Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

June 4, 2013

The deadly Okla. storm that chased down the storm chasers

It was the storm that chased down the storm chasers. The twister that formed Friday near El Reno, Okla., moved in an eccentric, juking path toward the east, and it overtook a pack of storm chasers and fleeing motorists who found themselves caught up in traffic during rush hour.

              

Among the 13 reported fatalities were veteran tornado researcher Tim Samaras, 55; his son, Paul, 24; and colleague Carl Young, 45. How these three experienced chasers met disaster remained unclear Monday, nearly three days after the incident. Video footage showed a mangled, unrecognizable vehicle in which they had reportedly been stalking the storm.

              

The tragedy has roiled the increasingly competitive field of storm chasing and has raised the question of whether there are too many people getting too close to violent maelstroms. John Francis, vice president for research, conservation and exploration at the National Geographic Society, which gave Samaras 18 grants over the past decade, said he fears that there are too many people jamming the roadways in pursuit of twisters and that this might have contributed to Friday's fatalities.

              

"It reminds me a little bit of Everest," Francis said Monday. "When you have a few people climbing, it's fine. If you have a bunch of people stacked up and a bad situation occurs, it can be devastating. . . . What is an important science practice and one that is informative for the public can suddenly become an opportunity for disaster."

              

Samaras, who had appeared on Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" program, was not considered reckless. He specialized in putting instruments, some handcrafted and customized, into the path of storms to measure their wind velocities, pressure drops and other characteristics.

              

He missed the big tornado that hit Moore, Okla., on May 20, but only because he was chasing another twister moving across the state. At one point, he got within 500 feet of it. The funnel tracked across four miles of open country and created, as Samaras put it the next day in a telephone interview with The Washington Post, "a near-perfect data set."

              

Tornadoes can be eccentric, and the one near El Reno was shrouded in rain and hard to see clearly. Many motorists might have thought they could drive away from the tornado. At least one local TV meteorologist had suggested that tactic. But Interstates 35 and 40 turned into parking lots.

              

The twister caught many storm chasers by surprise, including Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes and two photographers. Their SUV, emblazoned with the channel's logo and the words "Tornado Hunt," was tossed 200 yards by the twister. The driver, Austin Anderson, suffered multiple broken bones and will need surgery.

              

"Hopefully our mishap will teach us all to respect the weather & be responsible & safe at all costs. I thought I was doing the right thing, but obviously I wasn't. Lesson learned the hard way," Bettes said on his Facebook page.

              

Two years ago, Bettes warned that some chasers were getting too reckless.

              

"An increasing trend I see happening is chasers try to get as close as possible to one-up their competition and cash in on dramatic video," he said in an broadcast segment. "And the one thing I always hear from professional chasers is how safety is their number one concern and warning the public is their number one priority. Me? I call BS on that one. While you're being hit by debris and being flipped by your car by a tornado, you're not very concerned about your safety or anyone else's. You're setting a bad example for a young generation of chasers who follow your lead."

              

In an interview with NationalGeographic.com, Samaras noted the explosion of storm chasing in recent years. "On a big tornado day in Oklahoma, you can have hundreds of storm chasers lined up down the road. Oklahoma is considered the mecca of storm chasing. We know ahead of time when we chase in Oklahoma, there's going to be a traffic jam."

              

On the Weather Underground blog, Jeff Masters discussed the confluence of factors that might have contributed to Friday's tragedy. "Tornadoes by their nature are unpredictable, and can change course unexpectedly, or pop up suddenly," he wrote. "It's particularly dangerous when a tornado is wrapped in rain, making it hard to see, or if a chaser is operating in a heavily populated area, where roads may suddenly become congested. All four of these conditions occurred Friday during the El Reno tornado."

              

National Geographic Society spokeswoman Barbara Moffet said she and her colleagues were shocked when they heard Sunday that Samaras had been killed.

              

"As careful as Tim was, he was meticulous with forecasting and planning, but with the vagaries of nature, sometimes it just catches up with you. You can't control it," she said.

              

Samaras is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two adult daughters. The Samaras family released a statement over the weekend, saying, in part, "Tim had a passion for science and research of tornadoes. He loved being out in the field taking measurements and viewing mother nature. His priority was to warn people of these storms and save lives. Paul was a wonderful son and brother who loved being out with his Dad. He had a true gift for photography and a love of storms like his Dad. They made a special team. They will be deeply missed. We take comfort in knowing they died together doing what they loved."

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Web Extra
  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    August 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    August 2, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Grandstands feel a little empty at NASCAR races

    Two decades after NASCAR started running at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the crowds have thinned considerably. It's probably no reflection on the sport's massive following, which stretches from coast to coast, but it surely doesn't NASCAR's image help when the cameras pan across all of those empty seats.

    August 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Impeachment arms Democrats, doesn't end the Obama disaster

    Republicans may have grounds to impeach President Barack Obama but they would be daft to pursue a case they cannot win in a Senate controlled by Democrats. Impeachment would only drive the Democrats' fundraising and potentially squander the GOP's best opportunity in years to capture both houses of Congress then, in two years, the White House.

    August 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • ship Researchers: World Trade Center ship dates to 1773

    It's a ship tied to two critical points in American history: Sept. 11, 2001, and the eve of the Revolutionary War.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rodden, Danny.jpg Sheriff accused of lying about relationship with prostitute

    The sheriff of Clark County, Ind., faces an eight-count federal indictment that accuses him of lying about paying a prostitute for a sex act and giving her a badge so that she could claim a discount rate at a hotel.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 30, 2014

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Renewed Violence Taking Toll on Gaza Residents 2 Americans Detained in North Korea Seek Help US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Gaza Truce Unravels; Israel, Hamas Trade Blame Raw: Tunisia Closes Borders With Libya Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page