Tornado Chase Season Part 2

The last couple of weeks of my annual tornado chase were some of the busiest I've ever experienced. Two days stand out in particular:

May 28th - Bennington, Kansas

Wow, what a day! The target area for today was huge, with the Storm Prediction Center coving a large porting on the central U.S. in a 5% tornado risk. In fact, that 5% covered more than 450,000 square miles and our mission was to narrow that down to a single spot producing a tornado.
And we were able to do exactly that!
North of Salina, Kansas, near the town of Bennington, an isolated supercell storm went up, right in our target area. We were quick to get on it and were treated to a nearly stationary storm that went on to produce a huge tornado, that we observed from quite close from its first funnel to when it became a giant wedge, to eventually becoming rain-wrapped.

This tornado was a real monster. Luckily, it looks like it missed the town, and that's a good thing because it was likely very violent and would have done considerable damage.
The tornado was on the ground for a long time, so we were able to reposition ourselves close enough to be able to hear the roar of the tornado as it was grinding away in the countryside. It was dark, menacing and I briefly entertained the idea of getting even closer, but with the rain wrapping around it, I figured that was not the best idea since we already had a fantastic view of this thing.

Once the storm went completely HP (high precipitation) we just let it go and drove down to Salina for a well deserved steak dinner.
It just so happened that I was scheduled to do a live Twitter interview with Canadian Geographic Magazine at the exact same as the tornado was on the ground. It was a bit frantic and crazy, but worked out perfectly. We couldn't have timed it any better if we had tried.

A few days later, we learned that the tornado was rater EF-4 (out of 5) and that because the tornado was so big, and so wide, that some areas were underneath it for about 15 minutes! That is incredible! Luckily, there were no serious injuries and the tornado missed the town.

May 31st - El Reno, Oklahoma

MONSTER TORNADO - It's hard to believe what we witnessed. As expected, storms went up and we targeted the best area, near El Reno. instead of individual storms, they formed an east west line of embedded supercells, which didn't look encouraging at first, but then really got organized. We saw a tornado touch down in a field near the El Reno airport, then get obscured from our location by rain. As we crept east along Interstate 40, we spotted something remarkable. A huge tornado, so big that it barely fit in the viewfinder of my camera!! We were behind it, so our position was good, I could just keep pace with it. I've never seen anything so big before.
It eventually turned right and crossed the highway ahead of us. This was a very complicated storm with many areas of rotation and odd behavior. The large number of storm chasers, regular traffic, downed trees & power lines and other debris made this a challenging chase, to say the least!
Many storm chasers had close calls with this tornado due to its extreme size and odd motion. Many got caught up in it and Unfortunately, 3 well respected chasers/storm researchers were killed by it. Tim Samaras, his son Paul and Carl Young.

The National Weather service did a survey of the tornado and has given it an EF-5 rating, the highest there is. Not only that, but the width of the tornado was calculated to have been 2.6 miles wide (4.2 km)!! That makes it the world record holder for the largest tornado ever documented!! The wind speed was measured by mobile doppler radar at 296 mph (476 km/h)

Tornado Chase Season Part 1

Greetings everyone.

I’m so glad to be involved with Light My Fire Adventures! It has certainly already been an adventurous year. There is so much to tell you about my upcoming "Eternal Flame" adventure! It is going to be exotic, wild, dramatic and probably one of the most difficult things I've ever tried to do. I'm incredibly excited about it and I want to share the details about it with you. However, before I go on about the Eternal Flame expedition, let me fill you in on what has been keeping me so busy over the past month or so. It has been busy. Very busy.

For 15 years, I have been involved in some of the craziest adventures all over the planet. Climbing into active volcanoes, driving into hurricanes, and I’ve also been a very active tornado chaser. Springtime is storm season in the central United States, and each year, I head from Toronto, Canada down to Oklahoma to guide people on tornado chasing tours. Yes, you read that right, I take people from around the world to go on vacations where we try to find the worst weather possible. Sometimes the worst weather on the planet!

