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Tornado Chase 2008

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.

Track our location online HERE (When available)

- George Kourounis

June 05 - Toronto

Tornado chase 2008 is now complete. I'm back home in Toronto where I will be resting up, taking care of business and preparing for my next epic adventure (Which is coming up soon and is a BIG one).

This year's chase was incredibly successful with many tornado intercepts and a lot of great storms. It was a pleasure to be driving for Cloud 9 Tours again this year and I look forward to seeing everyone again next year. We have a good time, all the time.

My blog posts for the rest of the year will continue on the regular blog page.


June 02 - Centralia, Pennsylvania

I am taking a few detours on my long journey home. I figured that I'd stop in the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania...Except, the town of Centralia no longer exists.

It has been largely abandoned years ago and the government revoked it's zip codes and condemned the buildings. The reason - An underground coal fire that has now been burning for over 45 years. I vested the remains of Centralia to see what has become of the town and to check on the status of the fire.

It was an eerie feeling, walking around the abandoned town. I would often hear noises coming from the forest and the smell of the burning coal added to the creepy vibe of this place.

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June 01 - Picher, Oklahoma

On May 10th, a devastating EF-4 tornado struck the town of Picher, Oklahoma. There was so much damage done that the town is likely not going to be rebuilt. I visited Picher with Australian news cameraman Daniel Shaw to see how bad it really was. When we got there, we were shocked, the level of destruction is difficult to describe so I've uploaded a large series of photographs that can better tell the tale. Seven people lost their lives that night but from the looks of the town, that number could've been a lot higher.

Because of the high levels of lead in the soil due to many years of mining, Picher is also considered to be one of the most toxic areas in the U.S.

Picher, Oklahoma Tornado

May 31 - Norman, Oklahoma

Tour two is winding down now and tomorrow we bring people to the airport for their journey home. The past 2 weeks has been an amazing period with an unbelievable number of tornado outbreaks. The tour guests and myself included, will never forget this trip.

I too will be heading home. There are a few details to be dealt with here and loose ends to tie up, then I hit the road. My final destination is home in Toronto but I'll be taking the long way home, seeing a few things along the way...More to come.

Very special thanks to All the Cloud 9 Tours guests. You guys are amazing! I had a good time, all the time. Also, many thanks to the rest of the Cloud 9 Tours crew: Charles Edwards, John Guyton and Mike Theiss.


May 30 - Independence, Kansas

TORNADOES - I've now added a full chase report with pictures of the incredible tornado outbreak from yesterday.

Here are the pictures.

May 29, 2008 Outbreak

May 29 - Kearney, Nebraska & Glen Elder, Kansas

TORNADOES - The high risk day paid off…

It's 2:00 A.M. right now and I need to sleep but to sum it up quickly:

We caught the huge wedge that did damage in Kearney, Nebraska. It was big and tough to see from our angle but it was illuminated by lightning & power flashes.

After that storm weakened, we blasted south to another in Kansas. This one produced a large tornado near Osborne and tracked towards us. It lifted, then planted another tornado close to the road, we had to continue south to get out of the path of an anticyclonic rotation that was accompanying the main tornado which was at that point an slender rope. It lifted, then another tornado took over. This one was a large, multi-vortex tornado that was long track. It hit the town of Glen Elder. We drove through the damage path and was lots of trees, power lines and poles down and roof damage. We eventually had to call off the chase when the road became blocked by a downed telephone pole and it was getting dark.

Then, on the way back to the motel, I hit a deer. It did surprisingly little damage to the van, all things considered… The deer didn't fare as well. I'll update with more details and pictures tomorrow. Now I need to sleep.

Pictures to come...

May 28 - Norfolk, Nebraska Nothing special to report today. We spent the day driving north to Nebraska in order to get into position for tomorrow's possible severe weather setup. It was a long day of sitting behind the wheel but that is what storm chasing is all about. If you want to be in the right place, you have to get there somehow. There looks to be 2 more potential chase days left for the tour 2 folks, after that, we'll be bringing them back to home base for their flights home.

