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Tornado Chase 2011 Blog

 

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


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June 22 - Toronto
7 weeks, 19 states and 31,000 km later... I'm home. Thanks to everyone involved with Cloud 9 Tours for making this a great and very memorable chase season. I'll see you next May.


June 21 - Wapakoneta, Ohio
Almost home... My last night away from home before I cross back into Canada and spend my first night in my own bed in almost 2 months.

June 20 - Joplin, Missouri
Unbelievable!! The level of destruction in Joplin, even a month after the tornado hit is still beyond belief. The city took a direct hit back on May 22nd and in all my years, I've never seen such widespread tornado damage. I spent the entire day driving and walking around the city taking hundreds of photos and everywhere I looked, homes were leveled, trees were stripped of branches and bark, objects were embedded in the side of building.
 
Joplin photo gallery.
 
My heart goes out to the people of Joplin, it will take a long time for the city to recover from this historic natural disaster.
Joplin, Missouri EF-5 Tornado Damage

June 19 - Norman, Oklahoma
The tours are over. Today we bring the guests to the airport to make their way back home. I'll be starting my long drive home, but first I'll be stopping in Joplin, Missouri to photograph the aftermath of the EF-5 tornado that struck the city back on May 22nd.

June 18 - Osage County, Oklahoma
TORNADO - Osage County, Oklahoma. What a cool day. It was the last day of the tours and we had one last chance to find a tornado. One storm formed right in our target area and despite the lack of roads there and the many, many tall trees, we were able to get into a great position to watch it.This storm had it all. Great structure, a tornado that touched down in the middle of nowhere, spectacular lightning, 2 1/2 inch hail.
 
 
The tornado was spotted in the last hours of the last day of the last tour. Whew, it felt so great to capture this for the folks on tour 3. Talk about pulling it off at the last minute! The forecast today only had a 2% tornado risk so that makes it even more special. All it takes is to get onto the right storm and be in the exact right spot and magic can happen.
 
The funnel snaked its way out of the storm and even though the condensation funnel didn't form all the way down, the circulation was most certainly on the ground.
 
It was amazing to be directly underneath this "mothership" looking supercell that clearly had plenty of rotation. another bonus was that there were not that many other storm chasers there so there wasn't the usual frenzy of traffic or difficulty finding places to pull over.
 
The lightning display was especially nice as well, with plenty of bolts with lots of branches. I even was able to get a shot of a lightning bolt with its reflection in the van window.
 
Because this was the last chase day of our season, we had to get back to Norman so that everybody could catch their flights. We got in late, but nobody cared!.

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June 17 - Lamar, Colorado
Tornado warning. We chased several storms including a tornado warned storm that produced copious amounts of hail about 1 inch in diameter. The hail was hard and did some damage to the vans including some new dents, a cracked window and damaged a rear facing camera.
 
We pushed on late to Guymon
2011_06_11A

June 16 - Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Wild!! Just west of Scottsbluff, Nebraska we encountered a big storm that pushed out a huge plume of dust, dirt and debris, creating a humongous haboob/dust storm. We drove right through it and at times, the visibility was zero, I had to stop because I couldn't see the end of the hood of the van. Dust, dirt, corn stalks and other debris pounded us and we narrowly missed getting hit by a runaway trampoline that blew out of someone's yard.
 
It made for some tense moments and great video!
 
Video Link Here
Haboob_June_16

June 15 - Hamburg, Iowa
As we drove through Hamburg, Iowa, for the second time this week, the Missouri river water had risen a LOT. Several of us waded out onto the now flooded interstate on-ramp. The town looked like it will be under water soon.
 
On the way west to our Nebraska target area for tomorrow, we chased a weakening storm in north Kansas, it did have a very nice rainbow associated with it.

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June 14 - Cameron, Missouri
Sat all day waiting for storms, tornado watch was issued. Storms eventually went up and we chased them, but all the storms started to fade... Then ramp back up, then die out. What a tease!
 
One cool thing was that we met up with Ed & Jerrine Verkaik on the side of the road. They are veteran Canadian storm photographers that I don't get to see very often.

