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Thu Apr 5, 2018, 10:00 AM

How a Legendary Storm Chaser Changed the Face of Tornado Science

In 2013, Tim Samaras died in one of the epic storms he’d spent decades chasing. A new book chronicles his harrowing last days



The tornado that touched down near El Reno, Oklahoma plowed through the region. The violent winds and subsequent floods injured 155 and killed 20 people, including the first known storm chasers to die in the twister’s swirling path. (Media Drum World / Alamy)

By Maya Wei-Haas
smithsonian.com
April 4, 2018 3:36PM

May 31, 2013 seemed like just another rainy spring day in El Reno, Oklahoma. The afternoon was hot, the air heavy with moisture. On the darkening horizon, thick clouds billowed in a promise of rain.

But around 4 p.m. local time, the winds shifted slightly and the afternoon shower turned deadly. Two hours later, the tornado that touched down defied weather experts’ predictions, rapidly changing speed and direction and swelling to record-breaking sizes. At its peak, researchers estimate that the twister spanned 2.6 miles across.

Over the course of its 40-minute rampage, the twister caused millions of dollars of damage, 115 injuries and 20 deaths. Each of those deaths was significant, but three were particularly unusual: the first storm chasers ever known to be killed in a tornado. The violent winds enveloped Tim Samaras, 55, his son Paul Samaras, 24, and his colleague Carl Young, 45, toppling their car like a toy in a breeze.

Their deaths may not seem surprising; storm chasing, as you might expect, has its risks. But Samaras was a seasoned chaser who pursued tornadoes for over two decades. As journalist Brantley Hargrove writes in his new book The Man Who Caught the Storm, Samaras worked to change the face of tornado science, helping researchers better understand how changes in pressure, humidity, winds and air temperature conspire to produce a phenomenon so powerful it can snap trees, flip cars or even derail a multi-ton train.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-storm-chaser-changed-face-tornado-science-180968688/#i3583DfU43gIk2AC.99

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Reply How a Legendary Storm Chaser Changed the Face of Tornado Science (Original post)
Judi Lynn Apr 2018 OP
Tree-Hugger Apr 2018 #1
redstatebluegirl Apr 2018 #2
WhiteTara Apr 2018 #3

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Thu Apr 5, 2018, 10:36 AM

1. Feels like yesterday

I can't believe the 5 year anniversary of his (and Paul Sanaras and Carl Young) death is coming up.

Thank you for sharing this article. I became certified by SpotterNetwork and then NWS' Skywarn after his death to honor his legacy. He was a brilliant man.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Thu Apr 5, 2018, 10:51 AM

2. Those of us who live in Oklahoma and other states in Tornado Alley

appreciate the people who study these storms, chase and report on them to give us sufficient warning. The death toll in these storms would have been much higher without all of you. Mr. Samaras was one of many who put their lives on the line during storm season to help save lives.

That El Reno storm was a monster, we were watching it from our safe place on campus, I've never seen one move like that one did. I'm not a meteorologist but you tend to have more knowledge than most when you live here. Never knew what a "dry line" was until we moved here. I am more than grateful for all of the people at NWS, NOAA and the other professionals who work on our behalf.

RIP Mr. Samaras.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Thu Apr 5, 2018, 11:10 AM

3. That is an incredible picture

how the eye is wrapping the wind and water into greater and greater spirals. That is terrifying and awe inspiring at the same time.

I worked at a news room in the early 80s and knew many storm chasers. I thought they were crazy and brave all at the same time. There is some sort of gleam that came into their eyes when a storm started to brew.

I remember the green skies and the stillness and then the freight train that screamed across the sky. When I was a small child in Missouri some of those storms terrified me then I learned to count between the lightning and the thunder. Today, it sounds soothing and I sleep through storms.

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