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Tim Samaras Dead: Oklahoma Tornado Kills Storm Chaser, Son Paul Samaras, and Chase Partner Carl Young

June 4, 2013

 

Three veteran storm chasers were among the 10 people killed following Friday's EF3 tornado in El Reno, Okla.

Renowned researcher and storm chaser Tim Samaras, 55, his son Paul Samaras, 24, and his chase partner Carl Young, 45, passed away after they were overtaken by the multiple-vortex tornado, which appeared to be in the midst of a sharp change in direction.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a statement Sunday, saying it was terribly saddened by Tim Samaras' death.

"Samaras was a respected tornado researcher and friend ... who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography," the center's statement said.

 

Tim Samaras sits with instrument probes he used as part of his TWISTEX field research program. Samaras holds the Guinness World Record for the largest measured pressure drop inside a tornado.

Tim Samaras, a native of Lakewood, Colo., holds the Guinness World Record for the greatest pressure drop ever measured inside a tornado. He designed, built, and deployed instrument probes to measure atmospheric variables such as pressure and wind in the path of tornadoes.

He deployed one of these in the path of an F4 tornado that destroyed the small town of Manchester, S.D., on June 24, 2003. This probe registered a world-record 100-millibar drop in pressure inside the twister.

Samaras, a tornado scientist for over 25 years, founded and ran a scientific field research program dubbed TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment). He also starred in the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers.

The Weather Channel's severe weather expert, Dr. Greg Forbes, knew Tim personally. "He was a groundbreaker in terms of the kind of research he was doing on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes," Dr. Forbes said on The Weather Channel Sunday morning.

Jim Cantore, a Weather Channel meteorologist, tweeted Sunday that meteorologists were in mourning.

"This is a very sad day for the meteorological community and the families of our friends lost. Tim Samaras was a pioneer and great man," he wrote.

"He looked at tornadoes not for the spotlight of TV but for the scientific aspect. At the end of the day, he wanted to save lives and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for that," Jim Samaras said. In tribute to his brother, Jim Samaras posted on Facebook:

Thank you to everyone for the condolences. It truly is sad that we lost my great brother Tim and his great son, Paul. Our hearts also go out to the Carl Young family as well as they are feeling the same feelings we are today. They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED. Chasing Tornado's. [sic] I look at it that he is in the 'big tornado in the sky...'

Jim Samaras said his brother, nephew and their colleague were dedicated to avoiding trouble while chasing storms, and that the family wasn't worried about whether he was taking care of himself.

"I don't know if I would say I worried about it because one of the biggest things he stressed was safety. He knew what to look for. He knew where not to be and in this case the tornado took a clear turn toward them," he said.

Video taken by a number of storm chasers showed debris pelting vehicles Friday. Winds swept one vehicle with a crew from The Weather Channel off the road, tossed it 200 yards and flipped it into a field -- they escaped major injury.

(MORE: Tornado Hunt Team Takes Direct Hit by Tornado)

 

Carl Young, a California native, joined Samaras in the field in 2003. He earned his Master of Science degree in atmospheric science from the University of Nevada. According to his Discovery Channel biography, Young and Samaras tracked down over 125 tornadoes together.

The men worked as a team and Tim Samaras had received 18 grants from the National Geographic Society for work in the field.

"Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning in the field in an effort to better understand these phenomena," the society said on its website. "Though we sometimes take it for granted, Tim's death is a stark reminder of the risks encountered regularly by the men and women who work for us."

In Canadian County, Okla., where the men died, Undersheriff Chris West noted the three were hoping to help understand violent storms.

"They put themselves in harm's way so that they can educate the public about the destructive power of these storms," he said.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it believed the deaths were the first time scientific researchers were killed while chasing tornadoes. The Samaras' and Young were pursuing an EF3 tornado as it bore down on a metropolitan area of more than 1 million people. In 2012, storm chaser Andy Gabrielson died while driving home from a chase when a wrong-way driver struck his vehicle on Interstate 44 in Sapulpa, Okla.

The Storm Prediction Center said scientific storm chasing is performed as safely as possible, with trained researchers using appropriate technology. It encouraged all, including the media and amateurs, to chase safely to avoid a repeat of Friday's deaths.

Samaras acknowledged the dangerous weather conditions Friday in his final tweet before his death:

Individuals and institutions across the fields of storm-chasing, meteorology, and media expressed their sorrow and condolences to the victims' families Sunday. The Weather Channel issued the following statement:

It was with great sadness that The Weather Channel learned of the passing of Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young as a result of the El Reno Tornado. Many of us were fortunate to have worked with them and have great admiration for their work. They went in the field focused on collecting data to enable meteorologists to further the science behind tornadoes which we know has and will help to save countless lives. Our community has suffered a terrible loss and our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones.

(MORE: Reaction from Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground)

 

 


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