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Tornado Chase 2015

George Kourournis on Facebook

George Kourounis on Twitter

George Kourounis on YouTube

 

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. Extra thanks to Thad Bowling for additional pics and updates.

- George Kourounis



May 31 - Norman, Oklahoma to Oslo, Norway
I'm out of here. Usually I drive from Toronto to Oklahoma, but this year is a bit different. I flew down because I have to blast off directly from here to Oslo, Norway. Why you ask?..
 
Well, I've been invited to give a talk to the United Nations Environmental Emergencies Forum. What an honor!
 
Thank you to everyone whose path I crossed this chase season. It was a bit of a tough one, but as always, we manage to have a good time ALL the time. See you next year... Now, off to Norway...

May 30 - Norman, Oklahoma
A travel day, as expected. We had breakfast at Cracker Barrel and met up with a few other chaser friends, then we took our time driving the four hours back to home base in Norman.

2015_05_30

May 29 - Amarillo, Texas
Jade is back with us, we picked her up from the hospital last night. She's in pain, and can't move around much, but all the guys have been volunteering to help carry her around and the ladies have been helping her with bathroom trips etc.
 
We headed into the western Texas Panhandle and then ended up crossing over into eastern New Mexico... and even though we had a beautiful view just south of Tucumcari, NM, the cell of interest just didn't cooperate. Oh well... We enjoyed it anyway.

At least we got something, and Jade got to enjoy one more storm chase. Tonight we're in Amarillo and tomorrow won't be a chase day, we'll just slowly work our way back to Norman for the end of the trip.

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May 28 - Abilene, Texas
After passing through Childress (yet again), we intercepted some storms near the town of Paducah. One of them did have some significant hail in it, probably up to about 2" in diameter... Pretty big.
 
The structure looked quite good for a brief period, and I took advantage of that to get some shots with the storm and wildflowers. Also, I was able to get a pretty good daytime lightning photo. Not easy to do unless you have an electronic lightning trigger for your camera (I do not).
 
In other news, we relocated back to Abilene. It looks like Jade will be out of the hospital tomorrow. I feel so bad for her. She's been traveling with us for fours weeks (and four weeks last year, too), and she ended up in the hospital on our best chase day of the season. To add insult to injury, today was her birthday and she had to spend it with strangers in the hospital.
 
It looks like she'll be able to rejoin us as early as tonight, so we're going to have to be sure to help her out a lot. She won't have much mobility at all. There's only a couple of days left in this trip, so let's see if we can get her out to at least one more storm! Happy Birthday Jade.

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May 27 - Canadian, Texas
Tornado - What a day. High highs and low lows.
 
First off, as the group was assembling, one of our good friends and tour guests, Jade, slipped on the motel stairs, fell and hurt herself. Her left ankle looked obviously broken. Not good. An ambulance was called and she was whisked away to the local hospital. Last I heard, she was having emergency surgery.
 
After she was dealt with, there was nothing left for us to do but chase... And I'm glad we did. A near-stationary storm formed near the town of Canadian, Texas. Because it was the only storm to form, and it wasn't moving, it became a beacon for every storm chaser in the area. It was difficult navigating the storm and the traffic, but we managed.
 
At one point, it wasn't looking like it was going to do it, but then it very rapidly wrapped up and the next thing we know, there's a tornado on the ground. We watched it for a while, then re-positioned to the west side of town to get a better view of it. The tornado was quite photogenic, and was on the ground for quite some time.
 
After the tornado lifted, we continued to watch the storm... Which was easy because it wasn't moving at all. It went on to produce several more tornadoes. We could've set up lawn chairs and just sat there watching it for hours. It just didn't move.
 
On the way back to stay in Shamrock, we stopped for a steak dinner to celebrate a successful chase.
 
Update - Jade did indeed break her left ankle (3 bones) AND fractured her right foot. Ouch!
 
More photos of the chase here.