June 13 - Hamburg, Iowa
The cap wins out again, but at least we got the chance to head up to Hamburg, Iowa where a levee broke today, spilling part of the Missouri river towards town. the water is expected to keep rising and it could be disastrous. We photographed many businesses that were barricaded with sand bags already, in anticipation of the river flooding that has already been expected for a while.
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June 12 - Salina, Kansas
Blue sky bust. The dreaded capping inversion is making me crazy. We sat all afternoon, waiting for storm initiation and... Nothing. At least we got to meet up with Daniel Shaw from Australia and mess with his mind a bit and play a few practical jokes on him.

June 11 - Burlington, Colorado
Chased a few storms in eastern Colorado today, but Mother Nature was toying with us. Every time we'd approach a storm, it would die, then a better storm would form. We'd get to that one and it would die. There was at least 1 or 2 tornadoes reported, but we were never able to get into position to see anything. It doesn't help that the road network there is almost non-existent.
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June 09 - Hays, Kansas
We traveled to Hays, Kansas in preparation for chasing in eastern Colorado tomorrow. A small storm formed and we went after it. The storm itself was not great, but the rainbow and sunset were really nice. We were just expecting a travel day.

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June 09 - New London, Illinois
4 states in one day - Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois. Not expecting much, but we did have a supercell form to our south. We got to it and it looked good until it produced a microburst and died.

June 08 - Verona, Wisconsin
This was Cloud 9 Tours' first time chasing in Wisconsin and I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a lot of bad terrain and tall trees, but it was pretty good.
 
A supercell formed and we saw what we believe was a brief tornado just north of the town of Barneveld, but it was impossible to know for sure. Barneveld was almost wiped off the map by an F-5 tornado back in the 1980's so they know a thing or two about tornadoes.
 
Then, other storms merged into huge line that started to bow out over the town of Verona. We experienced hurricane force winds and rain while seeking shelter under a gas station awning as the storm plowed past. It really did remind me of the many hurricanes I've been in.

June 07 - Crookston, Minnesota
Blue sky bust in Minnesota. We drove late into the night to get south near Minneapolis to set up for tomorrow. The only good thing about today was that we found a great little gas station that had chicken sandwiches for a buck! It's not as good as a nice storm, but that's it's something. I had 3 of them!

June 06 - Watertown, South Dakota
Continuing north into the northern plains. The distances out here are vast, we average around 5000 miles for each 2 week tour.

June 05 - Salina, Kansas
Today was a travel day, just heading north in preparation for possible severe weather later this week.
 
I did manage to capture a great sunset shot in Salina. Just as the sun was getting close to the horizon, I was able to get into a position so that it it dropped right behind the bell in the steeple of a local church. Everything aligned perfectly for that brief moment when I was able to snap that photo.
 
It's all about being in the right place at the right time.
Kansas_Sunset_2011_06_05

June 04 - Norman, Oklahoma
Switch over day. Tour 2 departs and we pick up the people for tour 3 and give them an orientation as to what to expect over the next 2 weeks.

June 03 - Amarillo, Texas
We started the day off in Hays but the prospects for storms today weakened so we decided to bail on the prospects of storm chasing today and instead, we continued on to Amarillo and had dinner at the Big Texan.

June 02 - Hays, Kansas
A travel & sightseeing day on our way from Salina to Hays via what we call the "Large & Bizarre' route.
 
- First we stopped off in Cawker City, home of the world's largest ball of twine. We've been here before, but this time I decided to partake in the latest craze...Planking. I think I was the first person to ever "plank" on top of the giant twine ball. Somebody had to be the first.
 
- Next we stopped in at the "Garden of Eden" in Lucas, Kansas. It's a historical home that is noteworthy for its elaborate concrete artwork and the eccentric nature of its builder, S.P. Dinsmoor. It has to be seen in person to be understood... Just go there yourself.
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June 01 - Kansas
Nice supercell in rural Kansas with tornado warnings, but we couldn't verify a tornado even though we saw many suspicious lowerings. There were simply no roads that we could take to get us underneath the storm. I lost count of the times that we saw what might have been a tornado, but there was just no way that we could get closer to confirm what we suspected.
 
 
One curious thing about this storm is that it produced a lot of lightning but almost every strike had few, or no branching at all.
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May 31 - O'Neil, Nebraska
There were no storms today so we took a well needed day off and stayed in O'Neil for one more night. It sure felt good to not be driving all day today!