Don’t knock it ‘till you try it.

My storm chase season is now over and I can now switch my attention towards my newest adventures coming up, but I thought I would share with you some of the imagery from my recent chases. 

A tornado touches down in the town of Millsap, Texas. It was so close we could hear it. Many people say that tornadoes sound like a freight train, but they really sound more like a waterfall.

Storm chasing is not an easy thing to do. We need to know where the worst storms are going to be, hours, or sometimes days before they ever form, so we take a lot of time, learning how to do proper weather forecasting, reading computer models and radar displays. The more we know, the more likely we are to be successful at finding those elusive tornadoes.

A rotating supercell storm drops a thick funnel cloud towards the ground. A tornado is about to be born.
Tornado near Eliasville, Texas. Don't be fooled. Even skinny tornadoes can be very powerful!

Tornadoes are not the only weather phenomena that we seek while out on the chase. The sky is constantly putting on an amazing display of beauty and power for us. Sometimes, it is incredible lightning, arcing across the sky as if Mother Nature herself was signing her name in the clouds. Other times it is the clouds themselves. Sculpted by the wind, twisted and contorted into surreal shapes that look more like something from a science fiction alien invasion movie. 

We're always seeking out the tornadoes, but there are so many occasions where the other aspects of the storms we pursue are as dramatic and awe-inspiring.

Incredible Oklahoma lightning. Each bolt can burn 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun with up to 100 million volts of electricity... And I'm out there with my metal tripod taking pictures?! 

Is it a UFO coming to invade our planet? No, this is the rotating part of a severe storm passing over a church near Rapid City, South Dakota.

In a single season, it is not uncommon for me to drive over 20,000 km across a dozen different states. In order to get to where the storms are, we must be willing to drive... A lot. We get to see parts of the U.S. that most people will never see. The rural farming and ranching towns, the dusty dirt roads that turn into a slippery, gooey mess as soon as it rains, making it almost impossible to drive on, even in the biggest four wheel drive vehicles. There are long hours on the road, with little sleep, bad American road food, and sometimes long stretches of time when there is nothing to see but blue sky. 

Patience they say, is a virtue. Sometimes we have to wait for days before the weather pattern turns around and we get stormy weather again. This May, however, was very stormy indeed. Many devastating tornadoes touched down, causing tremendous damage in several towns, especially in Oklahoma. It is terrible when this happens, and we NEVER want to see these tornadoes touch down in populated areas. Quite often we've been the first on the scene after such a tragedy and we help out where we can. Most of the time, however, these storms stay out in the vast grasslands and pastures of "Tornado Alley"

Coming up in the next blog post... 2 of my most incredible tornado encounters this year AND more details about the upcoming Eternal Flame expedition. This is going to be one of my most intense and difficult explorations ever. Here is a sneak peek....

The "Eternal Flame"... Destination for my wildest expedition to date.

Project description

George will travel to the remote heart of the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan to photograph the unique and dramatic flaming gas crater of Darvaza, a pocket of natural gas that has been burning for over 4 decades. This adventure would be the next chapter in his long list of extreme explorations, following his passion for documenting the most extreme places on Earth, then sharing what he's photographed with as many people as possible. The ultimate goal is to actually run a steel cable across the flaming pit and capture stunning images from above in a manner that nobody has ever done. He has done a similar thing before at the Boiling Lake, on the Island of Dominica.

George Kourounis is a world renowned explorer, adventurer, and storm chaser who specializes in traveling the world, photographing the most extreme forces of nature. His adventures have taken him to over 40 countries, on all seven continents, from the midst of hurricanes such as Sandy and Katrina, to tracking tornadoes in Oklahoma. He’s been to the radioactive zone of Chernobyl, and the far reaches of the Arctic & Antarctica. He even got married on the crater’s edge of an exploding South Pacific volcano. He is a member of the prestigious Explorers Club and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. He resides in Toronto.