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Saturday, May 31, 2003

The Ottawa Sun
Storm-chaser set for 'active' season

By CP


TORONTO -- While some people are alarmed by expert predictions that Ontario is overdue for another severe tornado like the one that sliced through Barrie 18 years ago today, Canadian storm-chasers are eagerly awaiting the wild weather.

"I expect it to be a very active storm season this summer," said George Kourounis, 33, a Toronto-based weather enthusiast who chases violent storms in his spare time.

"I'm raring to go. I'll be all over it."

UP HIS ALLEY

Kourounis, who designs recording studios for a living, is such a fan of wild weather that he vacations in the heart of the United States' so-called Tornado Alley during peak tornado season.

He estimates there are only about a dozen serious storm-chasers like him in Canada and another 100 in the U.S. But interest in severe weather is widespread.

"There is a huge, huge contingency of people in the Canadian public who are fascinated with weather," said Environment Canada's Randy Mawson.

Mawson founded Environment Canada's CANWARN program in 1987 in response to a call for earlier warnings after an Edmonton tornado claimed 27 lives.

The program holds training sessions for volunteer amateur radio operators so they can spot early warning signs of severe weather.

"What we try to do is train our spotters to view the storm from a safe distance," said Mawson.

HOBBY 'SAFE'

"If you can see severe weather and report it, gosh, that's great. But never put yourself in jeopardy."

But Kourounis argues his hobby is safe. He said he doesn't know of any storm-chasers who were killed by weather.

"If you know what you're doing, it can be very, very safe."

Kourounis has customized his sport utility vehicle so he can stay out of harm's way. The roof is studded with searchlights, antennas and sensors and is marked with hail dents and debris scrapes suffered in the pursuit of foul weather.

Mawson agrees with Kourounis that Ontario is overdue for a devastating tornado.

KILLER TORNADOES

Seven of the worst tornadoes to hit Canada, according to Environment Canada:

- July 14, 2000: Pine Lake, Alta. -- 12 dead, 140 injured.

- July 31, 1987: Edmonton -- 27 dead, hundreds injured.

- May 31, 1985: Barrie -- 12 dead, hundreds injured.

- April 3, 1974: Windsor -- Nine dead, 30 injured.

- Aug. 20, 1970: Sudbury -- Six dead, 200 injured.

- June 17, 1946: Windsor, -- 17 dead, hundreds injured.

- June 30, 1912: Regina -- 28 dead, hundreds injured.