May 30 - Atkinson, Nebraska
Tornado Warning - Several tornado warned storms fired up in Nebraska today, and although we didn't see a tornado, we did encounter some huge hail that must've been over 4 inches in diameter. They were dropping all around us as we drove east of Atkinson and luckily, we didn't take any direct hits from the big ones (The local sheriff's police cruiser windshield was not so lucky).
 
When we doubled-back, we found some hailstones that were still measuring 3 1/2 inches, and this was after at least a half hour of melting. Unfortunately, this hail storm did have at least one fatality. Amongst the hail, we discovered a rabbit that had been killed by the hail.
 
The storms eventually congealed into a line and we gave up the chase for the night, settling down in O'Neil, Nebraska.
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May 29 - Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The storm potential withered so we continued on to South Dakota in anticipation of tomorrow's chase.

May 28 - Norfolk, Nebraska
A travel day, getting into position. Started in Wichita & had dinner at Whisky Creek in Norfolk

May 27 - Perkins, Oklahoma
A blue sky bust day. We sat at a gas station in Perkins, Oklahoma for hours but today, the capping inversion was too strong and any potential storms were suppressed. While having dinner, a strange thing happened. Charles Edwards and I saw ourselves on TV in the restaurant in Stillwater! What are the odds of that? It was old footage from the BBC from 1999 when they sent a film crew out with us. It looks like the footage was re-packaged and broadcast by The Weather Channel.
 
We both looked a LOT younger back then. What a trip down memory lane.

May 26 - Van Buren, Arkansas
Having chased so far east, today was going to have to be a travel day to get back west from Memphis. The majority of the day was spent driving across Arkansas, back into Oklahoma.

May 25 - Memphis, Tennessee
TORNADO - Another high risk day. We drove from Oklahoma to eastern Arkansas where tornadoes were expected to be the major threat of the day. The first storm we intercepted was a tornado warned supercell in Beebe, Arkansas. A wall cloud approached the town as we sat an d observed in a church parking lot. The town's tornado sirens went off, but no tornado touched down. We tried to keep up with the storm, but it was moving too fast.
 
We kept dropping south to catch the next storm in the line until we were eventually approaching Memphis. This storm had a great shape on radar and produced a brief tornado that went right over our heads. It was not that photogenic, but the funnel cloud was most of the way to the ground and there was small bits of debris falling from the sky. Some of our team even videotaped the spray ring where the tornado was in contact with the surface of a small body of water near the Mississippi. At one point, I thought the tornado was going to touch down very close to our location on I-40, then it actually looped back into the clouds. I've never seen a funnel cloud do this before.
 
We kept chasing the storm through Memphis until it got dark. Another great chase day for this week.
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May 24 - Fairview, Oklahoma
TORNADO DISASTER - Today's high risk forecast certainly became a reality across much of Oklahoma. Numerous supercell storms formed, producing many tornadoes that unfortunately impacted quite a few populated areas. One of the other drivers on Cloud 9 had a real scare when a tornado destroyed his parent's home. Luckily, they were OK.
 
The full extent of the outbreak is still unknown and in the morning we'll have a better idea of what actually happened. One thing is for sure, many of these long-track tornadoes were very strong, easily in the EF-4 category, but it'll take a few days before know for sure.
 
As for our chase, we witnessed a few tornadoes, mainly near the town of Fairview, including one very photogenic rope shaped tornado. After that, we tried to keep up with the numerous other storms that were dropping tornadoes closer to Oklahoma City, but it was nearly impossible to keep up. We did spot another one near Shawnee before we finally called off the chase. It was an emotional day for us all. Another friend of ours didn't know if his house and wife were OK (a tornado just missed his house in Piedmont)
 
In other news, the tornado in Joplin, Missouri from 2 days ago has officially been given a rating of EF-5, the highest rating a tornado can get.
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May 23 - Okeene, Oklahoma
TORNADO - A moderate risk was issued today and it certainly did pan out. We witnessed a brief tornado near the town of Okeene, Oklahoma. It was a slender rope shape with the funnel reaching most of the way down, but with a definite debris cloud on the ground. We continued chasing several more storms through the afternoon and evening. In fact as we all piled into a restaurant for dinner, Charles noticed that the storm up near Kingfisher was cranking up so we abandoned the dinner plan and headed back out. We reached the storm and it looked like it had potential, but it was getting dark and we were being overtaken by heavy rain.
 