May 27 - Olustee, Oklahoma

 

 

The severe weather potential today was marginal but we're out here to chase, so we chased! The target area was southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton. It took a while to get down there from Wichita but as we got into the area, several storms were starting to fire up. We had a choice between a cell that was close to us or one that was quite a bit further north. the northern storm looked great visually but it was in an atmosphere that was not as rich, We stayed with our original target and refused to get tempted by the "sucker storm" to the north. I'm glad we made the right decision.

Near the town of Olustee, Oklahoma we approached the updraft base of the real target storm. It was looking good and was obviously strengthening, even better was the fact that it was barely moving. It just sat there for us as it grew bigger and bigger. We watched it develop a distinct wall cloud and signs of rotation also became visible. It was very photogenic and all the photographers on our group were very happy to witness such a cooperative subject. On radar, it developed a nice hook echo and I was expecting it to become tornado warned any minute.

As we played tag with the storm, snapping a few pictures then advancing to a new vantage point, the storm began to transition. It became outflow dominant and started to gust out. Imagine a huge storm exhaling all of it's rain cooled air at once. The gust front quickly overtook our position and that was our cue that the storm was dying. it had just gasped its last breath.

We stopped for dinner in Lawton then continued back to home base in Norman. Tomorrow will likely be a travel day to get north for some more chasing later in the week.

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May 26 - Pratt, Kansas

 

TORNADOES - What an interesting end to what I thought was going to be a marginal day. We targeted the area near Greensburg and our forecast was good, we waited just outside of town as a severe warned storm approached and began to show signs of rotation. Our three vehicles for Cloud 9 Tours were spaced apart in different pull-offs when Van 2 got stuck in the mud shortly after the storm became tornado warned. The place where we were parked was an area that was decimated by the EF-5 tornado last year and was quite muddy. Large hail began to fall and there was no way that anybody was going to go outside to push the van out until the worst of the hail core had passed. We eventually used a tow strap to pull them out of the muck, the chase was to resume.

The storm continued on and we followed it through Greensburg. It was eerie to be chasing a tornado warned storm through that town, especially since the scars from the last direct hit were still so evident. Luckily, the town was spared and we pushed on further east. We tried getting ahead of the storm but didn't want to face the gigantic hail that was likely in it As it tuned out, there was more development to our southwest and we soon began to get hit by bigger and bigger hail stones. We ended up finding a cotton farm which had a huge tin roof overhang which was perfect to fit all three vehicles underneath. The sound of the hail on the metal roof was deafening! The cacophony was so loud that I had to scream at people beside me to be even slightly heard. The hail grew up to the size of golfballs and we noticed that on the way up to the shelter, we had taken enough hits from the hail that a new batch of dents had been added to the vehicles but we did manage to keep all the glass intact.

After the worst of it had passed, we continued east towards Pratt. We had almost given up on the storm when it began a revival and took on a great shape on radar. As we punched through the backside of the hook, we kept looking to the southeast to see if there was actually a tornado in there. As we got to Pratt, we emerged from the rain and there it was, a wispy cone shaped tornado!! I only saw it for a few seconds before it vanished and we got into town where our view was blocked. We sent in a report to Spotter Network and soon the sirens in Pratt were wailing. We blasted through town and got further east when another tornado touched down on the south side of highway 54 very close to our location . It was a broad circulation with multiple vortices that wasn't very photogenic but it was coming our way. Be sped off and got ahead of it before it threatened to cross the road.

We put some space between ourselves and the storm and eventually stopped again to get some pictures of the storm structure. When it was time to get back to the vehicles, I looked back and noticed another rain wrapped tornado. This one was shaped like a slender cone. It was visible only briefly but was spotted by numerous other chasers as well.

We eventually made it to Wichita for the night. Another great chase day.

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May 25 - LaCrosse, Kansas

 

TORNADOES - The day started off in Omaha but as soon as we woke up and saw the forecast, we immediately dashed back to Kansas and targeted the area south of Hays. We ended up intercepting the supercell near Lacrosse. I formed a funnel that made it about halfway to the ground but we were able to confirm debris on the ground below it so it was certainly on the ground and heading straight for us. That touchdown was brief but the rotation in the cell was insane. It wrapped up like a cinnamon bun and was pin wheeling overhead just south of town. We were totally expecting it to put down a big white tube right beside. I jumped in the van and moved a few hundred feet down the road just in case it did put down a big tornado on top of us. It crossed the road and formed another funnel, this time a slender needle that may have touched down as well but we couldn't tell from our vantage point.

