A Blaze of Glory
June 2, 2013 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Tornado chaser Tim Samaras, who was the first to get a camera probe inside a tornado, had headed up the TWISTEX experiment, and was featured on the Discovery reality TV series Storm Chasers, was killed Friday, along with his son and chase partner, in an EF-3 tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma. The tornado they had been chasing took a sudden and very sharp turn directly towards their position, and there was not time to outrun it.
posted by smoothvirus (69 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Gelatin at 10:09 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by Tsuga at 10:13 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 10:13 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


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posted by drezdn at 10:20 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by HostBryan at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by skycrashesdown at 10:30 AM on June 2, 2013


I did not understand the role that stormchasers can provide working in tandem with news stations until this comment about the recent OK tornadoes. Thanks for this post.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


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posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:33 AM on June 2, 2013


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but also: idiocy in the name of science.
posted by ouke at 10:42 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


when someone puts their life on the line to help save mine (and many others), i never call it idiocy.
posted by nadawi at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2013 [31 favorites]


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posted by limeonaire at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by tychotesla at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by PaulZ at 10:52 AM on June 2, 2013


There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.

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posted by Sphinx at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Former storm chaser here. Tim was very much a highly respected, knowledgeable and safety conscientious storm chaser whose contributions to the science and understanding of tornadogenesis will not be forgotten. A class act, all the way. For decades now, the storm chasing community has viewed the eventual death of a chaser as a result of a weather related incident in "not if, but when" terms, but it was most often assumed that the first storm chaser to die in the (now) nearly 60 year history of the endeavor would be some inexperienced thrill-seeking yahoo with a video camera and a death wish. Not chasers like Tim, Paul and Carl. That's what makes this so shocking.

I was armchair chasing from home that evening, and recall being surprised by the motion of the El Reno tornado at about the time Tim, Paul and Carl likely perished. The news media likes to describe tornadoes and tornadic thunderstorms as more unpredictable and fickle than they truly are, but the behavior of that particular storm was definitely odd. At the time, I recall asking myself: "If I were chasing this storm, where would I most likely be positioned?" The answer: "In a very bad location."

It was a disquieting thought.

Rest in peace, Tim, Paul and Carl.
posted by jal0021 at 10:56 AM on June 2, 2013 [128 favorites]


Thanks for the info jal0021. My first reaction was assuming it was some jackass thrillseeker, I'm sad to hear it was a prepared crew doing actual science.

I have an acquaintance who drives out into thunderstorms in his little rental car with a handheld camera. I hope he never finds the tornado he's hoping to. I also have a friend who flies into hurricanes as part of his job as an NWS meteorologist. Or at least, used to. I gather they're working to replace those flights with UAVs. Seems like a perfect use for a drone.
posted by Nelson at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Deep bow. In the name of science.

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posted by Jikido at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


In related news, I saw a small yellow car with a really tall antenna on top in town (in St. Louis) the other night, when we had two tornadoes, and wondered whether it was possibly a storm chaser. Are there certain makes of cars that are preferred by chasers? Would a tiny car be a boon or a liability?
posted by limeonaire at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2013


In my sole encounter with a tornadic cloud (there was no touchdown as far as I know), the most frightening thing about it was my inability to tell which direction it was moving in relation to my position, and the way it moved was (seemed) very random and unpredictable.

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posted by rtha at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2013


Well, if it helps people to learn to stay the hell away from tornadoes: .

But they're not entertainment or a spectator sport; storms are to be prepared for, and where possible, avoided. There are other ways of reporting potentially damaging vorticity than being out in them. We should never send a human where remote sensing could work.

(pretty much the first thing taught at SKYWARN/CANWARN: stay as far away as you can. Don't get closer to risk a better report.)
posted by scruss at 11:07 AM on June 2, 2013


Far too many people out on the road getting in the way of the professionals when this happened. We've been discussing this storm a little bit in the Moore tornado thread, where rewil posted this Washington Post editorial about taking to your vehicle in response to a tornado.