Tomorrow looks like a classic big tornado outbreak setup.
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May 22 - Joplin, Missouri
TORNADO DISASTER - What an emotional roller-coaster today. It was day ONE of tour two and we intercepted the Joplin, Missouri storm that produced the EF-5 tornado that wiped out much of the city. We were right behind the rain-wrapped tornado as it crossed the highway 2 minutes ahead of us. We had to stop when we reached the damage path and help out. There were a dozen or so trucks that had just flipped over and some of the motorists needed medical help.
 
See my detailed report here. We were one of the first on the scene after the tornado crossed interstate 44.
Joplin Tornado

May 21 - Coffeyville, Kansas
What a frustrating day. Today was the last day that we could possibly chase with the tour one people so we decided to chase southern Kansas instead of going to the annual storm chaser BBQ which was planned for today. We waited all day in Coffeyville under a strong cap and no storms fired up in our area.
 
Much further south, a couple of storms went up outside of the forecast risk area, one of them near the town of Ada, Oklahoma. All the chasers who decided to attend the BBQ were close enough to abandon the party and blast south to intercept the storm, which went on to produce at least one tornado, perhaps more.
 
We were further north and were trying to get down there as quickly as we could but it was too far for us to reach before nightfall. That has to be the most difficult and frustrating type of storm chase day imaginable. Ugh.

May 20 - Kaylista, Kansas
A great chase day.
 
We had many storms to intercept in Kansas today, with some great opportunities for photography including an isolated farm building with a blowing wheat field in the foreground, and another storm with train tracks leading off into it.
 
As the evening came, we found a lonely road near the town of Kaylista that had an old windmill that was in the perfect spot for a nice sunset photo opportunity.
 
After dark we were even treated to a spectacular lightning display. We frequently stopped at the side of the road and set up our tripods, shot lightning for a while, then continued east, keeping up with the storm, then stopping again. This process repeated until the storms weakened and got too far away for us to keep photographing.
 
 
It's days like today that reinforce the belief that sometimes you can have storm chase days without tornadoes that can be even better than some days that we see a tornado. Of course, witnessing a tornado today as well as everything else we saw certainly would've the icing on the cake.

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May 19 - Hays, Kansas
Tornado Watch - Waited in Hays, then the Storm Prediction Center upgraded the day's forecast to moderate risk. Many storms fired up and we chased about 4 or 5 of them. We saw a nice little LP storm (Low precipitation) near Dodge City and got hailed on.
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May 18 - Watonga, Oklahoma
Tornado Watch - Another blue sky bust, waiting around all day in Watonga. Once we realized that it was a futile exercise, we bailed and had dinner in Enid where we met up with several other storm chaser friends of ours, then eventually drove up to Wichita, Kansas for the night.
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May 17 - Woodward, Oklahoma
A blue sky bust. Despite driving from Amarillo into Colorado then Kansas and into Oklahoma, storm never materialized. There was simply not enough moisture in the atmosphere so instead of just waiting around, we continued deeper into Oklahoma to get into better position for possible storm chasing tomorrow.
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May 16 - Amarillo, Texas
Today we made the trip to the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. This famous place has been featured in countless food TV programs and is the home of the free 72 oz steak dinner (if you can finish it in an hour). The dinner includes the 72 oz steak (4 1/2 pounds), baked potato, dinner roll, side salad and shrimp.
 
Nobody in our group attempted the giant steak, but we did see someone else try it... And succeed! Wow.
The Big Texan

May 15 - Norman, Oklahoma
On our way to Amarillo, we stopped at our home base in Norman, Oklahoma to finally pick up a piece of missing luggage that arrived the day after we hit the road over a week ago.

May 14 - Hutchinson, Kansas
With an entire day to kill in Hutchinson, we took a trip to the Kansas Comosphere and Space Center. This place was great! I never expected such a great air & space museum to be found in Hutchinson, but among other great exhibits, they have the ACTUAL command module from the Apollo 13 mission! How cool is that? I highly recommend going there if you get the chance.
 
They also have an IMAX domed theater there and of course we had to all go see the "Tornado Alley" film made by TIV creator, Sean Casey. There were numerous familiar storms in the film, including the Goshen County Wyoming tornado that I also filmed for season 3 of "Angry Planet"
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May 13 - Lucas, Kansas
A travel day for tour one. We visited some of the wacky sights Kansas has to offer such as the "Garden of Eden" and the world's largest ball of twine. We spent the night in Hutchinson, Kansas and had some delicious, authentic BB-Q from a place called "Hog Wild". I recommend it if you ever find yourself here.