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May 26 - Abilene, Texas
Tornado Warning - A long but great chase day. We started off in Dallas and found ourselves intercepting a storm near Gordon, Texas. The storm was looking good on radar and visually too when it finally became tornado warned.
 
It became an HP storm (high precipitation) which is problematic because when the rotating part of the storm gets wrapped up in rain, it can become extremely dangerous to try and get close... You'll never see the tornado until it's too late.
 
Instead of punching into the rain and hail, we held back and captured the storm from a bit of a distance. It is a good thing we did, because there were reports of a large tornado embedded inside. We never saw it, but that's OK. The risk would have been too high.
 
The green hue of this storm was quite dramatic. The rain and hail sometimes filters the light passing through the storm, giving it a green color.
 
After the chase, we settled in to our rooms in Abilene.

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May 25 - Dallas, Texas
Moderate Risk - This can either be awesome, or yield nothing chaseable. For us, today was the latter. We ended up heading southeast towards the Dallas metro area. Storms today were very fast moving and almost impossible to keep up with, especially when you have to throw traffic congestion into the mix.
 
The line of storms that formed apparently did produce a tornado, but it would've been impossible for us to have seen it.
 
We kept trying to blast east as the bowing line of storms raced ahead of us. We would get ahead of the line briefly, then it would rapidly overtake us. There's only so many times you can do this before the storm gets too far ahead, making catching up impossible. We tried our best, but in the end, the system was not very chaseable.
 
What did work out for us was that we ended up in Dallas and that means only one thing when Cloud 9 Tours is in town... Pappadeaux Cajun Food! It is probably our favorite restaurant.

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May 24 - Shamrock, Texas
A bust day. The forecast changed overnight and we found ourselves backtracking north through Childress (for the 100th time this year it seems). In the end, we never saw anything today. We're now in Shamrock, along Interstate 40... Hoping for Mother Nature to cooperate with us tomorrow.

2015_05_24

May 23 - Wichita Falls, Texas
Change of plans! Rather than stick around northeastern Colorado for a marginal chase setup today, we are making it a travel day... and heading back to Texas for the setup there for tomorrow and future days.

May 22 - Burlington, Colorado
Other than for some small hail (albeit a pretty impressive buildup of it between Hugo, CO and Genoa, CO) and a meso marker/TVS marker that seemingly existed on radar, but not in real life (near Bethune, CO), Mother Nature did not cooperate with us today. It's still too damn cold!!! Now we're spending the night in Burlington, CO, and will try again tomorrow.
 
No birthday tornado for me this year.

2015_05_22

May 21 - Amarillo, Texas
Another down day. We decided to remain in Amarillo where we did some shopping and some people went to a movie. Some of the group went on a photo trip to an infrequently visited part of Palo Duro Canyon. Dinner was at Joe Daddy BBQ.
 
The forecast looks to improve, we just need to be patient.

May 20 - Amarillo, Texas
Childress to Amarillo.Today was going to be a down day, so we made our way to the Big Texan steak ranch in Amarillo. It was nice to relax a bit and unwind. One of our tour guests even attempted to eat the 72oz steak dinner challenge.... He was unsuccessful.

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May 19 - Lubbock, Texas
Up early and south towards our target area, we ended up tracking 2 Storms. First we targeted the northern one, punched the core on it a couple of times going N then E on I40. Encountered crazy pea soup fog, stopped in McLean.
Turned south to get to other storm. It looked OK. Meh. Stayed in Childress. A bit of a disappointing day.

2015_05_19

May 18 - Pecos, Texas
Every time I go storm chasing, I encounter some new, something I haven't seen before. Today was... Interesting.
 
We were chasing a tornado-warned storm near the town of Pecos, Texas and one thing to keep in mind is that this region has already seen tremendous amounts of rain and flooding in recent days, so we knew the ground was already saturated, and that flooding was likely.
 
