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This page contains the daily blog updates that I'm posting while on the road in Tornado Alley. This year I'm travelling with Tom and Donald Dolan, doing research for the "Tornado Visualization and Doppler Radar Analysis Project".

- George Kourounis


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May 24 - Vandalia, Illinois to Toronto
A long travel day, but it's nice to finally be back home after a whirlwind month of travel, adventures, and good times spent with so many friends, too numerous to list here. It has been a few years since I was last in Tornado Alley, and it felt good to get back out there, and experience the big weather of the Great Plains again.


May 23 - Jefferson City, Missouri
Approximately 15 minutes before midnight last night, a tornado emergency was issued for the Jefferson City area. Minutes later, an EF-3 tornado caused extensive damage on the southwest side of the city. At least 20 people were injured but luckily there were no fatalities reported.
 
This was the day that I was to start heading home, so I jumped into The Weather Network's vehicle, said my goodbyes to the rest of the group, and we drove to Jefferson City to survey the damage path.
 
The destruction there was quite bad, but luckily the downtown of the city avoided the worst of it. The one thing that really struck me was one car that had a 2x4 piece of wood through its windshield. It had come off of the house across the street, smashed through the windshield, and completely pierced the passenger seat of the car!
 
We remained there for a few hours, got plenty of shots for an upcoming Stormhunters episode, then continued our journey home, stopping for the night in Vandalia, Illinois.

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May 22 - Okemah & Henryetta, Oklahoma
TORNADO - We started the morning in Norman, OK and the SPC upgraded the risk to a moderate risk for storms and a 15% hatched for tornadoes. We finally decided to head east out of Prague, OK toward Okemah, OK. Here we paused looking west when we saw our first tornado of the day pass just northwest of our location. That tornado dissipated but the storm still looked good. To keep up with the storm, we decided to head east to Henryetta, OK. The entire time the wall cloud was spinning like crazy.
 
Several times it was so close to producing another tornado then dissipated. Finally, closer to Okemah, OK, the storm produced a large tornado. The issue is we had trouble seeing it due to trees and hills. At one moment, it appeared there might be two on the ground. Eventually the tornado dissipated.
 
To continue to track the storm, we went north out of Henryetta to Okmulgee then to Muskogee and north out of there. We passed through Wangoner, then Choteau, then Pryor. From Pryor we ventured west but got too close to the rotation so we backtracked east toward Salina, OK. On the way to Salina, we stopped a couple of times because the lightning was spectacular. I got some of my most dramatic lightning photos there!
 
Afterwards, we spent the night in Tulsa.

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Intense Lightning - Salina, OK

May 21 - Vernon, Texas, to Norman, Oklahoma
Today ended up being a travel day. We stayed the night in Vernon, then returned to the town of Mangum, where we saw the tornado yesterday. There was quite a bit of damage on the edge of town, and it was clear that the tornado just skimmed the north edge of town. it could have been much worse. One farmhouse that we were able to see looked like it had taken a glancing blow from the tornado, and judging from the damage path, and our position at the north side of town, we determined that we got withing about 3/4 of a mile from the tornado.
 
We still had not had our celebratory steak dinner, so once we got to Norman, we checked into the hotel (which had a "happy hour" with free beer, wine and snacks!! then went out for dinner at Saltgrass. Joining us were a couple of other chasers, J.R. Henley and Ben Holcolm. Ben had managed to get VERY close to the Mangum tornado and shot some pretty wild video of the close-range circulation.
 
Update - The Mangum tornado received an EF-3 rating from the National Weather Service.

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May 20 - Mangum, Oklahoma
TORNADO - This day had us all worried. We started off in Childress, TX in the morning and the Storm Prediction Center had issued a very rare "high risk" outlook, and the tornado potential was also at a rare 45% hatched forecast. We were expecting a large outbreak of tornadoes, but luckily, only a few were reported that day, including the one we witnessed in Mangum, Oklahoma.
 
We got up early to ensure we were prepared and spent a long time waiting around in Childress. Eventually a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Tornado Watch was issued for the region. We headed west and south out of Childress where a couple of storms had fired up.
 
Eventually one storm became dominant and we followed along with it north and east from north-central Texas into southwest Oklahoma. As we approached the storm from the south nearing Mangum, OK, it was producing a large cone tornado. Unfortunately visibility was very poor with a lot of moisture/haze in the atmosphere and may hills and trees, so it was low-contrast at points. As we got to Mangum, the tornado became thinner and started to rope out. We split from the other chasers and continued north through the town as the tornado clipped a few structures on the north side of town.
 
