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Three storm chasers among those killed by Oklahoma tornadoes

June 02, 2013|By Devin Kelly

Three storm chasers were among those killed by violent storms in the Oklahoma City area last week, family members said Sunday.

Tim Samaras, a veteran storm chaser considered a leader in tornado research and data collection, died along with his 24-year-old son, Paul Samaras, and partner, Carl Young, while tracking an EF-3 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno Friday evening. 

All three were known from the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers,” which aired for five years, ending in the fall of 2011. 

 “They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED,” Jim Samaras, Tim’s brother, wrote in a post on his brother’s Facebook page. “I look at it that he is in the ‘big tornado’ in the sky.”

Tim Samaras founded Twistex -- Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment -- to better understand the formation of tornadoes and increase warning times.

The Colorado native was well respected among storm chasers and meteorologists and had longstanding ties with local news stations, National Geographic and Boeing, in addition to the Discovery Channel.

 “Tim was a veteran storm chaser,” said David Payne, a meteorologist with KWTV News 9 in Oklahoma City. “He’s not what I call a cowboy chaser. He didn’t show up once a year to go see a storm.”

Young, a California native, had worked with Samaras on collecting meteorological data since 2003, according to his Discovery Channel biography. The two chronicled more than 125 tornadoes together.

Mark Wiley, a National Weather Service meteorologist based at the agency's regional headquarters in Fort Worth said the majority of storm chasers head out into turbulent weather as thrill-seekers, but a small minority put research first. 

“Unfortunately, these three were part of the group much more interested in the research aspect of it,” Wiley said.

Officials have not yet determined the circumstances of their deaths. The violent and erratic twister also swept up a Weather Channel truck, tossing it 200 yards and injuring members of the team inside. 

Mike Bettes, an anchor and meteorologist for the Weather Channel who was in the truck, described the storm in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

"I think this was just an erratic tornado. I think the size of it and the speed of it changed very, very quickly," Bettes said. "I think the direction of movement changed quickly. And I think there were a lot of people out there that, you know, ended up getting stuck in positions we didn't want to be in."

News of the deaths spread quickly on social media, where the meteorological community reacted with sadness and shock.

At least 10 people died in the storms, including eight adults and two children, according to authorities.

In an April interview with National Geographic, Tim Samaras said his work with tornadoes stemmed from his awe of the twister in “Wizard of Oz.”

“I watched 'The Wizard of Oz' when I was a kid and vowed to myself, 'I'm going to see that tornado one day,'” Tim Samaras told National Geographic. “Tornadoes have pretty much become a focus of my life.”

He sent his final tweet Friday afternoon: “Dangerous day ahead for OK, stay weather savvy.” 

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

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