Tornado Scientist Tim Samaras and Team Killed in Friday's El Reno, OK Tornado

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:43 PM GMT on June 02, 2013

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Veteran tornado scientist Tim Samaras, his son, environmental photographer Paul Samaras, 24, and meteorologist Carl Young, 45, died while chasing Friday's EF-3 tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma. The tornado killed at least nine people, in total. "Thank you to everyone for the condolences. It truly is sad that we lost my great brother Tim and his great son, Paul," said the brother of Tim Samaras, Jim Samaras, on Tim's Facebook page. "They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED." Tim, his son Paul, and Carl Young were all featured chasers on the Discovery Channel’s series, Storm Chasers, and Tim was known throughout the chase community as a conscientious and safety-minded chaser. Carl Young, who holds a Masters degree in meteorology from the University of Nevada, joined Samaras in the field in 2003. According to his Discovery Channel biography, Young and Samaras chased over 125 tornadoes together: "Carl's finest moment came on June 11, 2004 near Storm Lake, Iowa. Working with Tim, they defied the odds and deployed their probes right in the path of a tornado. The six-camera video probe captured amazing footage from multiple angles while the sensor probe recorded data that revealed just how fast wind speeds are close to the ground."


Figure 1. TWC's Mike ‪Bettes‬ crew caught this image of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado of May 31, 2013 before the tornado caught them and rolled their vehicle. The tornado killed tornado scientists/storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young.


Figure 2. Storm chasers in North Dakota aligned themselves to spell out "T S" in honor of Tim Samaras today. Image credit: spotternetwork.org.

Tornado science loses a pioneer
Tim Samaras had been a tornado scientist for over 25 years. He was the founder of TWISTEX, the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment, a 2011 field experiment designed to help learn more about tornadoes and increase lead time for warnings, which resulted in many peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. One of Tim Samaras' most widely recognized contributions to tornado science is his placement of an aerodynamically-designed probe in the path of an EF-4 tornado near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. The probe measured a world-record pressure fall of 100 mb over a 40 second period.

One of the publications from the TWISTEX program, "Near-Ground Pressure and Wind Measurements in Tornadoes" recounts this close call Tim had in a tornado in 2011: "As the storm approached, the crew noted that the supercell was moving more sharply to the right of its former course, placing them near the projected path of the low-level mesocyclone. The crew drove south on Highway 259, attempting to position south of the low-level mesocyclone before it crossed the highway. With considerable tree cover in this region hampering the visual observation of the storm's features, TWISTEX crews could not position south of the mesocyclone on Highway 259 before the mesocyclone reached this road. Thus, the two mobile mesonet stations, M2 and M3, had an unplanned tornado encounter with a developing tornadic circulation while the mesonet was traveling south on Highway 259."


Figure 3. One of Tim Samaras' most widely recognized contributions to tornado science is his placement of an aerodynamically-designed probe in the path of an EF-4 tornado near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. The probe measured a world-record pressure fall of 100 mb over a 40 second period. See the NWS article and conference paper on the event. Thanks to wunderground member Scott Lincoln for this link.

A storm chasers' nightmare
Cars and tornadoes can prove a dangerous mix even for the world's most experienced storm chasers. Driving at high speeds though heavy rain, large hail, and high winds is hazardous. If one is lucky enough to chase down a tornado, even the most experienced chasers can find themselves in a serious life-threatening situation when unexpected events occur. The exact circumstances of the deaths of Tim Samaras and his team are not clear, but the El Reno tornado was an extremely dangerous one to chase. Tornadoes by their nature are unpredictable, and can change course unexpectedly, or pop up suddenly. It's particularly dangerous when a tornado is wrapped in rain, making it hard to see, or if a chaser is operating in a heavily populated area, where roads may suddenly become congested. All four of these conditions occurred Friday during the El Reno tornado. The El Reno tornado was wrapped in rain and difficult to see as it headed west towards Oklahoma City, and suddenly made a jog to the southeast as a Weather Channel team led by Mike Bettes was attempting to get in front of the storm, and the tornado lifted their vehicle off the ground, rolled it multiple times, and hurled it 200 yards into a nearby field. Austin Anderson was driving the Tornado Hunt vehicle, and suffered several broken bones and was hospitalized. Although Austin will have to undergo surgery in the next few days, doctors say he is expected to make a full recovery. StormChasingVideo.com storm chaser Brandon Sullivan and his chase partner Brett Wright got caught in the tornado northwest of Union City, OK and slammed with debris as the tornado hit a barn that exploded in front of them. Meteorologist Emily Sutton and storm chaser Kevin Josefy of local Oklahoma City TV station KFOR also had a very close call with the El Reno tornado Friday afternoon. They got too close to the tornado, and were forced to floor the car in reverse to escape flying debris. With branches of trees crashing around them, Sutton began feeling debris hitting her back, and realized that the rear windshield of the car must have gotten destroyed. Both were uninjured. Reed Timmer's armor-plated "Dominator" chase vehicle had its hood torn off by the tornado. Wunderground member Levi32 was out storm chasing during the El Reno Tornado, and got stuck in traffic on Highway 4 and couldn't move. "We looked up above the car and saw the wall cloud over top of us, with very quick rotation and rising scud indicating the updraft. We were definitely too close."


