over the world,” Rowe said. “An overwhelming amount. Messages on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter telling me their perspective on the photo. It makes me cry. I’m so grateful.”

Early during the afternoon of Friday, May 22, Rowe received a particularly inspiring email from someone who had seen the photo.

“The first time I looked at it, my heart was settled, and I was deeply reminded about Christ calming the storms in our lives and seeing the beauty that he allows in those storms,” the email said. “It’s been a crazy season of storms in my life, yet this picture is about everything and puts everything in perspective.”

Rowe said that kind of impact is “amazing.”

“I think that’s what struck people the most about this image—there’s nothing staged about it,” Stout said. “She was out riding around on the backroads and that storm is what captured her imagination. It seems to have captured thousands of imaginations all over the world.”

To buy a print and/or canvas of Katy native Laura Rowe’s photo of a West Texas storm, visit laurarowe.smugmug.com.

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