Chris Nitsopoulos had an early and dramatic introduction to extreme weather. Playing soccer as a six-year-old with his mates in Sydney, on a hot day under a bright blue sky, the heavens suddenly opened and life was never quite the same again.
“There was this big hailstorm that came out of nowhere,” says Chris. “We all raced inside. It blew off our roof and shattered the windows. It was a harrowing experience. I remember my mother crying. My father was away, and my fascination for extreme weather grew from that experience”.
Chris, (29), known as ‘Nitsos’ to his mates today, was born in Kavala, northern Greece and came to Australia as an infant.
In his childhood he travelled the length and breadth of his adopted homeland; an itinerant life with his family, following dad’s work as a welder and boilermaker.
That experience, of living in Australia’s most diverse climates – from the Top End to Kalgoorlie in WA and all points in-between – enthused the young Nitsopoulos, whetting his appetite further as a follower of nature’s most extreme conditions.
In the 1990s the family finally put down firm roots in Queensland, first at Mareeba and then moving to Townsville in 1997 when Chris was 14. His meteorological obsessions were evident at school.
“I was always the resident meteorologist in the classroom,” says Chris, who went on to study the subject at university but didn’t complete his degree.
“I just couldn’t wrap my head around the maths and physics. At that point I realised that I was never going to be a meteorologist, but that didn’t stop me pursuing my passion,” he says.
That passion has evolved into becoming the co-founder of Oz Cyclone Chasers based in Townsville, but whose chase-area covers more than 2000 kilometres of coastline – from Cooktown in the north to Gladstone in the south.
Inland, their investigations into Australia’s most appalling weather have taken them west to the northern Goldfields, Upper Flinders and the Tablelands. Most recently, ex Tropical Cyclone Oswald they left to its own destructive devices, as by the time it hit Queensland and moved south its power had dissipated.
Occasionally, where funds allow – and the elusive prize is the chance of encountering a mammoth cyclone – they travel the country, always heading for the eye of the storm.
In March last year they went interstate, pursuing Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Lua, which made landfall between Port Hedland and Broome.
The exhilaration of being buffeted by wind gusts of 230 kms an hour that are devastating the environment around you, is part and parcel of the experience.
“It’s awe inspiring when you feel that power”, says Chris, “your mouth is wide open and you cant believe what’s going on around you”.
And what about fear? “You’re afraid before it starts, but once you’re in it, you just sit back and take it all in.”
Since 2010, when Chris formed Oz Cyclone Chasers with mate Travis Robertson, together they have pursued five cyclones and managed to penetrate the eye on two occasions – Tropical Cyclone Anthony in 2011 and Tropical Cyclone Ului in 2010 – one of the fastest intensifying tropical cyclones on record.
Their tailing of a cyclone begins online following the technical weather reports that give the first inkling of a storm that may grow, or a full-blown cyclone that’s already heading for Australia.
“We follow it on the net first, work out where it’s likely to hit, and then we book accommodation and start to plan the topography of the area we’re going to be chasing in – where’s safe and where’s not. Then 26-36 hours before the system hits, we target our zone.
“We get very close,” says Chris. “The target is always the eye but sometimes we miss it by a few kilometres.
“To be in the eye is pretty extraordinary. You can hear the wind howling around you. It’s very hot, there’s stifling humidity, and it’s very still.
“When we were in the eye of those cyclones it was night time, so you can’t see what’s going on, but you can hear the howling and roaring of the wind around you. It’s eerie.”
While Chris’ friends and family initially questioned his sanity as a cyclone chaser, he says they’re more accepting today.
“Most thought I was a bit crazy, but they accept it now, mum not so much. She always has a heart attack when I go out there.”
In fact the team experienced outright public criticism when they started.
“People thought we were just a bunch of idiots,” says Chris, “but once we showed the kind of research we do, the data we produce, we’re respected a lot more now.
“They think we just do it for kicks, but we take data from inside the cyclone and then we share that data. We send it to the Bureau of Meteorology and local councils, and we create documentaries and video clips showing what’s going on in the cyclone.”
With education and community assistance complimenting the team’s obsession for being in the thick of some of the world’s worst weather, there’s more to Chris’s attraction to the chase and being close to brutish nature at its most powerful.
“We offer a warning service, show nightly video updates and tell people what to expect as the cyclone moves and changes,” says Chris, who, when not chasing cyclones, leads a slightly less-dramatic existence. A part-time school teacher, rugby league referee, he also runs his own online sports equipment retail business.
But the cyclone season running from November to April shows this young Greek Australian’s true colours.
And what’s on the radar for the next few weeks?
“It looks to be pretty quiet for the next few weeks cyclone-wise,” says Chris, with an edge of disappointment in his voice.
“There’s a low in the Coral Sea which is moving away from us, so it looks quiet for a while, but don’t forget, any storm that develops in the tropics can become a cyclone.”
Whilst he’s looking forward to the next cyclone blowing in, Chris admits his yearning doesn’t outweigh his concern for others.
“The ideal system for us is one that hits a very low populated region,” says the self-confessed “mad-keen weather nut”.
But when the next tropical cyclone makes landfall, threatening lives and livelihoods, one thing’s for sure, Chris Nitsopoulos wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Oz Cyclone Chasers document severe tropical cyclones in Queensland and across northern Australia. For more info go to
The group’s discussions and technical analysis is available to access online at Their YouTube channel is
To continue to offer unique insights into the nature of tropical cyclones, Oz Cylone Chasers are looking for commercial sponsors to support their data collection work. Contact Chris on 0407 022474 for further details.