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Tornado Chase 2014

George Kourournis on Facebook

George Kourounis on Twitter

George Kourounis on YouTube

 

This page contains the daily blog updates that I'm posting while on the road in Tornado Alley. Once again I'm driving one of the tour vans for Cloud 9 Tours. Charles Edwards runs one of the oldest and most reputable storm chase tour companies around. We take people from all over the globe to the Great Plains to search for the worst weather in the world.

- George Kourounis


June 06 - Toronto
That's it! I'm back home. Another storm chase season complete. Jade has been dropped off, the car needs a serious wash, and I'm going to go take a nap. For about a week.


June 05 - Chicago to Kalamazoo, Michigan
I've never really spent any time in the city of Chicago, so on the way home, we decided to take a few hours and check out the windy city. It was a gorgeous day, so we parked down by the waterfront on Lake Michigan, and wandered around the lakeshore, then over into the downtown where we found a nice patio for a drink. Obviously, this city is huge, with so much to see that one day is nowhere near enough time to get the full experience. However, I did see enough to realize that I need to come back and spend more time here.
 
After departing Chicago (in soul-crushing rush hour traffic) we made it as far as Kalamazoo, Michigan. Almost home.
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June 04 - Princeton, Illinois
Heading back home now. Jade and I have split off from the group and we're making our way back to Toronto. It has been a great 5 weeks on the road, and I'm sure that as soon as I get home, all Hell will likely break loose in Tornado Alley, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I can't be everywhere. Despite the near record low number of tornadoes this May, we had a great time. We saw some excellent storms, got into some monster hail, and had one of our scariest encounters on May 11th in Nebraska.
 
I'm really looking forward to next year when we get to do this all over again!

June 03 - Kearney, Nebraska
We had really high hopes for today. The Storm Prediction Center issued a moderate risk for severe weather, and this was likely going to be our last chase day of the trip. We spent most of the day sitting and waiting in a Wal-Mart parking lot, anticipating the storm initiation that we were expecting to be explosive. Storms were going up well to our north, but on radar, they looked strong, but not very organized. We were getting a few tornado reports, but like most of the season, they were brief and wrapped in rain, hidden in the murk.
 
We held tight to our southern target, expecting more photogenic, isolated storms to go up. One finally did, so we drove west to intercept it. The problem was that it didn't survive for long. for a few minutes, it was looking really good, with clear signs of rotation both visually, and on radar. It just didn't last.

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June 02 - Colby, Kansas to Lexington, Nebraska
The idea of going to Colorado has fizzled, so we headed up to Nebraska today. However, we had plenty of time, so we did some filming in and around Colby, including the largest Barn in Kansas. This thing is huge, and part of the Prairie Museum. I didn't know that the entire building was moved to this spot from 16 miles away. It took 3 days on a special flatbed.

We were also attempting to do some fun filming of the group of vehicles, so we found a dirt road outside of town and I set up my new quad-copter camera to get some aerial shots. They turned out great, but we also tried some shots using a couple of GoPro cameras... Not so great.

Dave set his down in the middle of the road, and the convoy was supposed to drive over it. I've done this shot many times before, except the clearance to the undercarriage on my vehicle (driven by Dave) was lower than he expected. The results were... Not good. Especially for the camera. He did however, get the whole disaster on video.
 
Check it out here.

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June 01 - Colby, Kansas
Today was the very first day of non-tours chasing. I've now teamed up with Mark Robinson, Jaclyn Whittal, and Michel Millaire from The Weather Network, as well as several other storm chasers, including Scott McPartland, Dave Lewison, Steve Barabas, and Chris Kridler. Joining me in my vehicle is Jade Vajna, A fellow Canadian who was with us on the tours for the past month. She'll be chasing with us for the next few days then I'll be bringing her back to Canada.
 
The Weather Network has been down here for a couple of weeks now, and we've been crossing paths occasionally. They're doing daily reports back to the network, as well as filming material for new episodes of the Stormhunters TV series.
 
Today's storms were... well, not so great. Mostly just rain, but we did get a nice rainbow near Scott City.
 
I don't get to chase with these guys very often, so I'm really looking forward to the next few days. It is a very different situation when out with a group of friends, compared to the tours. I like both experiences very much, they're just different.
 
After the chase, we headed to the town of Colby, Kansas. It looks like tomorrow we'll either blast west into Colorado, or reposition into Nebraska. I'll have a better idea when the morning forecast comes out tomorrow.