There have been a number of stories in the local news since the Moore EF-5 two weeks ago about people who made it to their cars and out of the path of the tornado before it smashed their neighborhood. Which was fine and good up until Friday, when there were multiple smaller tornados zig-zagging unpredictably around various parts of the OKC metro, and people who had taken to the roads to evacuate ended up completely gridlocking the interstates entering and leaving OKC. And then this El Reno tornado, pretty underpowered as tornados can go, suddenly took an unexpected dog-leg towards I-40, and people started abandoning their cars on the interstate and running away across the hay fields, and... Saturday morning, some of the approaches to Oklahoma City looked like Atlanta in The Walking Dead, and the state Highway Patrol was physically shoving cars off the road to try to reopen the roads. As it was, they're saying almost all the casualties were motorists. If the tornado had been stronger or faster when it hit the interstate, it would have been a nightmare.

I was listening to the local radio Friday night as I sat in the bathroom with candles and bottled water, and the broadcast went from urging people to get out the path of the storm to a litany of horrified storm-trackers saying "can't move" and "like a parking lot!". The assumption that tornados follow predictable, avoidable paths got a lot of people in trouble and a few people killed Friday. It could have been far worse.
posted by ormondsacker at 11:13 AM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


A reminder that storm chasing can be deadly really emphasizes the respect I have for the scientists who do this to try to better understand tornados, and really emphasizes my lack of respect for the people who do this to try to get cool videos that they can sell (e.g., many of the other folks on the discovery channel show).
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:19 AM on June 2, 2013


From NPR: Veteran Storm Chaser Among Those Killed In Oklahoma.

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posted by MonkeyToes at 11:35 AM on June 2, 2013


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posted by disclaimer at 11:35 AM on June 2, 2013


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I have a friend who recently moved to Arkansas, and spent the other night in her safe room with her infant, toddler and beagle, as her husband was at work. Tornadoes are awful and scary, and anyone who willingly chases them in the name of understanding them and saving lives is a goddamn hero.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:57 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


As much as the typical storm chaser might come across as an egocentric lunatic in it for as the glory and fame as much as for the scientific knowledge gained, I have a deep-seated respect for these guys (and gals) that outweighs any and all of their personality quirks. Simply put, they've made so much goddamn progress in the last couple of decades towards understanding what was for centuries an almost totally mysterious and hypothesized-upon phenomenon: the tornado. They get criticized for seemingly finding joy in events that devastate countless folks year after year but fuck, if they get to experience a blast of unfiltered adrenaline in exchange for helping figure out how to prepare for and/or avoid catastrophes that continuously lay to ruin the homes, communities, and lives of decent (and yes, sometimes not all that decent) individuals and they run the risk of getting severely injured or even killed in the line of their hobby or work's duty , then storm chasers should unquestionably be recipients of lifetime passes that allow a liberal degree of both cockiness and adrenaline.

Sorry - I got into an argument/discussion about this yesterday and it's been on my mind since. You will almost never, ever, never catch me using this term - and you will definitely not find me using it lightly - but as a resident of North Texas, deep inside the hellswath known as Tornado Alley, storm chasers such as the Samaras father and son and Carl Young are nothing if not heroes. The people who use science and intelligence and aren't just rednecks in it to hopefully grab shaky iPhone footage with a soundtrack of nonstop excited cussing from the passenger seat of their F150 deserve all the praise (and much much more) that outlets such as CNN and MSNBC and wherever else have been raining down on them as of late.

Rest in peace, the three of you.
posted by item at 12:07 PM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


This makes me so sad. I have watched so many of these shows and the science they were doing was invaluable.

If this can happen to responsible scientists, I would hope that the amateurs would take a warning.



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posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:08 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


limeonaire: "Are there certain makes of cars that are preferred by chasers? Would a tiny car be a boon or a liability?"

When you are chasing you spend a lot of time in your car just driving from place to place. So you want something large enough to stow your gear (and a cooler), comfortable and, if you aren't funded or wealthy, something somewhat fuel efficient. Besides that it doesn't really matter.
posted by Mitheral at 12:30 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by lord_wolf at 12:36 PM on June 2, 2013


Tornado chasing is the sort of thing totally suited for a non-combat drone operation.

