Compass Blog

Tornado Chase 2013 - Oklahoma Disaster

Locations: United States

Kensington Tours' Explorer-in-Residence, George Kourounis, continues to send dispatches from his month long journey across the heartland of the U.S. as he criss-crosses the region known as "Tornado Alley". Here, storms can tower over twice the height of Mount Everest and concentrate all their energy on a single point where a tornado grinds up a farmer's field. George's 15 years of experience as a renowned storm chaser enables him to be at the right place at the right time to witness these jaw dropping forces of nature.

May 19, 2013 - Oklahoma Disaster

The past two days have been nothing short of gut-wrenching. As a storm chaser, the toughest thing we face is when a tornado affects a populated area. We never wish for this to happen but despite all the open pasture and farmland, there are still many densely populated cities and towns in Tornado Alley that sometimes take direct hits.

Just hours ago, I was south of the town of Moore, Oklahoma, chasing the storm that formed there. We saw the radar signature of the Moore storm to our north as it was impacting the city and my heart just sank. We knew that it was going to be really, really bad. There was no way we could get to it in time and to be honest, I don't think I really wanted to witness this one.

I've seen the aftermath of many of these tornadoes and it never ceases to hit me hard. As I write this, the information is still coming in. Dozens of fatalities, schools hit, entire neighborhoods destroyed... the damage path was over 20 miles long and well over a mile wide at times. Perhaps one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history.

I understand intellectually that chasing these storms has absolutely no effect on whether or not they hit populated areas but I can't help but feel wracked with guilt for wanting to witness nature at its most intense. I'm perfectly content with seeing a tornado touch down in an empty field... but not like this... not like this.

It wasn't just today. During our chase yesterday my chase partner, Charles, was constantly on the phone with his wife because they live in the town of Shawnee which was hit by another violent tornado. Luckily, she got to a shelter and the tornado turned north before getting close to their house. At that time however, the fear and uncertainty was very real indeed.

It will likely be a few days before I am able to write up a new blog post. I had several days of storm chasing blogs saved up and ready to write about but the fun and adventure of last week has been overshadowed by this tragedy. I will pick up where I left off in a few days, despite being a bit out of sequence and a few days offset.

My heart goes out to everyone who has been touched by this tragic disaster.

Please consider a donation to the Red Cross

I did capture one image that I think sums up the resilience of the people of Oklahoma, who have been through so much over the years: As the day's storms were ending, a rainbow and a bolt of lightning appear beside an American flag at sunset. A symbol of strength after the storm.


George is a world renowned explorer, adventurer, storm chaser and television presenter who specializes in traveling the globe, photographing the most extreme forces of nature. His adventures have taken him to over 40 countries, on all seven continents, from the midst of hurricanes such as Sandy and Katrina, to tracking tornadoes in Oklahoma. He's been to the radioactive zone of Chernobyl, and the far reaches of the Arctic & Antarctica. He even got married on the crater's edge of an exploding South Pacific volcano.

His exploits have been seen in several hundred television appearances including: Discovery Channel, BBC, CNN, National Geographic Explorer, History Channel, The Weather Network, and his own TV series he "Angry Planet", which he hosted and co-created and has been broadcast in over 100 countries worldwide.

Some of his expeditions have included: Setting foot on a brand new volcanic island in Tonga that had recently erupted out of the sea. Swimming ashore due to rough waters, the ground was still hot to the touch; he became the first person to ever rig ropes across the Boiling Lake in Dominica and document it from above; in Indonesia, he measured ph levels on the world's largest lake of sulphuric acid by taking a small rubber raft out to the middle; with 15 years of tornado chasing and 17 hurricanes under his belt, he's also one of the most experienced storm chasers in the world.

George is a fellow of the Explorers Club and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. He was twice nominated for Gemini Awards for his work on Angry Planet and regularly speaks at events around the world, including 4 TEDx conferences. He resides with his wife in Toronto.

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