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May 31 - Norman, Oklahoma
We're back at our home base of Norman, Oklahoma. It has been a great month of chasing with Cloud 9. I want to thank Charles, John, Brad and all the tour guests for making the past 4 weeks so memorable. I hope to see many of you back again next season. We have a good time, ALL the time.
 
My chasing however, is not quite finished yet. For the next few days, I'll be teaming up with the crew from The Weather Network. We're expecting some more bad weather in the next few days, so we'll see how it goes.

May 30 - Dallas, Texas
It looks like we're not going to get any more severe weather before the end of the tour. In the meantime, we've relocated to Dallas, and had a really great cajun meal at Pappadeaux restaurant. So delicious.

May 29 - San Antonio, Texas
Another day in San Antonio. It really is a nice city and I recommend visiting it. We took in the river walk area and had a great meal.

May 28 - San Antonio, Texas
After the past few days, it was clear that the atmosphere was likely going to need some time to recover before any new storms were expected. We left Corpus Cristi and passed back through the town of Alice, where we found more significant damage from yesterday's tornado. We then continued on to San Antonio where we split up and many of us decided to take in the new Godzilla movie.

May 27 - Alice, Texas
 
 
Tornado Warning - A very photogenic day. Our chase took us south of San Antonio, deep into the heart of Texas. We kept tracking a large storm as it blasted south, producing menacing skies and copious amounts of lightning.
 
In one of my photos, you can actually see the lightning bolt reflected in the windshield of a passing car. It was aligned and timed perfectly to reflect into my camera lens as I had the shutter open. Very cool indeed.
 
The storm really started to get organized near the town of Alice, and I happened to notice the telltale signature of a debris-ball on radar. this was a clear indicator that there was indeed a tornado, doing damage in or very near the town. We couldn't see it in the rain and hail, it did do damage at the edge of town.
 
As the sun began to get low, we stopped by a very picturesque field of sunflowers. It was a terrific spot to get some sunset photos.
 
We passed through the town of Alice afterwards and did spot a bit of the damage, but we never got right into the main part of the damage path. The setting sun was however, lighting up the storm as it continued on its way with pastel colors lighting up the updraft with the U.S. and Texas flags waving in the foreground.
 
Because we were so far south, we decided to spend the night in Corpus Cristi.

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May 26 - Sheffield, Texas
Tornado Warning - Another day, another tornado warning. This season it seems that most of the good storms are high-precipitation and/or wrapped up in rain.
 
Today, we chased near Sheffield, Texas and yet again we were treated to a very pretty storm with nice structure. However, trying to see what's going on underneath has become the continuing problem of the year.
 
At least the locals that have been under severe drought conditions will be getting a bit of a reprieve with some very much needed rain. I don't think that it'll be quite enough to replenish the reservoirs, but every bit counts.

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May 25 - Fort Stockton, Texas
A bust day. We were hoping for some good severe weather today, but it was not meant to be. Some towers did go up, but nothing ever became of them. There was one good storm today, but it was well to our south, across the border in Mexico!
 
I'd love to go down there to chase one of these days, but it's just not possible to do it with the tours. The storm was looking so good on radar too...
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May 24 - Fort Stockton, Texas
 
 
Tornado Warning - We had a good chase day today, mostly east of Fort Stockton, Texas. The storms today had some of the most intense blue/green color in them that I've ever seen. When we see that green sky, it's usually an indicator that there's probably some very large hail in the storm. It certainly looked menacing.
 
We were able to find a good spot with a clear view off to the west and just watched it coming towards us. Eventually we were completely overtaken by the storm and got pounded by extremely strong winds and heavy rain. Luckily, the hail was not very large.
 
The storm also put on a pretty good lightning display for us with frequent clout-to-ground bolts with plenty of branching. It gets unnerving sometimes being outside in such an electric atmosphere, especially when I'm standing next to a metal tripod!!
 
There was a tornado warning in effect at one point and there was even a possibility that we might have spotted a tornado in the distance, but with few roads in the area, it would be very difficult to confirm if what we saw was indeed a tornado.

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May 23 - Roswell, New Mexico
The morning started off with the air conditioning failing in our lead van. One of the pulleys seized up and snapped the belt for the AC, likely from driving through the deep water in Amarillo earlier in the morning. Surprisingly, Charles was able to get it repaired rather quickly in Roswell, despite it being a Friday before the long Memorial Day weekend.
 
