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May 11, 2001

Storm Trek 2001

Storm chaser stocks up with high-tech goodies

By Chris Kridler
FLORIDA TODAY

May 11: Gear and gadgets help storm chasers find storms, but some chasers don't stop at a laptop computer. Outfitting their cars for the expedition becomes a passion. George Kourounis, a chaser from Toronto, has taken the art to the highest level.

George Kourounis
George Kourounis sits amid his gear in his Honda CRV.

"I've got an engineering background, and at work, I build and repair recording studios and all the equipment associated with them. ... Integrating all this stuff into the car and making it work and making it look beautiful, it's what I do at work, and I really enjoy it quite a bit."

In his 1999 Honda CRV, he has two CB radios, a dual band ham radio, two radio scanners, a laptop computer on a removable desk running Global Positioning Satellite tracking, cell phone, TV tuner, a folding TV display that pops out of the dashboard and displays images from the video camera, a decoder for receiving information from the National Weather Service, two power inverters, and a programmable scrolling sign in the rear window that can flash "caution" or, occasionally, inside jokes.

Outside the car, there are eight antennas, including the radio antenna. Inside, there's the GPS receiver and a TV antenna.

Kourounis, who turns 31 this month, is an audio technical engineer. He's spent countless hours with a soldering iron customizing the inside of his car. The result is a mobile communications station with a custom-built, slickly integrated interface, all of which can be removed or hidden from would-be thieves.

It wasn't always this way. Around 1996, he started chasing lightning storms, trying to get photos of elusive bolts in downtown Toronto. On foot. "So I would literally run through the pouring rain with all my stuff in a backpack ... after that I graduated to a mountain bike ... from there, I graduated to the Batmobile."

This season, he's caravaning with another Canadian chaser, Mark Robinson of Mississauga, Ontario. Kourounis helped him customize his car, too, but it has a long way to go before it becomes the Batmobile.

The '89 Eagle Vista lost the front grille and a fog light on the way to the Plains, so it has a cockeyed appearance, and it has no speedometer or odometer. Robinson calls it the Enraged Mosquito. It represents another common type of chaser vehicle: the hail bomb - a car that seems custom-made for punching the core of a storm and getting bombed with hail. So far, the hail hasn't been anywhere that big. But the Enraged Mosquito is ready for action.