Yet again, we got up close and personal with the business end of these supercell storms. That was the third close encounter for us this week. Cloud 9 has a reputation for getting nice and close to the action and this day was no exception.

Continuing east to the town of Bison, we witnessed what appeared to be a brief landspout tornado. Some other chasers claim it was a gustnado but it was difficult to tell. The sirens were going off in town due to the tornado warning and the storm was still looking good. It eventually merged with other nearby cells and became a big, disorganized cluster. It did however, have an awesome green colour in the core. we dashed out of there before we got pounded by what was likely some big hail. Another great chase day.

We eventually made it back to hays where had a nice dinner and shared stories from the past few days with some other chasers. This recent storm pattern has been really active and may be one of the best in a long time. It looks there may be more activity in Kansas tomorrow, the Storm Prediction Center already has a moderate risk of severe weather in the forecast.

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May 24 - Omaha, Nebraska

Tornado Watch - After two days of tornado chaos across Kansas, we planned to continue for a third day, this time in Nebraska. By mid afternoon, the storm Prediction Center issued had issued a tornado watch box for our target area but the storms never did materialize the way we wanted. We did end up with a low precipitation (LP) storm near Aurora, Nebraska but the forecast never materialized. The atmosphere in Nebraska was expected to be more conducive for tornadoes than today's second choice in Oklahoma. We chose Nebraske because of the better conditions, plus it kept us in better position for more chasing tomorrow.

Well, the Oklahoma choice turned out to be the one that did it. Numerous tornadoes were reported in the state while a great many frustrated storm chasers sat in Nebraska getting a sunburn. That is what storm chasing is all about. You can't be in two places at once.

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May 23 - Quinter, Kansas

TORNADOES - More tornado madness!! We knew that today's setup had as much tornado potential as yesterday and it certainly panned out for us with several tornadoes witnessed.

We started the day off by picking up the British documentary film crew from Pioneer Productions who are working on an updated version of the "Raging Planet" documentary television series. Once we had them, we started heading towards a developing supercell, south of Interstate-70. We waited for the storm to get closer to the highway because we didn't want to face the terrible dirt roads that were left muddied by yesterday's storms. As the rotating portion of the storm approached the interstate, we found ourselves in the hook of the supercell with a large, dark cone tornado fast approaching. We pulled off and filmed as it got closer and closer. I prepared myself for the possibility of having to dash out of there at full speed but the tornado dissipated before it made it to our location. Just east of where we were, a new tornado formed. This time a big, ragged multiple vortex tornado that shifted shape and morphed until it eventually became a huge wedge. At one point, it was so big that I could only see one side of the tornado.

We pushed on to the north to try and cut ahead of the storm and make another approach on the tornado but the only paved roads were few and far between. We eventually cut across through the storm near Hill City as we "threaded the needle" in between 3 different TVS markers (tornadic vortex signature).

As the light began to fail we watched yet another tornado warned supercell from a hilltop when we were jolted by an extremely close lightning bolt. We believe it hit behind the house we were parked beside and it was a good thing that everyone was inside the vans at the time. The shockwave almost startled the pants off of me!

On our way back to Hays for the night, we heard about another possible tornado approaching the town of Ellis. We were close by and tried to make an intercept. The problem was that the tornado was wrapped in rain and it was getting dark. As we got closer to the town, we noticed the winds shifting and we remarked about how stupid some of these big rig truck drivers are, they'll drive into anything. A few second after we said that, an 18 wheeler passed us and pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. The tornado was fast approaching and we watched the winds flip the truck over onto its side. Charles spotted the tornado and saw more rain wrapping around it as it closer to our location. We had to get out of there and fast! The big problem was that we were on the divided highway with no way to turn around. We ended up circling back and drove the wrong way down the interstate for a mile or two with our headlights flashing to warn any oncoming motorists of the danger. The tornado crossed the road close to where we had been and damage was reported in Ellis.

When the danger had finally passed, we drove back east again and noticed 4 different trucks overturned, some in opposite directions which was more evidence of the tornado passing through.

