CHICAGO, June 3 – Three veteran storm chasers were killed while pursuing powerful tornadoes that tore through the US state of Oklahoma, a relative said on Sunday.
Tim Samaras, his son Paul and their storm-chasing partner Carl Young died on Friday in a twister in El Reno, west of Oklahoma City.
“They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED,” the elder Samaras’s brother Jim Samaras said on his Facebook page.
Tony Laubach, a fellow participant in the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment, or TWISTEX, that Samaras founded mourned that “devastating loss to the meteorological, research and storm-chasing communities.”
Samaras’s instruments are said to have offered the first-ever glimpse inside a tornado, and TWISTEX aimed to learn more about the storms in order to help increase the lead time in warnings.
A series of tornadoes battered Oklahoma with high winds, heavy rain and large hail, causing at least 11 fatalities in a state already reeling from a monster twister that claimed two dozen lives last month.
Debris from the vehicle the chasers were in was strewn about half a mile (0.8 kilometers), Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West told AFP.
Only one of the bodies was recovered from the vehicle. The two others were found about a quarter of a mile in either direction.
Crews hauled away a badly mangled white truck with its windows smashed and its body crushed and twisted almost beyond recognition.
The National Geographic Society called Samaras “one of the world’s best-known storm chasers,” saying the 55-year-old spent the past two decades pursuing his passion. The Washington-based institution had provided 18 grants to Samaras for his research.
It said he developed his interest in twisters after watching the film “The Wizard of Oz” when he was just six years old. The movie begins with a tornado sweeping heroine Dorothy and her dog Toto away to Munchkinland in Oz.
“Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning in the field in an effort to better understand these phenomena,” National Geographic executive vice president Terry Garcia said in a statement.
“Though we sometimes take it for granted, Tim’s death is a stark reminder of the risks encountered regularly by the men and women who work for us.”
Samaras developed probes to measure the environment inside tornadoes. Researchers had to place the probes in the path of the storm and then escape before being swept away.
He measured the lowest barometric pressure drop ever recorded (100 millibars) at the tornado’s center, saying that was equivalent to “stepping into an elevator and hurtling up 1,000 feet (305 meters) in 10 seconds.”
Samaras was also known as a star on the Discovery Channel’s show “Storm Chasers,” which ended last year.
His brother Jim Samaras said the storm chaser “looked at tornadoes not for the spotlight of TV, but for the scientific aspect.”