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posted by Renoroc at 12:43 PM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is the vehicle they were in (via). Words fail.
posted by argonauta at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


when someone puts their life on the line to help save mine (and many others), i never call it idiocy.

i'm not into calling anyone an idiot over this, but i have to wonder -

how close does one have to be to the storm to know it's there?

how close does one have to be to the storm to warn everyone in the area that it's there and they're in danger?

whatever the answers, it's clear to me they misjudged how close they could be - maybe the storm chasing community needs to become a lot more conservative over the chances they take
posted by pyramid termite at 1:26 PM on June 2, 2013


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posted by thewalledcity at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2013


> Besides that it doesn't really matter.

MSC used to use Ford Tempos. They were cheap, and they'd made a wind-tunnel tested rig for them that didn't interfere with the anemometer readings too much.
posted by scruss at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2013


Video is now coming out from other chasers who also got caught when the tornado suddenly turned north. The video from the first link is terrifying.
posted by smoothvirus at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


This just serves to remind me about the incredible work that meteorologists do every day. The atmosphere is extraordinary and the fact that we can model that chaotic fluid with such precision is remarkable. Yes---most of the time they get it right. And recent events in OK serve to remind TV stations all over the country that you better keep hiring real degree holding meteorologists and not weather "personalities" with a pretty face to read the weather. Because when the shit hits the fan people need information from other people who know what the fuck they are talking about. Yes, I'm talking to you Weather Channel (among others).
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:42 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looking at that wrecked car, what could have caused that? It's just wrung like a dishcloth.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2013


i'm not into calling anyone an idiot over this, but i have to wonder -

how close does one have to be to the storm to know it's there?


I forget if it was in the WaPo link or another one that's been in these threads, but a meteorologist made the point that it's in no small part because stormchasers like this guy and is colleagues have gathered the kind of data needed for the 16-minute warning (an eternity, relatively speaking) for the Moore tornado possible. It's not just a matter of being able to say "Hey, this storm is going this direction, look out, people who live in [very big area]" but also much more nuanced and detailed data that allows them to make longer-range and more pinpointedly accurate forecasts and predictions. Especially with rain-wrapped tornadoes, where no, you can't actually just look at it from far away with your eyes and have any useful idea of what it's doing or going to do. Doppler radar is good but there are not enough stations, from what I've read.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on June 2, 2013


Sounds like a lot of chasers were too close. The red dots are chaser positions, several within the core circulation of the storm.
posted by bitmage at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2013


a meteorologist made the point that it's in no small part because stormchasers like this guy and is colleagues have gathered the kind of data needed for the 16-minute warning (an eternity, relatively speaking) for the Moore tornado possible.

i'm looking at bitmage's link and there's like 40 different chasers chasing that storm

that's more than are needed to locate the storm and inform the public of what they need to know

this really has gone too far - much farther than any scientific or public safety need calls for
posted by pyramid termite at 2:43 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2013


I wonder how many of those chasers were scientists conducting research as opposed to chasers with paying customers on "safari" to see a tornado.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2013


Re the risks in chasing and whether something should be done to curtail entertainment chasing:

Chasing is way safer than say, climbing Everest or any of the other eight thousanders. There is obviously an entertainment reason for chasing along side the research and warning reasons and really chasing doesn't seem any more risky to me than many other entertainments young males amuse themselves with.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of idiocy out there but considering how accessible it has become (I would have sacrificed a minor appendage for always on mobile internet when I was chasing regularly) the injury rate is low. The big risk is still the fact that you might drive 15,000 km during a two week chase. All those miles of regular driving with other road users is the real danger.

Joe in Australia: "Looking at that wrecked car, what could have caused that?"

That's what a pickup looks like after it's been rolled a few times.
posted by Mitheral at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid in Oklahoma, it was all about Gary England, Don Woods, and Gary Shore. Each of them made some huge calls on tornadoes that saved lives. I remember an interview with Lee Woodward, who was the one weatherman in Tulsa who didn't have a meteorology degree. He said that after the Easter 1981 tornadoes, when Gary Shore probably saved the lives of countless people in SE Tulsa by telling them to take cover in front of a tornado the NWS didn't warn until after it lifted, he knew he was out of a job -- and retired a couple months after the tornado. From then on, severe weather became a huge money-maker for the three local stations in Tulsa, as well as in Oklahoma City. Gary England got a lot of screen time in Twister because he was the tornado guy for Oklahoma City.