We continued with the storm as it was still looking good toward Granite, OK. It produced strong circulation that passed the road in front of us and into the field beside us.

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May 19 - Enid, Oklahoma to Childress, Texas
Travel Day Enid to Childress - We stopped to do some car repairs and wiring upgrades in Enid today before continuing on to Childress, Texas. We wanted to be as prepared as possible because it looks we will likely have a big day tomorrow. The forecast is looking very favorable for a large outbreak of severe weather, including numerous, damaging tornadoes. We'll see what happens.

May 18 - Helena, Oklahoma
We had a fair bit of driving to do today to get from Nebraska down to our target area in Oklahoma today, so we got up early and hit the road.
 
We were aiming for northern Oklahoma, or possibly southern Kansas, and as the day progressed, we ended up in Alva, Oklahoma where we waited for storm initiation. We were in the right place. A couple of storms fired up nearby that were severe warned, but they didn't seem to really want to get their act together. As the afternoon/evening progressed, the storm we were on really started to get pretty with a dramatic shelf cloud that dominated the horizon.
 
As the sun got lower, things just kept getting more beautiful.
 
The low angle of the sun, combined with some low clouds created gorgeous crepuscular rays that streaked across the sky, and as the storm passed overhead, gaps in the clouds allowed light from the blue sky to filter through, making for some spectacular colours in the turbulent clouds.
 
Our chase day went from rather disappointing to awesome rather quickly. That's part of why I like it out here, the sky is always changing, and those brief moments of beauty can really fill a person with awe.
 
Later, about 15 of us gathered for Mexican food in Enid. It was a nice way to cap off the day.
 
Tomorrow, we expect to likely be a down day, with no weather to chase, but Monday is looking like a big outbreak day. We'll see what happens.

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May 17 - McCook, Nebraska
TORNADO - Today had very good tornado potential near the Kansas/Nebraska border. We started the day in Russell and repositioned to McCook, Nebraska. The computer models predicted storms to start nearby, and they certainly did. We dropped south into Kansas briefly before turning around and coming back north. Our target storm got well organized and as we came back towards McCook, it produced a dusty tornado that we followed towards town. The funny thing is that we had lunch there, and could have just sat the at the Subway and waited. We could have seen it from there!
 
The main storm went on to produce numerous tornadoes, however it was difficult for us to keep up. The road network, and some large hail slowed us down. At one point, near the town of Farnam, we saw a rapidly rotating circulation pass directly in front of us. We held back and let it pass, but as we proceeded, there was damage. some trees were ripped apart and there were power lines down & several power poles blocking the road completely. We navigated some dirt roads around the roadblock and kept following the storm.
 
We eventually called off the chase and stopped for dinner in Lexington, Nebraska where we had dinner, and met up with some other chasers including Greg Johnson and Jade Vajna.
 
After dinner, there were more storm nearby that were putting on a great light-show, so we found a dark spot outside of town to shoot some lightning pics.

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May 16 - Defiance, Ohio to Russell, Kansas
Travel day - With only about 4 hours sleep at best, we continued our way towards the forecast target area. Along the way, we met up with several other chaser friends (Scott McPartland, Dave Lewison & Cecilia Morgan). We pushed on to Russell, Kansas which was a good compromise between our potential target areas to the north or to the south. We can make our final decision in the morning.

May 15 - 2 km Underground in Sudbury
What a cool day this was. Joe Grabowski (from Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants) and I did a live classroom interactive session from deep below the surface of the Earth at SNOLAB, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.
 
The day started off early when we met with the snowlab folks at 7 A.M. The lab is located 2 km (1.2 miles) underground inside an active nickel mine. so we had to get suited up in the proper safety gear (his-visibility coveralls, boots, gloves, belt harness, safety glasses and helmet) then it was a wild elevator ride down at abut 40 km/h into the depths of the mine. Once we reached the lab level, we walked for about a kilometer or so in the dark, dirty passageways of the mines (called The Drift). Once we reached the lab itself, there is a whole process for going inside. The entire place is a clean facility, so we had to take off all our dirty gear, strip down and take a shower, then change into clean clothes that they supply. The concern is contamination of the sensitive equipment from dust and particulate matter.
 