May 12 - Lincoln, Nebraska
Tornado Watch & storms near Lincoln, Nebraska - Things were looking up, but the storms never really got their act together and were disorganized. We did get some decent hail, but that was about it. We're still patiently waiting for the elusive tornado.
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May 11 - Burlington, Colorado
Tornado Watch & storms near Burlington, Colorado... We encountered a nice storm with plenty of pea size (and larger) hail. At one point during the chase, I turned off onto what looked like a good dirt road...It was not so good. Almost instantly we lost traction and got stuck in the mud requiring a tow out by one of the other vehicles in our convoy.
 
Usually I can trust the dirt roads in Colorado, but not this time.
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May 10 - Great Bend, Kansas
Not a lot to report today. We started off in Valentine, Nebraska and spent the day re-positioning ourselves to Great Bend Kansas in order to be closer to the greatest threat area for tomorrow. The Storm Prediction Center has a moderate risk of severe weather across parts of Kansas and Oklahoma for Wednesday. We eagerly await tomorrow's forecast.
 
On the way south today, we stopped in for a nice dinner in Pratt, Kansas and were treated to a very nice Kansas sunset.
 
By tomorrow, I should finally have some storm pictures to post here!!
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May 09 - Murdo, South Dakota
There was a marginal risk for tornadoes today in southwestern South Dakota & northwestern Nebraska. We, along with many other chasers converged in the town of Murdo, SD and waited... And waited for the storms to fire up. They never did. Well at least not until well after we had given up on the day and headed south to Valentine, Nebraska for the night.
 
At dusk, several supercell storms formed and there were reports of large hail, and even a tornado, but it was all well out of our reach by this time. Frustrating? Yes, but the forecast is never perfect.
 
Tomorrow is likely going to be a travel day, getting into position for storms on Wednesday, likely in Kansas.
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May 08 - O'neil, Nebraska
 
Tornado Watch - A bit of a frustrating first day when we started out early and drove 600 miles from central Oklahoma all the way to O'neil, Nebraska. A tornado watch was issued, but the only storms that fired up were way up in South Dakota, well out of our reach. The rest of our target area was under a capping inversion that suppressed any real storm development.
 
We ran into quite a few other storm chaser friends including Jim Leonard, Chris Kridler and Daniel Shaw.

May 07 - Norman, Oklahoma
 
Today was spent doing airport runs, picking up the guests for tour 1. Everybody arrived just fine and only one piece of luggage went missing in transit. All in all there will be 21 of us on this first trip.
 
Tomorrow is going to be an early morning so we decided to have our orientation with the new group tonight instead of in the morning.
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May 06 - Norman, Oklahoma
 
Arrived in Norman, Oklahoma today and met up with the rest of the Cloud 9 Tours crew. I also made an appearance on the American Heathen internet radio show, hosted by R.J. Evans and Chuck Doswell.

May 05 - Joplin, Missouri
 
Not much to report today. Just a Looong drive from Ohio to Joplin, Missouri. Tomorrow, I'll be meeting up with the rest of the Cloud 9 Tours team in Oklahoma. Happy Cinco de Mayo

May 04 - Mount Vernon, Ohio
 
This year I'm taking my time getting down to Tornado Alley. Today I dropped in to visit a friend of mine, Freda Chaney in Mount Vernon, Ohio. If you ever find yourself looking for a place to stay there, she operates the Chaney Manor bed & breakfast... And it is fantastic. What a treat it was to stay in a remodeled farm house from the 1800's, filled with wonderful antiques, books & art.
 
I extend a heartfelt thank you to the Chaneys for letting me come and stay the night, it was infinitely more enjoyable than any hotel. Now, it back to the road...

May 03 - Toronto, Canada
 
Tornado chase 2011 is here. For the next 6 weeks, I'll be traveling across the Great Plains of the United States in the "Tornado Alley" region of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas & Nebraska to hunt down and photograph severe thunderstorms, hail, lightning and tornadoes. This season marks my 14th year in a row of chasing tornadoes! Oh, how does the time fly.
 
This blog page will be updated daily with pictures and stories from the road so check back often to see what we've been up to.

Tornado Alley


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Send E-Mail To George Kourounis

george@stormchaser.ca


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