As we drove north, the ditches began to be filled with water, then there was water on the road. The situation was getting worse. Tremendous amounts rain and hail had been coming down in one small area to the point where there was low lying hail-fog obscuring our visibility. There were 6-8 inches of hail drifts in places.
 
What happened next was the most intense flash flooding event I've been in.
 
The road was now completely covered and impossible to see. The hail had stripped a lot of the leaves off of the trees, and they were floating in the brown water, along with tremendous amounts of hail, turning the flash-flood waters into a slurry of water, dirt, ice and vegetation. It looked like a horizontal landslide. That's the best way I can describe it.
 
We couldn't turn back because it took tremendous effort to get where we were, plus we knew that the water was rising behind us to the point where we saw several flooded out cars, so we had little choice but to move forward. I know, I know. "Turn around, don't drown" It's the slogan that reminds people of how dangerous crossing flooded roads can be. However, I had a plan...
 
We waited at the edge of the water until an unwise pickup truck driver decided to go for it. Heading towards us from the other direction, he made it. The road was not undercut, and my clearance was higher than his, so I should be OK.
 
Even while parked, the movement of the debris filled water gave the optical illusion of movement. It was a bizarre sensation. Once I put the van into gear and hit the gas, we were committed. It was like a river crossing. I could feel the current of the water pushing the van from the left side, but I could steer into the current to compensate. When we reached the other side, I was incredibly relieved.... So was everyone else!
 
I do not recommend doing this. Here's the video.

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May 17 - Childress, Texas
The switch over between tours 1 and 2 is now complete. We say goodbye to our companions from the past 2 weeks and start fresh with the new group. Today we didn't chase. Instead, it was a travel day to get from from Norman to Childress, Texas.

May 16 - Elk City, Oklahoma
It was a long drive from Goodland today. We ended up in Elk City, Oklahoma in time to intercept a storm that had a Tornado warning issued on it. It is always eerie to drive through a town while the tornado sirens are blaring. Surreal.
 
In total, there were 2 tornado warned storms. The one to the south apparently produced a large tornado. It is impossible to be in two places at once. We eventually had to start heading back towards Norman, Oklahoma to drop off the tour 1 people and pick up the tour 2 folks.

May 15 - Sydney, Nebraska
Tornado watch & warnings

We started our day in started in Colby, Kansas then eventually wandered into Colorado & the Nebraska Panhandle.
 
Saw some nice funnels on a tornado warned storm north of Sydney, Nebraska, then continued up to Alliance, and dropped south, where we encountered a new tornado warned storm. It didn't produce, but we let the circulation pass very close by before continuing on to Goodland, KS for the night.
 
Even though we didn't see any tornadoes, we *did* see lots of activity, including several funnel clouds, lots of hail, localized flooding and lots of torrential rain and winds. There was even a significant gust front as we headed to our hotel for the night!

2015_05_15

May 14 - Colby, Kansas
Today was a travel day from Colorado Springs to Colby, Kansas. Setting up and getting into position for potential severe weather on Friday.
 
Tomorrow looks like a Nebraska chase, and then Saturday might be tough. The chase conditions look good, but we won't be able to go very far north because we will still have to make it back to Oklahoma City in time to get chasers to their flights out on Sunday...

May 13 - Colorado Springs, Colorado
With no storms to chase today, we visited one of my favorite places in Colorado, Pikes Peak. Typically, the road would be open all the way to the summit at 14,110 feet. Unfortunately, the road was only open partway. The upper reaches of the mountain had received too much snow, and the road had to be shut down.
 
We did however, make it up as high as we could (about 11,600 feet) and spent some time having a snowball fight and enjoying the scenery before eventually heading back down to Colorado Springs.
 
Oh well, at least we tried to get to the top. The air was still thin where we were, and I could definitely feel the altitude.

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May 12 - Trinidad, Colorado
Sometimes a curve ball gets thrown at you. Charles is staying behind for a while because his two year old daughter Emma has taken a fall and broken her leg. The rest of us will be continuing on the trip.
 