The place is amazing! It goes on forever (It's about the size of a shopping mall). We were given the full tour, and got to see all the experiments they are working on. They mainly look for neutrino particles, which are passing through our bodies by the millions right now. These can come from various sources like the sun or distant supernovas. They are also looking to detect dark matter. The mysterious substance that has yet to be detected directly, but it's gravity effect on objects in space suggest that it makes up a significant percentage of the mass of the universe.
 
Using their internet connection, we set up 2 computers in different parts of the facility and got one of the scientists there to interact with the students who had logged in. We connected to classrooms across Canada, and the whole thing was live streamed on YouTube as well.
 
One of the funny highlights was using the world's deepest flush toilet. Now there's something I didn't know I wanted on my bucket list!
 
As soon as we got back to the surface, I immediately got into my car and drove the 5 hours or so to Ancaster, Ontario where I met up with Brad and Dayna Rouseau who are meteorologists at The Weather Network. I hitched a ride with them back to the U.S. for round 2 of my 2019 storm chase.
 
What a long day! we finally called it a night at 3 AM in Defiance, Ohio.

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May 14 - Ottawa to Sudbury
In the morning, I returned to Canadian Geographic headquarters at 50 Sussex in Ottawa to meet up with David McGuffin, host of the "Explore" podcast. We sat down in the Christopher Ondaatje Reading Room and recorded an episode, which I believe will be released later this month.
 
After the recording, I immediately hit the road on a 6+ hours drive to Sudbury, Ontario where I met up with Joe Grabowski, founder of Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants. Tomorrow morning we'll be getting up early to visit SNOLAB, an underground research facility that studies neutrinos and dark matter. We'll be setting up a live webcast from 2 km underground that will go out to numerous classrooms across North America, and will be live streamed on YouTube.

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May 13 - Toronto to Ottawa
I had just returned from Tornado Alley, and after only about 13 hours at home, I got up early and made the 5 hour drive to Ottawa for a very special event.
 
It was the official opening of the Centre For Geography And Exploration at 50 Sussex Ave. The building is home to the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic magazine. The facility has been functional for quite some time, but this was the official opening.
 
The ceremony was well attended with plenty of VIP's including: Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, Ethnobotanist & writer Wade Davis, ocean explorer Joe Macinnis, the mayor of Ottawa, the Norwegian ambassador, and many more. Also in attendance were several RCGS Explorers in Residence - Jill Heinerth, Adam Shoalts, Ray Zahab, and myself. During the ceremony, we welcomed another EIR into the family: Inuit actor/explorer Johnny Issiluk.
 
The highlights of the day included special appearances by two people: Alex Trebek, host of "Jeopardy!" and RCGS honourary president was there, and was looking good despise his recent diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer. He was funny and in great spirits.
 
The guest of honour was none other than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He spoke very sincerely about his love of geography, and his experiences canoeing in the Canadian wilderness. I got the opportunity to briefly meet him, and he brought up a recent news item about police in Kansas warning people to not fire their guns at tornadoes. It was a funny moment for me, and a real pleasure to meet him in person.
 
Congratulations to all my friends and colleagues at the RCGS for their wonderful new building, I'm very happy to be a small part of the organization, and I wish them the best as they grow and continue their mandate to make Canada better know to Canadians and the world.

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May 12 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Toronto
Goodbye Tornado Alley! - Many thanks to Tom and Donald Dolan for allowing me to participate in the Tornado Verification and Doppler Radar Analysis Project. You can see more details over at Tom's site: Outdoorstorms.com. Thanks also to Vancouver-based Jade Vajna for joining us for the second half of the week.
 
I'm back home after flying out of Oklahoma City via Chicago. This is however, not the end of the adventure! Stay tuned for the next leg of this month's craziness which begins tomorrow!

May 11 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Today was just a travel day to get back to Oklahoma City. We started off in Buffalo, Texas and continued north to central Oklahoma. This was our last night together as a team, so we went out for a nice Mexican dinner, then started to pack up and organize to fly out tomorrow morning.

May 10 - Surfside Beach, Texas
Our chase trip is winding down, and since we were already in southern Texas, we decided to head down to the coast since there were no storms to chase. We proceeded from Fairfield, Texas down to Surfside Beach, south of Houston. We had easy access to the Gulf Of Mexico there, and it wasn't all that far to drive.
 
What a difference from being out on the traditional flat plains of north Texas. Here there were palm trees, and cactus plants. As we got closer to the water there were numerous oil refineries, and the houses were up on stilts, showing just how prone to hurricanes this part of Texas is.
 
