Sunday Discussion: Remembering Tim Samaras And The Storm Chasing Phenomenon


Geek Alabama Discussion

UPDATE: Here is episode 3 of The Southern Geek vlog series talking about this issue!

First off, I wanted to talk about a tragic accident that happened along the roads in Oklahoma on May 31st.  Storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras, and longtime chase partner Carl Young were killed when a EF-3 tornado that tore through El Reno, Oklahoma made an unexpected turn.  The tornado caught many storm chasers off guard including the Weather Channel Tornado Hunt Team.  Here’s video of their car being thrown from the tornado.

A family member posted this statement on Tim Samaras’ Facebook page at 5:30 am Sunday morning:

“I’m Jim Samaras – Tim Samaras’s brother. Thank you to everyone for the condolences. It truly is sad that we lost my great brother Tim and his great son, Paul. Our hearts also go out to the Carl Young family as well as they are feeling the same feelings we are today. They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED. Chasing Tornado’s. I look at it that he is in the ‘big tornado in the sky…’ We (the family) will keep folks aware of what the funeral estrangements are, but please in the meantime keep Tim and Paul in your thoughts and prayers.”

Tim Samaras was 55 and his son Paul was 24.  Carl Young was 45.  Tim founded TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment) to pursue tornadoes and advance the research and warning available to the public.  Tim Samaras raced straight toward tornadoes and not away from them.  He went across the United States notorious Tornado Alley on a mission: Predict the exact coordinates of an unborn tornado, arrive before it does, and place a weather-measurement probe directly in the twister’s violent, swirling path.  Data from the probes helped scientists understand tornado dynamics and how they formed.  With that piece of the puzzle, weather forecasters can make more precise forecasts and ultimately give people earlier warnings.  Many storm chasers gave a salute to the three men lost by placing their location markers to form their initials.

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Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young died doing what they loved to do.  And I have seen comments online from some people saying storm chasing has gotten too dangerous and all storm chasing should be banned.  Yes, the roads in the Great Plains has gotten way too crowed with people wanting to chase that tornado.  But not all storm chasers are dangerous!  Some people are storm chasing just for the thrill.  I have seen the videos from people running stop signs, red lights, and speeding up to 100 mph just to get to that tornado.  These amateur storm chasers also clog up the roads often blocking them which is dangerous!  Here is a video of an amateur storm chaser actually wanting a tornado to go right over him.

The professional storm chasers are very helpful in getting the warning out.  They also storm chase for the science as well.  Several sheriffs and government officials are wanting to end the storm chaser profession because they say it has gotten too dangerous.  But I don’t support that decision.  I believe there has to be a way to distinguish the real storm chasers to the ones who do it for the fame.  Some people have talked about giving the professional storm chasers a license.  I would support something like the National Weather Service giving out a storm chaser license to the professional storm chasers.  That way the police can get the amateur storm chasers off the roads.   If the police has to arrest the storm chasers who have no business on the roads, then so be it!

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Storm chasers can only do so much to warn the public about tornadoes.  The public also has to be weather aware!  Often after tornado events, you will hear someone say they got no warning.  And then I look down upon myself in shame!  Out in Oklahoma, the news helicopters film the tornadoes from the sky and you will often see people out driving around like it’s a bright sun shining day.  During the Oklahoma event tornado event on May 31st, KFOR-TV was actually telling people to drive south if they had no shelter.  This clogged up the roads and interstates.  If this tornado was an EF-5 like the Moore, OK tornado; many people would have been killed.  This was way over the line!  You should never drive away from the tornado’s path!

Seriously, we don’t live in fantasy land where the superhero Storm can stop the weather or Rainbow Dash can control what weather we see every day.

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We also don’t live in the world of Sim City where I can control where the tornadoes go.  Until the science of controlling weather is figured out, which will probably never happen.  Everyone has got to be weather aware.  Sadly, some people will never take shelter within a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning unless the tornado or severe thunderstorm is seen on live TV.  During the April 27th tornado outbreak, some people would not take shelter until the tornado was shown live on TV with James Spann talking about it.

I believe there are several types of people in the world of weather.  There are people who will never pay attention to the weather and will tell you to look outside your window to determine the weather.  Believe me, I have met some people who say they never watch the meteorologists on TV and will only take some action when the sky turns dark and scary.  There are some people who will never take action when a severe storm is heading their way.  These people have the it can never happen to me attitude.  How dangerous is that!  Then there are people who will never take action until there is visual footage of that tornado heading their way.  They don’t care if they are under a tornado warning, they will continue their business until someone out in the field shows the tornado on live TV.

To those people who does not care about weather.  I have a couple of quick and simple solutions for you!  First, you need to watch a 30 minute local newscast every day!  It does not matter if it’s during the morning, midday, 5 pm, or 10 pm.  You have the time to watch 30 minutes of your local news, weather, and sports every day.  Don’t give the excuse that you have no time, you have time!  Second, pay attention on severe weather days!  If you get placed under a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch, watch the weather.  Watches are issued for a reason, severe weather could be heading your way and you need to be on guard.  Third, have a way to receive warnings!  In Alabama, you can sign up for free weather alerts through Alabama Saf-T-Net.  To sign up go to: http://alabamasaftnet.com/

I am trained to go out and monitor storms when severe weather threatens Alabama and Georgia.  I have taken photos and video of severe weather and will continue to do so!  I know what to expect while monitoring storms, most likely you don’t.  So please, don’t risk your life and go storm chasing during severe weather!  To wrap up this post, I will leave you with the words of Mike Bettes during one of his Open Mike segments.  He talked about if storm chasers have gone too far.  This is something to think about.

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