• George Kourounis

    George Kourounis spins tales of his adventures in the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Reading Room at 50 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. (Photo: Javier Frutos/Canadian Geographic)

“I’ve had lightning strikes so close, I could feel the heat on my face ... The shockwave just hits you in the chest.” 

When stormchaser and extreme adventurer George Kourounis talks about his scrapes with Mother Nature, his excitement is almost palpable. The host of award winning television series like Angry Planet and Stormhunters, Kourounis has built a career out of running toward the things most people run away from, all in the name of science and public education. On any given day, you’re likely to find Kourounis in the crater of an active volcano, snapping photos of a tornado, or hiking in North Korea.

Born and raised in Gatineau, Que., Kourounis credits a childhood spent biking around the hills and lakes of Gatineau Park as the inspiration for his unconventional career.

“It was nice to grow up in that zone ... where you could just disappear for the day,” he says. “I remember when I was a kid riding my bike around in a hailstorm, thinking this was the coolest thing and being pelted with hailstones. Because I had access to nature so easily, it was easy to be influenced by it.”

Kourounis is clear-eyed about the dangers of his chosen profession. In 2013, he witnessed the record-breaking El Reno, Oklahoma tornado. It was the kind of tornado chasers dream about, staying mostly over open, unpopulated terrain — yet when it suddenly intensified and made a left turn, three experienced chasers were killed. 

“You can do everything right and still fail,” Kourounis says. Still, Tornado Alley beckons each spring. 

“Just to see that tremendous power of nature — this huge storm that can be twice the height of Mt. Everest ... is really something special to see.”

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This episode is produced and sound engineered by Robin Dumas, and hosted by David McGuffin (@mcguffindavid). 

Next episode: James Raffan