Video 1. Severe storm researcher and engineer Tim Samaras talks about his view on tornadoes and what remains to be understood in this interview posted on May 21, 2013.


Video 2. A tornado passes over one of Tim Samaras' specially designed six-camera video probes on June 11, 2004 near Storm Lake, Iowa.

Tornadoes and cars: a dangerous mix
A vehicle is about the worst place you can be in a tornado, as the tornado's winds can easily roll a car. (The only place less safe is probably a mobile home, as a tornado's winds can roll mobile homes almost as readily, and mobile homes don't come with seat belts and air bags.) At least five of the deaths in Friday's El Reno tornado occurred in vehicles. There was one local TV station that urged residents without underground shelters to get in their cars and "get south" in advance of the tornado that was approaching Oklahoma City, since chasers were reporting that the El Reno tornado may have been so strong that only an underground shelter would have provided adequate protection. This terrible piece of advice likely contributed to the incredible traffic jams that we saw on I-35, I-40, I-44, and other local roads Friday night. Thousands of cars were bumper-to-bumper on the roads as a dangerous tornado approached them. Had the El Reno tornado plowed directly down one of these car-choked interstates, the death toll could have easily exceeded 500. If you are located in a metro area and don't have an underground shelter, the best thing to do it to take shelter in an interior windowless room or hallway, with protective furniture over your body. Getting in a car and attempting to flee the tornado is the worst thing you can do in an urban area. You may not be able to see the tornado if it is dark or the tornado is wrapped in rain. You are likely to encounter hazardous winds, rain, and hail, run into unexpected traffic, or flooded or debris-blocked roads that will put you directly in the path of the tornado. Even without an underground shelter, most people will be able to survive a dangerous EF-4 tornado. Case in point: during the Mannsford, Oklahoma EF- 4 tornado of 1984, a packed church received a direct hit, and everyone in the church survived. The only fatality was a man who drove to the church to get his wife. It is often better to abandon your vehicle and take shelter in a ditch, if you are caught in a car during a tornado. However, if there is already flying debris in the air, leaving your car and exposing yourself to the debris in order to get to a ditch may be more hazardous than staying in your car. Furthermore, ditches are prone to flash floods. Four deaths during the El Reno tornado were from a family of seven that sheltered in a drainage ditch, and were washed into the Deep Fork River by a flash flood. Searchers are still looking for the other three bodies. A 2002 research paper, "UNSAFE AT ANY (WIND) SPEED? Testing the Stability of Motor Vehicles in Severe Winds" found that: "The stability and superior safety of being in a vehicle in severe winds, relative to occupying a mobile home or being outdoors, should be considered." Also, TWC's severe weather expert, Dr. Greg Forbes, commented on the pros and cons of abandoning one's vehicle for a ditch in a 2009 blog post, "Tornado Safety - Cars Versus Ditches: A Controversy." His personal take on what he would do if his car was being overtaken by a tornado, and no sturdy buildings were nearby to take shelter in: "I can't see myself getting out of the vehicle. I'd try first to drive away from the tornado. Both the NWS and the American Red Cross actually also advocate this. If you can determine which way the tornado is moving toward, face your body toward that direction and then go to the right, as shown in the diagram below. That is usually toward the south or southeast. The reason that it's best to head this way is that if you went to the left you would normally get into the region where largest hail and blinding rain occur in the kind of supercell, rotating thunderstorms that often spawn tornadoes. If I had no such driving option and I did feel the urge to get out of my car, I'd try to get into a building, and into a ditch well away from the car as the last resort."