With a freshly repaired (and pleasantly cool) van, we continued and chased south of Roswell. We eventually found ourselves sandwiched between several, slow moving, low-precipitation supercells that were absolutely gorgeous. They were moving so slowly, that we had plenty of time to hang out at the side of the road and take pictures.
 
The storms all seemed to be moving around us and we were in the one spot between them all that was in the clear. We figured that the one passing to our north likely had some very large hail in it, so we waited until it had crossed the road before turning around and heading northward again.
 
As the storms died, the sunset was quite spectacular and capped off the chase day nicely.
 
Oh, but the drama was not over yet. Tonight we had the most trouble we've ever had getting rooms for everyone. we need 19 of them, and wound up splitting up the group across 4 different motels. It was a huge pain, and we didn't get settled in until very late, but everybody got a bed for the night, which is the most important thing.
 
Later that night, even more storms passed directly over Roswell, pounding the town with heavy, driving rain and plenty of lightning. Many of us were up for a good part of the night, enjoying the display.

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May 22 - Amarillo, Texas
A travel day. We continued south into Texas and stopped for the night in Amarillo, where we celebrated my birthday at The Big Texan Steak Ranch. We always try to stop at the Big Texan at least once a year, it's a regular spot for us. Tonight I had: deep fried jalapenos, a nice steak & a margarita... Oh yes!

As we were eating, a major deluge came down and caused all kinds of flooding in the streets.

May 21 - Denver, Colorado
Tornado Warning - What an interesting day. A single, massive supercell storm formed near Denver International Airport. A tornado watch was in place, and we knew that tornadoes were likely today. We did see an area of the storm that was very suspicious, with rapid rotation, and possible contact with the ground. It was difficult to verify because the storm got wrapped up in rain quickly, and stayed that way for the rest of the life of the storm.
 
Interestingly, the hook, or rotating part of the storm passed directly over the National Weather Service radar site, which made it difficult to see what was going on, but also, because it was basically on top of the radar, a "black hole" appeared on the radar screen, right in the hook echo.
 
Despite the wild representation on the radar screen, there was so much rain that seeing any tornado that might be in there was practically impossible. Add to that the sheer number of storm chasers out on the same roads, causing traffic, and it ended up being a bit of a frustrating day.
 
the storm itself was quite gorgeous, but the conditions around it made for difficult chasing. Luckily, the Denver airport did not receive any damage.

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May 20 - Big Springs, Nebraska
A very nice chase day. Storms fired up in eastern Wyoming, but the ones we were on never really got too organized. That didn't matter though, because they were very photogenic.
 
Some of the roads we took were deeply rutted, dirt roads that winded through the hills and buttes of Wyoming. It is a really enjoyable place to watch the weather.
 
After getting shots with a windmill and green fields in the foreground, we finally were able to set up and photograph some lightning as the last storm slipped across the state line into Nebraska.

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May 19 - Chester, Nebraska
An interesting day. We were targeting central Nebraska. The dewpoints were very low further west, and we didn't think that any good storms could possibly form. How wrong we were! Despite the Storm Prediction Center downgrading the forecast, a couple of storms did indeed form in the late afternoon, one of them even became tornado warned for a while. Imagine our surprise looking at the radar while eating dinner in North Platte with several other chaser groups! We immediately blasted off to try and catch whatever post-sunset lightning display we could find. We positioned ourselves between the 2 storms, near the town of Chester, and spend a great night photographing the frequent lightning displays.
 
Sometimes, even when you think you know a lot about the weather, Mother Nature throws you a curve ball. I'm just pleased that we were able to take in the light show.
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May 18 - Salina, Kansas
The forecast right now does not imply that there are any major tornado outbreaks in the near future, however, there will likely be some very photogenic storms this week, especially in the high plains. We used today as a travel day to get to Salina, Kansas where we enjoyed a great dinner at Hog Wild BBQ, then took in a nice sunset.
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May 17 - Norman, Oklahoma
Tour group switch over day. Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for tour one. We had some memorable chases with spectacular storms and a few intense adrenaline rushes. It has been an absolute pleasure to travel with you and I hope to see you again next year!
 
Welcome tour two. Our most popular tour is now getting ready to start and people from all over the world are assembling in Norman, Oklahoma. There are plenty of familiar faces joining us, as well as first timers that will soon learn what it's like to live the storm chasing lifestyle for two weeks. I'm looking forward to our adventures!