What a day.

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May 22 - Hays, Kansas

TORNADOES - Well, that was wild! Yet again, I get to see tornadoes on my birthday except this year I got to see several of them including one at extremely close range.

To make a long story short, we intercepted at least 4 tornadoes today including a slender hose near Grainfield, Kansas and an up close encounter with another near the town of Collyer where we got into position ahead of a rapidly rotating wall cloud. We chose a very close position where we knew that the circulation would pass just slightly to our west (And I mean JUST slightly). As the violent rotation approached, it became clear that any tornado that formed would touch down right beside us...

It did.

A white cone shaped funnel came down and circulation appeared on the ground. The winds at our location increased rapidly as we filmed it from outside the vehicles. We held our position in between the edge of the collar cloud and the tornado as the winds increased to near 100 mph. Rain and mud splattered us and two of the van doors were damaged when they over extended in the wind. I eventually tried to climb back into the van but I couldn't close the door and it was rocking so hard that we thought it might flip over. In the process, the wind on the edge of the circulation sucked our atlas and GPS unit out of the van and into the storm. Where they ended up, I'll never know. The motion in the clouds was unlike anything I've ever seen. The rotation was so strong that it looked like a sped up timelapse movie but it was real and it was directly overhead.

We eventually blasted further east to get away from the most dangerous part of the storm which was no easy feat considering that the inside of my windshield was plastered with water and mud making it almost impossible to see.

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May 21 - Ogallala, Nebraska There was some hope for storms but after spending a good portion of the day waiting around in Chugwater, Wyoming (Yes, this is the name of the town) it was becoming clear that any storms would be further south. As we repositioned, the winds increased dramatically and the vans were buffeted by strong gusts. In these gusts were thousands of suicidal kamikaze tumbleweeds that seemed to be intent on crashing into us head on. At times, large clusters of these crazy tumbleweeds would launch aerial attacks on our convoy. We eventually gave up the chase and had dinner in Sydney, then pushed on to Ogallala, Nebraska for the night.

May 20 - Cheyenne, Wyoming Today was a travel day. We started the day off in Dodge City, Kansas then went west into Limon, Colorado where we waited at a truck stop to see if a weak line of cumulus clouds would develop into a storm... Nothing developed so we continued north to Cheyenne, Wyoming in order to get into position for a possible chase day tomorrow. The really interesting part starts on Thursday when a new trough comes in from the west. We're expecting to be very busy later this week with this new weather system.

May 19 - Greensburg, Kansas

On May 4th, 2007 the town of Greensburg, Kansas took a direct hit from a huge tornado measuring approximately 1.7 miles in diameter. The tornado destroyed 95% of the town and was rated an EF-5, the highest damage rating that is given to tornadoes. Luckily, the town had about 20 minutes warning time and there were only 10 fatalities. This is remarkable considering the amount of damage done, especially since the tornado struck at night.

I visited Greenburg one year after the event to see how the town was doing. The rebuilding process has been ongoing and the town appears to have come a long way since the disaster. Even though the scars from the tornado remain, there is a definite sense of regrowth in the town.

Greensburg Tornado Damage

May 18 - Amarillo, Texas The switchover between tour one and two is now complete and right now we're waiting for the much anticipated change in the weather. The blue skies will persist for a few more days before we get to chase any good storms so we'll be amusing ourselves in other ways until then. Tonight we took a trip to the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo for a nice dinner. Christie from Australia attempted the 72 ounce steak but wasn't able to finish it all. Many try... few succeed. I personally know what it's like since I attempted it myself two years ago. Imagine trying to eat 4 1/2 pounds of meat in one hour. It hink I might still be digesting mine.

May 16/17 - Norman, Oklahoma Not much to report right now. We're in the middle of the switchover between tour one and tour two participants. The new folks arrived today and the entire huge group of us went out for dinner. It'll be another few days before the weather changes and chaseable storms form.

May 15 - Dallas, Texas Here's a video clip of the extremely close lightning strike we encountered on the chase yesterday. The video was shot by Mark Rees who happened to have his camera aiming in the right direction when the bolt hit. I was standing right beside him when it happened.