But somewhere after Twister, it started getting crazy. Channel 2 in Tulsa got a doppler radar, so channel 8 had to have one too, but then channel 6 came up with the storm tracking software. Meanwhile, channel 9 in OKC got their own doppler, which channel 4 and 5 got as well. Now all of them have radar as good as -- if not better than -- the NWS' system. Meanwhile, the news (and sports) organizations have shrunk as the weather side got more and more equipment.

And the meteorologists became celebrities. I mean, Gary England had a commercial made about him that Jon Stewart skewered mercilessly.

I watched all that play out the last couple weeks. Channel 4 in OKC (KFOR) embraced a sensationalism I've never seen before, even telling people incredibly stupid things like "flee south!" in the face of this Friday supercell. Channel 9 was half a dozen people, one guy in a copter, all yelling while Gary England looked like a shellshocked old guy directing traffic, but the important thing was they had all these radars AND a copter AND six people on the ground chasing it because they are WAY WAY ahead of the storm.

And into the middle of all this you have the YouTube driven chasers, who seem to spend more time whooping and hollering about the tornadoes and yelling about driving faster than they do about real, actual meteorology. Storm Chasers only made it worse. Even for the littlest EF1s in the most podunk parts of the Midwest you now have four videos of it up on YouTube from idiots out in cars.

What happened Friday was destined to happen, but Samaras being the one who died was the ultimate shocker -- the most careful one of them all, the one you could point to that actually was doing science. The one you thought would be the last one caught out by a tornado that zigged when it would have normally zagged.

But I think this won't stop the mania. It's only getting worse from here. I expect the roads will be even more packed with idiots in pickups, the air filled with one-time-use drones that will just get added to the debris ball. And the TV stations will add on more radars, tap in to the Mesonet even more, and fire up their own dual polarization grids, all in the name of "saving lives" but really all about making money.

There's a joke that goes "You can always tell the Okies during a tornado because they're the ones running away from shelter instead of running to it -- while carrying a camera." The voyeurism of weather rolls on. And the death of the three chasers will be forgotten with every grainy storm video on YouTube or their new subscription-only weather video site.

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posted by dw at 4:09 PM on June 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


I have a bit of an addiction to Storm Chasers, and he always seemed like the sane, careful, cautious one, who really knew what he was doing. He is not someone I would have guessed would have died like this, despite what he did for a living. Just goes to show you how dangerous tornadoes are.
posted by biscotti at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:12 PM on June 2, 2013


sorry if this sounds like a daft question, but does anyone have any insight into how exactly you die due to something like this, assuming you're in a heavy parked vehicle?

I understand if you're exposed outside on foot, you can get smashed to death by flying debris, or picked up by the wind and slammed into other objects (including the ground).

But does a tornado have the power to lift up a stationary SUV type vehicle and slam it into the ground with enough force to spell certain death for all occupants?

Obviously these things kill - but I'm curious about the specific mechanisms of death in situations like these.
posted by spacediver at 5:19 PM on June 2, 2013


How Did the Texas Tornadoes Toss 18-Wheelers? (referencing a Dallas tornado in April 2012).
[YouTube if video doesn't work, it did not for me]
posted by dhartung at 5:34 PM on June 2, 2013


@spacediver, argonauta's link above should answer the basic thrust of your question: yes, yes they can. Not all tornadoes have sufficient power to do it, but it certainly happens.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:38 PM on June 2, 2013


But does a tornado have the power to lift up a stationary SUV type

last year a rash of tornadoes touched down - none of them bigger than an e3. here's a few semi trailers picked up by one of them. tornadoes can absolutely throw an suv.
posted by nadawi at 5:41 PM on June 2, 2013


But does a tornado have the power to lift up a stationary SUV type vehicle and slam it into the ground with enough force to spell certain death for all occupants?

