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HOLMBERG: Storm chasers got chased, killed by storm

Posted at 12:30 AM, Jun 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-04 00:30:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Perhaps the nation’s best known twister chaser, Tim Samaras, his son 24-year-old son Paul and sidekick Carl Young all died Friday when the El Reno Oklahoma tornado swept up them and their famously high-tech chase vehicle.

Fifteen other people, including at least six children, also died during a series of five rainy tornadoes hit and flooded Oklahoma City.

But the national headlines were reserved for Samaras, whose science-based work with “Storm Chasers” and National Geographic, made him the most respected face in an increasingly crowded field.

Not even two weeks earlier, a monster tornado killed two dozen and injured hundreds in Moore, Oklahoma. Not only was it deadly, it was amazingly well filmed, testimony to the legions of storm chasers who flock to tornado-prone regions when the weather looks ripe.

It’s ironic that the most respected, perhaps the most safety-oriented chase crew was the first to die doing it.

Richmond-based storm chaser, Dr. William Hark, was there in El Reno Friday, chasing and filming the storm.

“It was a very large storm and it was moving a bit more erratically than normal,” Hark told CBS-6. “I moved southeast and then dodged suddenly to the northeast . . . it kind of caught a lot of people off guard . . . It sort of amazed me how quickly it came up on me and I had to retreat to the south.”

(You can watch his video here
and see this longtime storm chaser’s other videos and photographs at

But wasn’t it inevitable that those who chase killer tornadoes would eventually perish doing it?

This is our thrill-a-second world, where so many have video cameras and video-capable cell phones to feed hungry networks and cable shows and social networks with the most dramatic video possible – of anything, from fires to fights, crashes to monster storm surf.

I’m reminded of the now all-too-common scene of TV reporters standing in the middle of a storms to show how hard the wind is blowing or how deep the flood has become. It’s just a matter of time before one is killed on live TV.

Dr. Hark said most chasers are careful, respectful of the dangers and the communities they chase through. “What worries me a little bit is all the people who seem to be in kind of a race to see how close they can get to the tornado to get the best video. And sometimes, the best video is not up close.”

Watching some of the tornado chasers’ Youtube videos, you can hear some of them shout in disappointment when a deadly funnel cloud peters out, forgetting that this gentle untwisting might have saved someone’s property and life.

Even with the scientific Samaras, you can hear the excitement in his voice, the hunger to get close, to unlock the mysteries of twisters and lightning.

He and his crew literally chased a tornado to death. Their famous chase vehicle was crushed like a bug, Samaras strapped inside. The bodies of his son and longtime friend were found a good distance away.

Yes, I feel sorry that they died, but I feel a whole lot worse for those who were killed just by being in the path of the storm, instead of rushing into it.

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