May 14 - Austin, Texas

Tornado Warning - After a couple of days of travelling and some lousy storms, we finally had a good chase day. We started off in Weatherford, Texas and headed west towards Abiline when the first tornado watch was issued. Near the town of Eden, we encountered some of the most intense lighting I've ever seen. One bolt (not pictured) hit extremely close and caught us off guard. It was the first bolt in a barrage of cloud to ground strikes that lasted nearly half an hour. It hit just behind a stand of trees across the road from where we were parked. Talk about scary.

In all, we intercepted two different tornado warned storms. We blasted through the town of Brady as the hook of one of the storms was overtaking the town. We watched as the curtains of rain circled in around us and the straight line winds ended up doing a lot of damage in town, knocking down trees and ripping the siding off a few houses.

A second tornado warned storm passed over the town of Marble Falls as we watched it from a hilltop overlooking the town. We were at the extreme edge of the tornadic hook of the storm and experienced incredible winds as it grazed our position. It was very similar to being in a hurricane.

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May 12 - Abiline, Texas

A down day. There was no severe weather to pursue so we remained in Abiline. Tomorrow we will be chasing for sure.

As far as severe weather and other natural forces goes, the Earth is a busy place right now with the huge earthquake in China, wildfires in Florida, the aftermath of cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and the eruption of Chaitén volcano in Chile... I need a cloning machine so that I can be at all these places at once. It gets very frustrating but I can only be in one place at a time!


May 11 - Dallas, Texas

Today was a travel day so that we could get as far away from the hills and trees of Arkansas as possible. We stopped briefly in Dallas and visited the site of the assassination of JFK. I found it fascinating to be on the very site of such an interesting historical event.

Here I am on the infamous grassy knoll with the Texas Schoolbook Depository in the background.

After Dallas, we pushed on to Abiline where we are staying for the night. The storm potential will be increasing again in a few days, especially Tuesday and Wednesday.

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May 10 - Texarkana, Arkansas

Tornado Warning - Today was a very tough chase day in Eastern Oklahoma & Western Arkansas. There was a moderate risk of severe weather and a PDS (Particularly Dangerous situation) tornado watch box was issued and we had high hopes for the day. Those hopes dropped once we got into our target area. The hills, trees and hazy skies made for some terrible visibility, in fact it was so bad that there could've been a tornado right beside us and we would've never seen it. We were joking that we needed to have chain saws with us to cut down the trees so that we could get a clear view of the sky. We did end up on a couple of tornado warned storms but it was just too tough to see anything. Congratulations to the few chasers that managed to see tornadoes today.

Unfortunately, there were many fatalities in the Oklahoma/Missouri area with several cities taking direct hits. We love to see tornadoes, but only when they don't impact people's lives.

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May 09 - McAlester, Oklahoma

The chase team has relocated to McAlester, Oklahoma in order to get into better position for tomorrow's potential severe weather outbreak. Before we left Norman, we first made a stop at the Storm Prediction Center's new building. It is an impressive place that also houses the National Severe Storms Lab and the local National Weather Service field office. One very cool thing they have in the lobby is a suspended sphere that they project images onto. It uses several projectors to overlay animated satellite images, forecasts and other graphics. The technology involved is fascinating and the end result is amazing to look at. I couldn't stop staring at it.

Tomorrow there is a moderate risk for severe weather in eastern Oklahoma and into Arkansas, although it is not ideal chase terrain with lots of hills and trees, we will be in full chase mode. I'm hoping for a good day tomorrow and I have my fingers crossed. That's all for now.

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May 08 - Norman, Oklahoma

Right now we've repositioned back to our home base of Norman, Oklahoma. It was too long of a drive for us to make it all the way from Paris, Texas to the severe weather threat in western Kansas.

Of course, in Paris, they have a replica of the Eiffel Tower but this is Texas after all, so they've dressed they're version up with a bright red cowboy hat... Only in Texas!

Tomorrow looks like a travel day for us. We'll start heading east towards Arkansas in order to get into position for severe weather potential on Saturday.

