Three veteran storm chasers died doing what they loved: roaming the Great Plains in search of dangerous storms like the one in Oklahoma that ended their final pursuit.
Tim Samaras, his son Paul and colleague Carl Young died Friday night when an EF3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph turned on them near El Reno, Okla. After years of sharing dramatic videos with television viewers and weather researchers, they died chasing a storm that killed 13 in Oklahoma City and its suburbs.
“It’s something we’ve done countless times in the past and have done it successfully and safely,” said Tony Laubauch, who was working with Tim Samaras’ chase team Friday night. “And, you know, whatever happened on this one, it’s just horrible beyond words.”
The men’s deaths in pursuit of the storm are believed to be the first among scientific researchers while chasing tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said.
“They put themselves in harm’s way so that they can educate the public about the destructive power of these storms,” said Chris West, the undersheriff in Canadian County, where the men died.
Tim Samaras, 54, of Bennett, Colo., had a reputation for being safe but was trapped on the highway with his son, Paul Samaras, 24, also of Bennett, and Young, 45, who taught geology at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
“I don’t know if I would say I worried about it because one of the biggest things he stressed was safety,” said Tim’s brother, Jim Samaras, who confirmed the deaths to The Associated Press. “He knew what to look for. He knew where not to be and in this case, the tornado took a clear turn toward them.”
Tim Samaras and his Twistex tornado chase team produced material for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and meteorological conferences.
“He looked at tornadoes not for the spotlight of TV but for the scientific aspect,” Jim Samaras said. “At the end of the day, he wanted to save lives and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for that.”
The Oklahoma storm that killed the three chasers developed right in front to them. Tim Samaras tweeted a photo of clouds rising through a volatile atmosphere and noted: “Storms now initiating south of Watonga along triple point. Dangerous day ahead for OK — stay weather savvy!”
It was his final tweet.
The Storm Prediction Center said in a statement Sunday that it was saddened by the deaths.
“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 said.