We found a nice park, right beside the water, and we sat down for a picnic lunch as surfers came and went, enjoying the windy, rough seas. After eating, we walked out to the very end of the breakwall/jetty where many fishermen were casting their rods. We all got a bit wet from the splashing of the waves, but it was nice to take the long walk out there after spending so many days sitting and driving from state to state.
 
While out on the jetty, we posed for a picture with the Explorers Club flag that we had with us, then drove to our hotel for the night in Buffalo, Texas.
 
Pictured L-R: Donald Dolan, George Kourounis, Jade Vajna, Tom Dolan with Explorers Club flag #114.

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May 08 - Fairfield, Texas
We had worries about the forecast today. Yesterday's storms scoured most of the moisture out of the atmosphere across the southern Plains, so we blasted southeast from Shamrock, in the hopes of catching up to the propagating storm system, but it was not to be. We ended up missing out, and the day was a bust. We ended up having a nice bbq dinner in Buffalo, Texas, and then spent the night in Fairfield.

May 07 - Stinnet, Texas
Tornado Warning - Today was a complicated chase day. We ended up on about 4 different storms, all with tornado warnings. We chased large portions of the Texas Panhandle including: Stinnet, Borger, Pampa, Canadian, and eventually finishing up in Shamrock..
 
The storm of the day was south of interstate 40, near Tulia, but we were on the storms further north, so never got to intercept that one, but we were in excellent position for the Stinnet storm, where we were abl;e to get very close to the wall cloud. It did apparently go on to produce a tornado, but we never saw it.
 
The flag in the picture is one that is on loan to us from The Explorers Club (Flag #114). These flags are brought on expeditions around the world, and each one has a deep history of travelling with various explorers.

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May 06 - Liberal, Kansas
We drove north out of Pampa, Texas this morning into southwestern Kansas where there was an enhanced risk of severe weather and a 5% tornado risk. According to the computer models, it looked like the storm were going to go up pretty late in the day. We Stopped and waited in Ulysses, Kansas, then in Garden City. Eventually we continued east to Jetmore, but the storm there weakened significantly. We abandoned the plan, and as it started getting dark, a line of storms crossed from Colorado into Kansas. We stopped briefly to watch the lightning, and got hit by a powerful gust front. Eventually, we called it a night and stayed in Liberal, Kansas for the night.

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May 05 - Miami, Texas
Tornado Warning - A bit of a frustrating day. We started the day in Hereford, Texas and was targeting the Tulia area. We spent most of the morning setting up equipment in the truck, but got on the road to be in our target area on time. Several storms fired up including ones near us, and one south of Lubbock. it didn't look great on radar, and it was just far enough away, and just close enough to Lubbock to turn us off from going after it. It did eventually get its act together, and took on a great shape, and produced some tornadoes, but we had played the northern storms.
 
We did eventually catch up with a storm near Miami, Texas that looked to have some monster hail in it. our storm eventually went tornado-warned, but it was already dark out. We ended up getting stuck in Miami for a while because a train had stopped, blocking the road (the stop trains from going into tornado warnings) and the only other route through town was flooded. You win some, you lose some. We still have plenty of good chase days left this week, so that's good. We've stopped for the night in Pampa.

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May 04 - Adrian, Texas
 
Tornado Warning - This morning I flew out of Toronto via Denver to Oklahoma City where I met up with Tom and Donald Dolan from California, my chase partners for the next week. They conduct the "Tornado Verification And Doppler Radar Analysis Project" which I will be assisting them with. There were delays with my connecting flight, so I had to scramble to hop onto an earlier flight. I'm glad I did or we might have missed the storms today.
 
 
It looks like we have a pretty good pattern to work with this week, and we hit the ground running. As soon as we landed, we blasted west on I-40 past Amarillo, where storms were firing up. there were 2 of interest north, of the highway, so we went north out of Adrian, Texas. Near a big windmill farm, one of the storms became tornado warned with clear signs of rotation. We hadn't even had the chance to set up out gear yet!
 
 
We stayed with the storm as it passed the town of Vega where we encountered some hail, nothing too big, but we wanted to keep ahead of it n case it did get bigger. Turning south at Vega, we got ahead of the storm and were treated to some awesome storm structure and lightning at sunset. A great way to kick off the trip! We kept with the storm until it started to fall apart and stayed the night in Hereford.

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May 01 - Toronto, Canada
 
Getting final preparatins made at home in Toronto right now.. I depart for Oklahoma City in a few days.

Tornado Alley

 

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