After departing Norman, Oklahoma, we stopped in at The Cadillac Ranch, just outside of Amarillo, then continued on through parts of Texas, New Mexico and eventually to Trinidad, Colorado.

May 11 - Bridge Creek, Oklahoma
With no severe weather expected, we took a down day to tour around the tornado damage in Bridge Creek, just outside of Oklahoma City. One neighborhood was hit quite hard with destroyed homes, roofs ripped off and flipped vehicles. Luckily, nobody was killed here, but the damage was extensive.

May 10 - Norman, Oklahoma
Today was a travel day to get back to our home base of Norman, Oklahoma from Dodge City, Kansas. On the way, a tornado watch was issued for central Oklahoma, and we kept a close eye on the changing weather conditions. A narrow line of storms did form, but were weak and not worth going after. Farther southeast, in Texas and Arkansas, a few tornadoes did touch down, causing at least 6 fatalities.

May 09 - Dodge City, Kansas
We targeted western Kansas for the possibility of severe weather, including tornadoes.
 
However, southwestern Kansas didn't cooperate, but we DID get some very pretty photos west of Dodge City, KS... before heading to the Applebee's there. While waiting for our food to come out, the TVs and loudspeaker system there suddenly started announcing that there was a tornado warning in our area. We quickly checked our cell phones and tablets, and found that there was no danger in our location. (...and, in fact, there was no indication on radar that a tornado had ever existed with that wave of storms to the west. It was likely a false alarm --- what we refer to as a sheriff-nado --- and the National Weather Service had likely just taken the "Better safe than sorry" approach to it.) We did our best to calm down the restaurant staff, and even though half of the restaurant cleared out.

2015_05_09

May 08 - Elk City, Oklahoma
OK. You would think we would learn our lesson. Over the years we've tried to avoid the clay dirt roads of Texas, but somehow we managed to get ourselves into a mess (again). We were chasing one storm that had promise, and the dirt road we were on actually started off OK, then got worse and worse until we were well and truly stuck. Instead of trapping everyone, we piled all the tour guests into Brad's van and they kept on chasing. Meanwhile, Charles and I worked for hours to get us unstuck. Several other chasers tried to help, but eventually we had to call in a tow truck.
 
We were so stuck that the tow truck driver snapped a winch cable trying to get us out, and we almost had to call in a bulldozer! We eventually made it out of there, thankfully.
 
Meanwhile, Brad and the others had a very tense encounter with large rain-wrapped tornado near the town of Throckmorton, Texas. I'm glad that everyone is OK. What a day!

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May 07 - Wichita Falls, Texas
We ended up in a severe thunderstorm watch, but we didn't get too much. There is a lot of flooding in Archer County. Not to surprising given how much rain Texas has been getting lately.
 
We did manage to intercept a line of storms with plenty of rain. Exactly what they don't need here right now. It looks like there's more potential for storms in the coming days. We'll likely be headed up into Oklahoma.

2015_05_07

May 06 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
A bit of a frustrating chase day. We targeted western Kansas which we believed would be the best area for severe storms. We were wrong. Despite being in a Tornado watch, our target area never really verified. However, a series of supercell storms tracked directly through the Oklahoma City area and points south of there including Moore, and our home base of Norman. The radar signatures that we witnessed were insane, and we thought for sure that a large, damaging tornado was ripping through populated areas.
 
Quite a few tornadoes did touch down, but few caused a lot of damage. Of note was one that struck Bridge Creek, doing extensive damage. Also, in the town of Tuttle, some wild animals (including tigers) escaped when a zoological park was directly hit. All the animals were rounded up later in the evening.
 
In addition to the tornado outbreak, the area was hit by up to a foot of rain in some places, causing Oklahoma to issue its first ever flash flood emergency.
 
This all just goes to show how complicated weather forecasting still is, even with all of our technological advances and years of experience. It's humbling to know that despite all our best efforts, Mother Nature is still very much in charge.