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May 07 - Paris, Texas Tornado Warning - After an early, 7:00 A.M. start from Lubbock, we headed straight east towards today's target area which was north Texas, east of I-35 and south of the Red River. The Storm Prediction Center bumped up the risk category from a slight risk to a moderate risk and numerous tornado watches were issued. We settled into a spot that had a great view to the southwest and waited. The first storm in our target area fired up and tracked directly over our position. I noticed signs of rotation on the radar and an instant later, a TVS (tornadic vortex signature) icon appeared on the screen. Visually, the storm looked good too and was starting to show more signs of having tornado potential. Soon, a tornado warning was issued and we tracked it northeast. It held together for a while and we expected it to get its act together and drop one but it eventually died out without producing a tornado. We're now in Paris, Texas.

May 06 - Lubbock, Texas

Tornado Watch - We started the day off in Lubbock and knew we didn't have too far to go since we were already in our general target area for the day. We started off by meeting up with an Australian film crew who will be joining us for a few days, filming the chase tour as part of a travel show. They have two identical rented Jeeps, each with a big, glass sunroof that might not last the week if we get into really big hail. We targeted the town of Seminole, Texas and waited around there for the first signs of thunderstorm development. After a few hours of waiting, a few storms fired off to our south that looked like they might have some potential so we went after them.

A tornado watch box was issued by the Storm Prediction Center and we were smack dab in the middle of it. The storms were not well organized but we expected them to get better and better as the day progressed. The first storm split, then split again, then formed a multi cell cluster of storms which had little chance of producing a tornado. We did encounter plenty of hail to the size of quarters though. Our hopes dwindled when the sun began to get low in the sky so we called off the chase and returned to Lubbock where we were treated to a nice lightning show after dark.

Tomorrow we'll be getting up very early to get into position for another chase day. Our target area is to the east so we'll have lots of miles to put under us before we finally get into position.

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May 05 - Roswell, New Mexico

Is this some strange spacecraft from another world? No, it's just a saucer shaped supercell storm near the city of Roswell, New Mexico. This severe thunderstorm took on some great structure just before it moved north of town. We didn't see it produce any tornadoes but it did have some giant hail up to baseball size. we saw many cars driving out of the storm with smashed windshields.

The radar reflectivity on the storm maxed out at 77dbz which is incredibly strong so decided to give the storm a wide berth and avoided the largest hail by keeping one step ahead of the storm. There were a few instances where the storm produced some very low hanging wall clouds that exhibited signs of rotation but nothing touched down. We then pressed on to Lubbock for the night, tomorrow looks like it has even more potential.

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May 04 - Amarillo, Texas

We still have some time before the weather begins to cooperate and some stormy conditions develop so we hit the road and took a trip to Amarillo, Texas. We'll be starting the real chasing tomorrow so, tonight we headed off to one of our favorite spots. The Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Jay, one of the guests from Holland tried to eat their 72 ounce steak special but even though he didn't finish it, he did manage to beat my personal best. Two years ago I was able to eat 41 ounces and he managed to down 46 ounces.

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May 03 - Norman, Oklahoma All the tour guests have been picked up, the vehicles are prepared and we're now ready to chase. All we need now are some decent storms and it looks like we'll get some next week. We have a large group this year with a total of 18 guests for tour one plus four of us guides. It should be interesting trying to find motel rooms for everyone... Wish us luck.

May 02 - Norman, Oklahoma The long drive down is done, now the long month of driving is just beginning. I'm now at our home base in Norman, Oklahoma and tomorrow we will be doing airport pickup of the tour one participants. For now, I need to sleep.

May 01 - St. Louis

I made it as far as St. Louis today after a very long drive which was complicated by an immigration rally in Detroit which snarled traffic crossing over from Canada. The protesters were blocking the route to the interstate highway so it took forever to get out of the city.

There were numerous reports of confirmed tornadoes across many states today, including Iowa, Kansas and some photogenic tornadoes near Pawnee, Oklahoma. It always seems to happen like this, there's a big severe weather event just before I make it into the region, but that's okay. Over the next month, there will be plenty of more opportunities.


April 30 - Toronto

After only three days at home after my latest African adventure, it's time once again for the spring storm season. I leave in the morning for the Tornado Alley portion of the United States where I'll be chasing storms for the entire month of May. I will try to update this blog page daily with pictures and stories from the road.

Let the chase begin!

Tornado Alley


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george@stormchaser.ca


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