May 16 - St. Louis - Shawnee, Oklahoma
A travel day. After a very long drive, we made it to Shawnee, Oklahoma, and have a BBQ & storm video night at Charles Edwards' house. Many thanks also to Lori (& Emma) Edwards for the hospitality. Tour one is slowly winding down and I must say that this group of people has been a joy to travel with for the past 2 weeks.

May 15 - St. Louis, Missouri
Heading back west, we decided to spend some time in the city of St. Louis. Interestingly, we encountered a severe thunderstorm on the outskirts of town. After a quick loop-around to check it out (it died) we went into downtown. The traffic was horrible, with construction everywhere, plus a baseball game, but being from Toronto, I'm used to bad traffic. we checked out the famous Gateway Arch, then went for a nice dinner.
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May 14 - Shepherdsville, Kentucky
A bit of a bust. In the afternoon, a tornado watch was issued for much of Kentucky, and disorganized storms were popping up all day, but none of them could get their act together enough to become really organized. Late in the day, a squall line formed to our west and moved towards us. We hoped to be able to at least get some good lightning photos from this, but unfortunately, it weakened and all we got was rain. It doesn't look like there's any chance for severe weather for the rest of tour one, so we'll end up doing some sightseeing as we slowly work our way back to Oklahoma for the weekend.

May 13 - Davenport, Iowa to Paducah, Kentucky
Today was a travel day to get from Iowa, down to Kentucky. Tomorrow there is a slight chance of severe weather down there.
 
On another note. The National Weather Service has done a preliminary report on the tornadoes there a few days ago. The strongest tornado was rated EF-3 and was, at times 1.5 miles wide. We checked our position against the report, and we figure that the tornado that pushed the irrigation system into our vehicle might have been the very early stages of the large tornado developing. We'll have to look into it further. The tornado was wrapped in rain, and we never did get a very good look.

May 12 - Davenport, Iowa
The morning was spent getting the windshield replaced in Omaha, which actually took less time than we'd feared. Because it was so quick, we were still able to squeeze in a chase day in Iowa. A pretty good one at that.
 
A messy cluster of storms was moving across the state all day, but by the afternoon, a few had become more organized. We picked a target storm and despite a lack of ideal road networks, we were able to get out in front of one that had an impressive shelf cloud and green core.
 
We chased this thing all the way into Illinois, across the Mississippi River, then called it a day and retired to Davenport for the night.
 
All in all, a pretty storm. It never really had much tornadic potential, but it was much more impressive than I was expecting for today.

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May 11 - McCool Junction, Nebraska
Tornadoes! - Today was a wild day.There was a moderate risk for severe weather and we targeted southeastern Nebraska. one dominant supercell storm formed, but it was a high-precipitation supercell, with lots of rain, and poor visibility. We did manage to witness a couple of brief tornadoes as the storm approached, but as we were retreating, another tornado formed right beside us in a farmer's field. The tornado approached the road and knocked over a piece of irrigation equipment, right onto our windshield!
 
We're OK, and the video is dramatic!!

Tornado Encounter, McCool Junction, Nebraska

May 10 - Marshall, Missouri
Tornado Warning - There was a slight chance of tornadoes today in eastern Kansas & western Missouri. We originally targeted south of Kansas City, but unfortunately, the best storm of the day formed on the other side of the city which meant we spent a LOT of time playing catchup with the storm, dealing with traffic.
 
We finally caught up with the supercell as it was strengthening again, and exhibiting more rotation near the town of Marshall, Missouri. A new tornado warning was issued, but from our vantage point, we couldn't see the tornado. It was wrapped in rain which made for a dangerous approach. The storm was really cranked up and spinning and as we navigated around it we had to deal with a variety of hazards, including sideways rain and high winds, terrible visibility, roads that ended in what seemed to be a goat path with a tractor in the middle, a railroad crossing that seemed to be possessed by an evil spirit and a crazy farm dog that ran out right in front of us, trying to "catch" the van.
 
What a day.
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May 09 - Joplin, Missouri
We chose not to blast east for the marginal setup along the Missouri/Illinois state line. It was just too far for a very conditional forecast. Instead, we toured around Joplin, Missouri to see the recovery effort after the devastating EF-5 tornado that struck there 3 years ago. It is still evident where the tornado went through town, but the rebuilding effort has been tremendous.
 
