George Kourounis still remembers the first tornado he ever chased, near Medford, Oklahoma in 1998. “It wasn’t this pretty, Wizard of Oz-looking elephant trunk coming down from the sky,” he recalls. “It was a dusty, nasty, un-photogenic thing, but it was coming straight for us, and we had to turn around and get the hell out of its way.”
That adrenaline rush was enough to convince the former sound engineer to pursue a life of adventure, documenting nature’s extremes. Twenty years, more than 65 countries, a successful television series and countless close calls later, Kourounis shows no sign of slowing down. An Explorer-in-Residence of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, he uses his role as a platform to share his passion for the planet and inspire a new generation of adventurers.
On fulfilling a childhood dream
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the idea of exploring the oceans like Jacques Cousteau. When I got older, life got more practical and I had a regular job, but there was always something in the back of my mind that wanted me to get back into exploring. My interest in the weather and natural disasters gave me an avenue to see dramatic things, travel the world and become recognized as an authority on the extremes of nature, which allowed me to give up my old job and become a full-time, professional explorer.
On the challenges and rewards of chasing storms
You never know what you’re going to see. I’ve driven across Canada more times than most people can even imagine, and sometimes there’s not much new to see — until you start looking up. You have these gigantic storms that can be twice the height of Mt. Everest, all that energy concentrated in one place, and you have to try to understand what the storm is going to do next. When you’re successful it’s very rewarding, but it’s difficult. These storms are travelling at sometimes 40 to 50 kilometres an hour, and they’re not following the road network or obeying any traffic laws, but I have to!