Absolutely. In 2001 we had a tornado here in the DC area that went right up I-395 through Virginia, then lifted up as it crossed over DC, then came back down over College Park Maryland as an F-4. On the campus it picked up a car with two students in it, flung it over the top of a multi-story dorm building, and dropped it down the other side, killing the occupants instantly.
posted by smoothvirus at 6:45 PM on June 2, 2013


spacediver, did you see the photo of their car? It was crushed. Like, as if it had been cubed by a salvage yard with bad equipment. The engine block appears to have fallen out for lack of support.

does a tornado have the power to lift up a stationary SUV type vehicle and slam it into the ground with enough force to spell certain death for all occupants

Yes, that is possible - houses come off their foundations and debris can be found miles away - but it doesn't need to be picked up and slammed down. It just needs to be rolled. People roll cars every day taking turns too fast. People overturn cars with their bare hands in riots or emergencies.

And the crash-protection in the roofs of automobiles are meant to withstand one, two, maybe three or four textbook rolls before they fail - any more infrastructure than that and the car becomes so top-heavy you could roll it taking a slightly more than leisurely turn. And that crash protection is built for a side-to-side roll - if the car takes a hard enough collision from one end and flips, or the wind gets lift from front or back and flips it end-to-end, it's not meant for that. The roof doesn't really stop coming in until it gets to the bottom of the side windows. Unless you are very lucky and can get down below that level, that's incompatible with survival (and you pretty much have to have your seat belt off to do so, which means you're completely SOL in a roll anyway).

Once I got caught in my car on the edge of a tornado. Once the outer wrapper is around you, there's nothing. It is jet-engine-level sound (because of rain and hail moving at 70+mph) and zero visibility (and that's before your windows shatter) and no way of knowing if it's coming at you or moving away. We're taught now not to get out of the car (head and face/chest injuries from hail and debris), but wind lift is a real danger. If you're actually moving, the amount of water on the road - if not the ice from the hail - means traction is seriously compromised. Evasive maneuvers are only possible from a mile or more away, and a tornado and its wrapper can close that mile in seconds.

Standing out in the open is probably the most dangerous place to be in a tornado (laying down is safer, but things can still fall on you), but a car is a very, very close second.

I lived in Tornado Alley for nearly 40 years, and the advances in prediction in that time - in part because of chasers and probe-droppers - has made a significant difference in safety, quality of life, and just sheer preparedness. I appreciate the contributions made to prediction and tracking. I am sorry that someone died doing it.

Someone, I hope, will live because of it. I also hope that this does something to advance the cause of unmanned monitoring stations, but I also know that 20 years of unmanned stations can't collect a hundredth of the data of strategically-deployed probes. That's what these guys were trying to do, and I salute them.

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posted by Lyn Never at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


I've never seen a tornado in person.

When I moved out to California, it was fires. You see them on TV, stupid fires. Slow, mindless fires. Just dump a couple of buckets over there and be done with it. Then I heard about a couple of firefighters that got cornered by multiple fires and died next to their fire engine. How silly, I thought.

Then I saw my first fire up close, and it was a shocking sight. The way it moved. It was everywhere. There was nothing you could do. I mourn the loss of those firefighters. When did they know there was no escaping.

I bet that's what tornados are like. My sympathies to the families of those that passed. My hat is off to anyone dedicated enough to die doing what they loved.
posted by phaedon at 7:52 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


What I've notice in the last 5 years is the more specific warnings issued by the NWS. Growing up in KS I always looked for the color of our county to change from green to red. Now a warning is issued for a particular path in front of a storm. Knowing that I'm either in the path of the storm, or south or north of it, does wonders for my sanity.

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posted by stltony at 8:59 PM on June 2, 2013


A reminder that storm chasing can be deadly really emphasizes the respect I have for the scientists who do this to try to better understand tornados, and really emphasizes my lack of respect for the people who do this to try to get cool videos that they can sell (e.g., many of the other folks on the discovery channel show)

If they'd stay out of the way of emergency responders, risking your life to get video of tornadoes, even just to sell as entertainment, doesn't seem any worse than risking your life to bring fishsticks and crab legs to the masses.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:06 PM on June 2, 2013


I've participated in a storm survey where there were fatalities in a vehicle. Not chasers, just some poor souls who had the bad luck to pull off the road in the path of a tornado. What I saw that day has been burned into my brain, bloodstains in the wheat field and all. And sometimes when I see chaser video that is "extreme" I wish I could show those guys what I saw that day and make them be a bit more cautious.

