Sunday, June 02, 2013

Storm Chasers Part of Oklahoma Fatality Count

I feel like I need to preface this post with the usual disclaimer of "these thoughts are my own..."  While other bloggers here at might agree with my sentiments, I would feel uncomfortable speaking for them.

On Saturday, my colleague Tom posted an article about the new perils of storm chasing.  Since Twister and Storm Chasers and The Weather Channel, severe weather and chasing severe weather have become as mainstream as baseball.  On May 31st, with storms bearing down on the Oklahoma City Metro, hundreds of chasers set themselves up along the highways of near OKC, effectively bottling them up and cutting off the means of egress to thousands of people looking to get out of harms way...which is another topic for another time.

While the popularity of storm chasing has exploded, meteorologists have always added one caveat at the end of their discussions of other chasers: "Well, no one has died yet."  Well, that claim cannot be made no longer.  We lost some of the good guys.

Tim Samaras, a chaser featured on Discovery's Storm Chasers, as well as featured on The Weather Channel and National Geographic, died on Friday while chasing the tornado in El Reno, west of Oklahoma City.  Also killed with Samaras was his son, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, Tim's trusted sidekick.  These three individuals are added to the death toll from the rest of Friday's storms, which now sits at 14.

Tim Samaras has been a storm chaser for years and focused his research on the TWISTEX project, or Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in/near Tornadoes EXperiment.  Samaras' team was featured on the third and forth season of Storm Chasers, on the Discovery Channel, and on National Geographic's Disaster Labs.  Tim is best seen placing his bright orange cone shaped weather observation stations in the path of oncoming tornadoes.  On Storm Chasers, he was the only team that didn't have a vehicle that could go into a tornado, and that was okay.  Tim's over-cautious mentality meant that he was able to get his data, while being safe.

To the weather enterprise, this loss will hurt for a while.  When the news broke on Twitter, around 1:30am, the weather world went haywire, with meteorologists from around the world offering their condolences.  Tim's contributions to the world of meteorology will be unparalleled for some time.  Oddly enough, Tim has a degree in engineering, which is how he's been able to manufacture his own equipment.  Tim and his TWISTEX team are some of the most respected meteorologists and chasers, which makes these deaths harder to take.  Unlike the dollar-a-holler chasers who seek money for their footage, Tim was about the science. Tim's group was not out to seek the "money shot"...he was actively looking to contribute to the community.

The deaths of these scientists come on the heels of other close calls by chasers on Friday, including The Weather Channel.  We will, once again, begin reviewing and analyzing the tapes of chasers who seem to get a bit too close as they scream and yell in an effort to sell the sizzle.  Now, however, we are faced with our own potential demise.  If a seasoned chaser like Tim can get caught off-guard by a sudden shift in a tornado's path, just how many close-calls has the weather enterprise endured.

Tim, Paul and Carl died doing what they love; they died while fulfilling their passion.  The contributions that these individuals have made to the science community will last long into the future and I can only hope to offer a third of what they have already done.

Tim, Paul and Carl -- May the wind always be at your back, and the sunshine ahead.  Rest in peace, brothers... and Thank You.

More: Tim's Facebook Page | Tim's brother posting confirmation