It was interesting to see the difference, compared to the last time I was there.
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May 08 - Arkansas City, Kansas
 
As tempting as it was to try and blast up to Minnesota for today's moderate risk, there was just no way we were going to make it, especially with having to repair the glass damage from yesterday's hailstorm.
 
In the morning we did a temporary fix to the windows with some plexiglass, silicone sealant and good old duct tape. It's doing the job for now.
 
We decided to play a more southern target near the Kansas-Oklahoma border where storms did fire up, but never really got that spectacular. We chased them until they died off, then got a bite to eat and continued on to Joplin, Missouri in preparation for tomorrow. We were treated to a very nice rainbow though.

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May 07 - Henrietta, Texas
Wow, what a day. We started off in Wichita Falls, then spent a good portion of the day waiting for storm initiation in Vernon, Texas. Storms did begin to form in the afternoon, a little earlier than expected.
 
The first storm we encountered moved off quickly, and we were never really able to keep up with it. however, the second storm had a fantastic, stacked plates structure to it. Simply gorgeous! We intercepted it just outside of Henrietta, Texas.
 
We kept up with it for a while, but eventually fizzled. Luckily, behind it, there was another, mature storm. This one with a tornado warning! We managed to intercept it in Oklahoma, just over the Red River, near the town of Waurika. It also had some very nice structure & shape to it. After the tornado threat had passed, we drove north from town to see how big the hail was.... Well, It was a lot bigger than we expected it to be.
 
Soon after turning north, we found ourselves in hail to the size of baseballs & tennis balls! blowing mostly sideways! The windshields on both vehicles are now broken (not too bad).
 
As the hail started to die down, I got out of the van to quickly grab a few samples, when all of a sudden... More, LARGE stones started coming down. I was hit on the back by one as I was scrambling back into the van, then the side window got smashed out. We're all OK, but we need some urgent glass work done. It's almost 1:00 AM and we've arrived back in Norman, Oklahoma for the night.

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May 06 - Wichita Falls, Texas
Well it looks like we might be getting our chance to chase some storms tomorrow, as the next upper level disturbance comes through. We'd started heading north from Oklahoma City, then changed our minds, based on the updated forecast. It looks like there might be a better chance for tornadic storms down here tomorrow. Time will tell if we made the right decision.

May 05 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sunny & hot. Today maxed out at well over 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Not so great for storm chasing, but good for sight-seeing. We started the day off in Lawton, Oklahoma, then decided to head over to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
 
In all my years of coming to the Great plains, I've never visited it. We were quite impressed! The variety of animals was quite diverse. I recommend visiting it if you get the chance.
 
We're back in Norman, now and will start repositioning further north for potential storms later in the week.

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May 04 - Lawton, Oklahoma
Blue skies were on tap for today. With no prospects for storm chases in the near future, we packed everybody up and drove down to Lawton, Oklahoma where we visited the wildlife refuge. We spotted several bison in the grasslands, but we weren't able to get very close to them.
 
We also drove up the side of Mount Scott where we got a great view of the surrounding countryside.
 
We even spotted a few, very colorful lizards.

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May 03 - Norman, Oklahoma
 
All the airport pickups have been completed, and the tour guests have arrived safe & sound. It was great to see some old friends and to meet some new faces. The next 2 weeks will be a lot of fun.

May 02 - Norman, Oklahoma
 
Day two of the drive down, and I've made it to Norman, Oklahoma. It's our home-base while on our tornado chases. Tomorrow, the tour guests will begin to arrive. We'll be doing airport pickups for most of the day.

May 01 - Rolla, Missouri
 
Day one of the trip. Not much to mention. Just a long day of driving. I was up at 4:30 this morning,and tried to get as many miles under me as I could. 1400 km later, I stopped in Rolla, Missouri for the night. Driving conditions were good, and I even managed to go through St Louis during rush hour without much trouble.

April 26 - Toronto, Canada
 
Welcome to my 2014 tornado chase blog page where I will be posting daily summaries & photos from this year's storm chase.
 
I'll be hitting the road late next week to meet up with the rest of the Cloud 9 Tours crew. The plan is to be out with them for the entire month of May, then I'll be teaming up with the Weather Network crew for a while, filming some new episodes of the "Stormhunters" TV series.
 
Check back often to see what we've been up to.

Tornado Alley

 

Any Questions/Comments?

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george@stormchaser.ca


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