That being said, I'm just stunned that Tim and his crew were the ones caught last Friday. I didn't know them personally, but had seen Tim around the meteorological community and have friends who knew them well. They were as some put it, "not cowboys". Not sure exactly what happened on Friday, but there is some speculation that an unexpected left turn put them in the path.

A fellow met posted an excellent blog post about the incident.

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posted by weathergal at 9:23 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


wow thanks for the great responses to my question - I'd seen that pic of the car but didn't read the post carefully and didn't realize it was the same car these people were killed in.

Absolutely insane - after reading Lyn never's post, I've gained a new respect for this phenomenon.
posted by spacediver at 10:51 PM on June 2, 2013


Shit. He was a damn good scientist, and seemed to be by far one of the most level-headed chasers around.

A huge loss to the meteorological science community.
posted by scrump at 11:54 PM on June 2, 2013


That's what a pickup looks like after it's been rolled a few times.

Ordinarily, Samaras is in a four-door full-size research pickup. On this day they were in the Twistex Chevy Cobalt. I believe it is the same one that former Twistex member Tony Laubach chased in, as seen in the Discovery Channel series "Stormchasers".

sorry if this sounds like a daft question, but does anyone have any insight into how exactly you die due to something like this, assuming you're in a heavy parked vehicle?

I understand if you're exposed outside on foot, you can get smashed to death by flying debris, or picked up by the wind and slammed into other objects (including the ground).

But does a tornado have the power to lift up a stationary SUV type vehicle and slam it into the ground with enough force to spell certain death for all occupants?

Obviously these things kill - but I'm curious about the specific mechanisms of death in situations like these.


There are a lot of ways to die when you are within the debris field of a tornado. Any debris (wood, glass, shingles...anything) is going to become potentially vehicle-penetrating and lethal when blown at around 200 mph. The tornado essentially becomes a ginormous weed-wacker taking down everything in it's path.

Secondly, if your vehicle rolls, it only takes one hard knock of your head on the side window to knock you unconscious and stop your breathing. Your brain will swell and even if you are resuscitated before total brain death from oxygen deprivation you have other problems that could lead to your death in a short time.

Thirdly... yes. Tornadoes have the power to lift a stationary SUV and slam it into the ground. The Weather Channel chase vehicle, a large Chevy Suburban (i believe) was airborne and then rolled at least 8 times (probably very near the Samaras vehicle). They were unbelievably fortunate to walk away.

Fourthly, you can be ejected from the vehicle. Tim Samaras was found strapped in the Cobalt. The other two occupants were ejected from the vehicle. All of them were casualties.

Tornado Research has lost one of its brightest and best. But in a way, the loss of these three experienced chasers might provide the best lesson for the rest of us. If someone with 25 years of experience studying tornadoes can be taken by surprise, what does that say about those with less experience? We live in an era when ordinary people will take crazy risks, not for scientific research, but just to get video views on YouTube or garner a television interview... when chasers have cameras pointed not just OUT of the vehicle, but INTO the vehicle (a sure sign that self-promotion and not public safety or scientific research is their primary concern).

I'm not saying people shouldn't chase. I'm a weekend (or opportunity) chaser. I'll be honest and tell you I do it because I love the analysis, the forecasting, the hunt, and I do it mainly for the still photography opportunities it provides. But I also know my limitations and will not enter a high precipitation storm. I won't go into what chaser's call "the bear's cage". There are a lot of beautiful things you can photograph staying a safe distance from the storm. -- A couple of my examples: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelsmithy/8903356245/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelsmithy/8849805525/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/22413777@N00/4722534814/in/photolist-8cje53-9NRT6P