May 05 - Childress, Texas
TORNADO - An interesting day. Parts of Texas have received a lot of rain recently, so much so that some of the roads have flooded. We were near the town of Plainview, with a developing storm to our south that was getting better organized every minute when we encountered some of the recent flooding. The northbound lanes were completely under water, and the southbound lanes were partially blocked by water, mud and debris. One car in the median was up to its roof with water! A road crew was working on clearing a path, but we were delayed getting through.

Just as we got through the barricade, a tornado was reported on our storm. We could see it in the distance, but the flooding had held us back enough that we never were able to get close. The tornado was on the ground for about 10 minutes or so, and at one point took on a large cone shape.
 
In the chaos, our two vans got separated, but later regrouped. As we waited for Brad to catch up, a local farmer pulled up and asked if we'd seen his cow that had escaped in the storm.... Dude, where's my cow?

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May 04 - Fort Stockton, Texas
Tornado Warning - Today was our first official chase day and it turned out to be a pretty good one. The forecast for the extreme southwestern corner of New Mexico into Texas was looking favorable for severe storms, and the tornado threat increased as the day went on.
 
A persistent tornado warned storm formed and slowly chugged along at 15 mph. It took us a while to get to it from Amarillo, but it held on all afternoon into the evening.
 
West of Fort Stockton, Texas, the storm took on a very nice structure, and looked for a while like it might produce a tornado, but it never did. However, because it was so slow moving, it did produce copious amounts of hail as it eventually passed over the southern end of town. the roads were covered in drifts of hail, and the ditches ran deep with hail and floodwaters as a blanket of eerie hail fog covered the area. In town, there was a tremendous amount of street flooding, making getting around challenging.

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May 03 - Amarillo, Texas
Today was not expected to be a chase day, so we decided to head on over to our favorite steak place, The Big Texan, in Amarillo. Dinner was amazing, as usual, and the new group had a lot of fun. Earlier in the day, we'd noticed a series of weak storms near Amarillo and wondered if we might have the chance for a bit of a lightning display after dark. Well, we sure did. After we got back to the motel, one of the nearby cells started to spit out a few good lightning bolts. A few of us ventured out and tried to get some shots.
 
Well, the lightning was not cooperating... Until, one series of three bolts came down all at once, and I was ready with my camera shutter open. I managed to catch the strike. The photo is not an image stack in any way, it was all in one frame.
 
Not bad for a "down day".

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May 02 - Norman, Oklahoma
Normally, I drive down from Toronto to Tornado Alley, but this year my schedule is too tight for that, so I flew to Oklahoma City via Chicago. Luckily, there were no flight delays and the travel was uneventful. Once in Oklahoma I met up with Charles Edwards and we spent the day doing airport runs to pick up tour guests and also getting both tour vans in position at the hotel. Brad Riley, who is driving van 2 arrived from South Carolina as well. the entire team is now assembled and ready to chase. It looks like next week could bring some good storm potential.

May 01 - Toronto, Canada
 
The last minute preparations are being completed, and tomorrow I fly down to Oklahoma City to meet up with the rest of the Cloud 9 team. It's been an exhausting week. Just today, I flew back from Boston, where I had been filming with a Weather Channel TV crew, chatting on camera about strange weather events. The next month will be filled with surprises, incredible storms, more strange weather events, good friends, and way too much driving!

April 22 - Toronto, Canada
 
Well, it's that time of year again. Winter is gone and that means that it is storm season once again. As usual, I'll be teaming up with Cloud 9 Tours to help bring people to witness the grandeur of nature firsthand. That includes supercell storms, hail, lightning, and of course... Tornadoes.
 
This year, I won't be driving from Toronto to Oklahoma, I'll be flying instead due to some later obligations. My trusty storm chase vehicle will be staying at home.
 
Keep checking back for daily updates, photos and videos from Tornado Alley.

Tornado Alley

 

Any Questions/Comments?

Send E-Mail To George Kourounis

george@stormchaser.ca


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