Science, research, thrill of chase motivate storm chasers - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Science, research, thrill of chase motivate storm chasers


The storm chasing community is mourning the death of three men lost in Friday's tornado near El Reno, OK.

The storm made an unexpected turn and caught off guard experienced storm chasers for the Weather Channel and others. Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young were killed Friday. Their vehicle was destroyed.

Tim Samaras and his Twistex tornado chase team produced material for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and meteorological conferences. Tim Samaras had a reputation for safety.

The Oklahoma storm that killed the three chasers developed right in front to them. Tim Samaras tweeted a photo of clouds rising through a volatile atmosphere and noted: "Storms now initiating south of Watonga along triple point. Dangerous day ahead for OK - stay weather savvy!"

It was his final tweet.

Dan Hawblitzel, a National Weather Service forecast, said the deaths show the dangers of tornadoes.

"Storms don't discriminate," he said. "It was a tragic situation that unfortunately impacted professional and esteemed members of our community."

He said chasers like those men killed provide invaluable research and data that assists national forecasters.

"A lot of what we need to know about a tornado is all focusing right there near the storm very localized area, things like temperature, wind, that kind of thing, that we don't know because our sampling network is very spread out," Hawblitzel explained. "So to get that data right near the storm, a lot of times we have to have people sampling with their instruments near the spot."

The Storm Prediction Center said in a statement Sunday that it was saddened by the deaths.

"Samaras was a respected tornado researcher and friend ... who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography," the center said.

Smartphones and vehicles are putting more storm chasers on the road.

"It's good to get the word out about what a storm is doing, but it also opens up a lot of people on the road as it becomes easier to get out there and chase," Hawblitzel said.

KCTV5 Meteorologist Tom Wachs was storm chasing in Oklahoma on May 20 and with the guidance of KCTV5 Chief Meteorologist Chris Suchan Wachs and Meteorologist Gary Amble, Wachs wound up just half a mile from the EF-5 tornado that decimated Moore, OK. His video and recounts were some of the first images from the scene.

The death and destruction he saw in Moore has left a mark on him. Click here to read his account.

"There are a lot of thrill seekers out there that want to see the tornado, they want to put their video on YouTube. They want to get their video on the news. That is not a good reason," he said. "The folks that passed away in this tornado, they were researchers, they were out there to better the science."

Wachs emphasized the contributions that Tim Samaras and his team made to help meteorologists and forecasters understand severe weather.

"They were doing important work to try to better understand these tornadoes to keep the public safe," he said. "Tim and his crew were researchers, if anyone had a reason to be out that day, they did. They were advancing science."

Some would like to see storm chasers have rules and training to ensure they know what they are doing. What do you think? Share your thoughts on KCTV5's Facebook page. Click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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