My condolences to the families and friends of the victims. Tim Samaras is in the same class a volcanologists who race to a volcano when eruption is eminent, the same class as the astronauts who lost their life in the Space Shuttle, or in the Apollo III fire. You try to make things as safe as possible, but you still go to work knowing that there is a risk of something going wrong. On this day, it did.
posted by spock at 7:36 AM on June 3, 2013 [28 favorites]


Different view of the Cobalt here. The first linked picture sure made it look like the wrecked vehicle was the same size as the recovery vehicle behind it (low and wide angle maybe?).
posted by Mitheral at 9:04 AM on June 3, 2013


according to local news they're still revising (and increasing) the death toll from this cluster of storms - some are saying that we might never know the true number since one of the hard hit areas is home to quite a few undocumented residents.
posted by nadawi at 10:23 AM on June 3, 2013


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posted by stoneweaver at 1:40 PM on June 3, 2013


I'll always take hurricanes over earthquakes and tornados and tsunamis. I like disasters one can easily take shelter from in another time zone.

That said, we hunkered down during Andrew in a concrete house with a concrete roof, and even though the eye was fifty miles south of us it was some scary shit. I never want to hear those howls and rumbles again.

There are tornados occasionally in Florida, fortunately they're pretty small and short-lived, and the wisdom was that if you can see the tornado and you are in a vehicle, you need to figure out which way it's moving (maybe stop for a few seconds), and then go the other way. If you can't see which way the tornado is moving then you are either safe (it's moving away) or fucked (it's headed right for you), but if you can head 90 degrees away from it then do so. And stay away from bridges and tunnels.

Raising a glass to those who died for science.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:57 AM on June 4, 2013


A tangent on dangers of loose items in your vehicles: if properly fastened into your car, you can survive a roll-over, but if you have a bunch of heavy, loose items in your car, they become projectiles while you're "safely" secured to your seat. In this case, the vehicle looks totaled, but if there was some loose equipment, that could have caused serious physical damage to the people inside. For that reason, I'm sure storm chasers have pretty well secured vehicles.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2013


In addition to the sharp and sudden 45-degree turn that the tornado took, radar data also shows that it went from 1 mile wide to 2.6 miles wide in under a minute. (The 2.6 mile width makes it the widest tornado in U.S. history). This could explain why so many chasers, including those in the Twistex vehicle, were taken by surprise. I saw one analysis of GRLevel2 radar data that clocked the INFLOW winds to the tornado at approx. 200 mph. In the movie "Twister" that would be the infamous "suck zone".

The El Reno tornado has been officially upgraded to an EF5.

A chaser on Twitter notes: "Since 1950, 8 official F5/EF5 #tornado ratings given. May 2013, 2 of those occurred in 11 days and in subdivisions 40 miles apart"
posted by spock at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Correction: issued by meteorologist Alex J Lamers on twitter: "May 31st El Reno, OK tornado is the 60th EF5 or F5 tornado since 1950 in U.S. 8 have occurred in OK." MAP
posted by spock at 11:00 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


a reminder of what our shithead senator, tom coburn, said on may 23rd - "If you're living in that area of Moore in Oklahoma, the likelihood of being hit by another tornado is about zero in terms of odds." this is not his week to play the lottery.
posted by nadawi at 11:11 AM on June 4, 2013


Gambler's fallacy. Sigh.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:37 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The traffic situation really concerns me, which is why I find Mike Morgan's actions on Friday so bewildering.
Thanks to the PDS warning the NWS issued on Friday, the local meteorologists started advising people in the early afternoon to try to leave work early to prevent getting stuck in traffic. Even with those warnings, people failed to take into account the fact that the 5/20 Moore storm damage the options for traveling South out of the city. Moore is terribly congested even on good weather days in non-rush hour traffic, and I-35 is still congested most of the days and evenings in the disaster area because of the gawkers, so that further limits the options for people to get south out of OKC. The non-highway options were similarly terrible; one of my coworkers who was trying to get to shelter in South OKC said that people were running red lights and stop signs left and right.
I really hope this causes everyone to reevaluate their safety procedures; prepping really has to start several hours in advance to avoid getting stuck out on the road trying to get home.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:46 PM on June 4, 2013


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