My condolences and prayers go to all of the family and friends of Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young. Their deaths are a terrible shock to the meteorological community, and a great loss for tornado science. I hope that their deaths will lead towards safer tornado chasing, and help spur efforts to use emerging drone technology to take measurements in dangerous storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

Jeff Masters

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I am over 100 comments.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
How many bloggers read back before they post?
Depends on if I'm not in a lazy mood.

Please try not to spam the blog..
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17073
I am.
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Are ya'll excited we got 91L.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
How many bloggers read back before they post?
2?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

1009 millibars.
Thanks! Where did you find it so I don't have to ask again.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8027
Quoting Bluestorm5:
What's the minimum pressure for 91L? I need it for my blog.



AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 25, 1009, DB
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So what can we learn?

Talk about burying the lead here but this is very important. There is likely never a perfect tornado procedure that works in every situation in real life. So I suggest that you always look to improve your situation with the time you have.
Scales of tornado shelter, find a way to move your odds up in your favor.

In the perfect world we all can get to #1 within seconds. In reality we are always somewhere in-between. The real question is how many levels can you improve your sheltering situation in a timely manner? Plus are you even aware of how to improve your situation? When it comes to tornado safety and shelter there are always better and worse places to be and you have to try to get to the best one you can to increase your odds of survival. If you have to put yourself in a worse situation to get to a better situation than that’s usually not a good idea. In those cases stay put and do the best you can with the situation you have available to you.

1. #1 Underground bunker, pre-built shelter, custom safe room or large bank vault. These will withstand even a monster EF-5 storm

2. #2 Basement, crawl space or other lowering inside a sturdy structure. The normally are safe in all instance but even here debris can collapse on you causing injury.

3. #3 Interior room with no windows with 2-3 walls between you and the outside in a strong framed structure. In almost all cases you will survive here with minimal injuries. Wearing a helmet will add in survivability.

4. #4 Interior room or bathroom on the lowest level in single story home or lighter constructed building. The building will likely sustain heavy damage but with a helmet or getting in a bathtub survivability is likely.

5. #5 Interior room on lowest level of a weak framed or strong manufactured home. Not a perfect situation but this may be the only choice and while injury is likely with head protection and anchoring survivability is possible. Especially in EF-0 to EF-2 storms.

6. #6 Strong, modern and heavy vehicle with seat belts and airbags trying to drive away from the path of the tornado. This is somewhat controversial but research has shown survivability is likely with modern crash cages and the safety features of modern vehicles. Convertibles or small cars are a no, no. This is not ideal but if you have time and in rural settings driving away can be an option. Especially if you are somewhere lower on this list. (source)

7. #7 Mobile home or weak manufactured home. These are mobile for a reason if a car or truck can tow your home than a 60-7mph wind can move it easily. The overwhelming majority of tornado deaths occur in manufactured homes. Get to a sturdy structure if at all possible but as a last resort interior room may save your life in weaker storms.

8. #8 In a ditch or low-lying area. This was something preached for years by safety officials and as a last resort can help. But water, lighting, wind and debris can still get you in these spots. Try to improve your situation if at all possible.

9. #9 Tents, temporary structures or picnic pavilions. In situations like camping, concerts or festivals get somewhere else fast. These structures provide little to no safety at all and often times the stakes and ropes become deadly missiles in even light winds.

10. #10 Out in the open, walking, running biking with nothing but you and the wind and debris. The worst possible situation to be in. You are betting off laying down or getting in a ditch. Which is far better than this situation. I hope you never find yourself in this situation.


From here.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22307
Quoting Bluestorm5:
What's the minimum pressure for 91L? I need it for my blog.

1009 millibars.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32255
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
How many bloggers read back before they post?

ME!!
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32255
What's the minimum pressure for 91L? I need it for my blog.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8027
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Hope your "grass" grows well. :)
dont get me started on that i never smoke the stuff but am appalled how many are in jail for a plant
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Quoting 7544:


lots of pages but do ;p;lol


I am on the 50-post menu. I review what has been posted and go on from there.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11257
Quoting Andrebrooks:
GO WANNABE ANDREA GO
Andrea before the 5th?
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Quoting wxchaser97:

And if it develops it will be a typical June sheared mess. Lots of rain on the eastern and northern side, like Debby last year. No matter what someone will get a lot of rain.
Quoting wxchaser97:

And if it develops it will be a typical June sheared mess. Lots of rain on the eastern and northern side, like Debby last year. No matter what someone will get a lot of rain.
I just want a name storm to track it doesn`t matter if its a full blown hurricane or a sheared mess. lol I am bored.
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life is so bad sometimes like when you lose great minds too soon.heres to you Tim thank you for your contribution to science and society.
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436. 7544
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
How many bloggers read back before they post?


lots of pages but do ;p;lol
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:
BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_al912013.invest
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201306030034
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
INVEST, AL, L, , , , , 91, 2013, DB, O, 2013060300, 9999999999, , , , , , METWATCH, , AL912013
AL, 91, 2013060206, , BEST, 0, 207N, 875W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060212, , BEST, 0, 212N, 872W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060218, , BEST, 0, 216N, 870W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 25, 1009, DB, 34, NEQ, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1010, 175, 90, 0, 0, L, 0, , 0, 0, INVEST, S,
Quoting Neapolitan:
BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_al912013.invest
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201306030034
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
INVEST, AL, L, , , , , 91, 2013, DB, O, 2013060300, 9999999999, , , , , , METWATCH, , AL912013
AL, 91, 2013060206, , BEST, 0, 207N, 875W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060212, , BEST, 0, 212N, 872W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060218, , BEST, 0, 216N, 870W, 25, 1009, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 25, 1009, DB, 34, NEQ, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1010, 175, 90, 0, 0, L, 0, , 0, 0, INVEST, S,
Finally and these have real chance not like 90L.
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Quoting stormpetrol:


According to these Observations I suspect the actual low is more in the GOH than in the Yucatan , though I could be wrong, I'm just going by the west wind in Rotaan

I've been saying that all day

Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12140
How many bloggers read back before they post?
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11257


91L
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so are any of the gfs or ecw showing any thing that may give us 92L in the next few days too weeks:?
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GO WANNABE ANDREA GO
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91L is also now up on the Navy page.

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428. 7544
Quoting hurricanes2018:
do we have invest 91L YET??
yes
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Quoting hurricanes2018:
do we have invest 91L YET??
Yes.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8027
Quoting hurricanes2018:
do we have invest 91L YET??
yes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
The SHIPS model does not strengthen 91L beyond 30kts, likely due to the 20-40kts of shear indicated by the model in the next 5 days. This will be a fun one to watch but it certainly has an uphill battle. I give it a 40% chance of ever developing.

And if it develops it will be a typical June sheared mess. Lots of rain on the eastern and northern side, like Debby last year. No matter what someone will get a lot of rain.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7948
We'll see how 91L fairs DMAX tomorrow.
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do we have invest 91L YET??
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

I see AmericanWx, not AccuWeather?


I see AmericanWx as well. Nothing about accuweather.
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When y'all meant by chance of development, do y'all meant development into tropical depression right? Just learning little at time.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8027
Quoting ncstorm:


I see Accuweather at the top of the page..did they take over his site?? I hope not..

I see AmericanWx, not AccuWeather?
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32255
Very interesting blogs about Oklahoma and the tragedy.

What we can learn from the tornado tragedy in Oklahoma.

The day that should change tornado actions and storm chasing forever
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Come on 91L! Try a little harder so we can rename you Andrea!
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The SHIPS model does not strengthen 91L beyond 30kts, likely due to the 20-40kts of shear indicated by the model in the next 5 days. This will be a fun one to watch but it certainly has an uphill battle. I give it a 40% chance of ever developing.
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Quoting Tazmanian:



LOL



your blog has nothing about 91L


this is all you have in your blog

Posted by: Andrebrooks, 5:40 PM PDT on June 02, 2013 0
We got invest 91L.


LOL

Now, Taz, not all of your blog posts have been long or even about anything close to the weather... :P


I've been busy all day today so I haven't been able to say anything about today. However, when I first got up and saw Tim Samaras trending I thought maybe he got another record from his probes or something. I was in shock and disbelief when I saw that he, his son, and Carl had passed away. I still can't believe it. He was really the last person I would've though to have been killed by storm chasing. I wish I could've meet him. I send my thoughts and prayers with the Samaras's and Young's.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7948
Floater for 91L is up on SSD page:

Link
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Quoting floridaT:
bring the water i just spreed 2 1/2 acres in grass seed


Hope your "grass" grows well. :)
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11257


According to these Observations I suspect the actual low is more in the GOH than in the Yucatan , though I could be wrong, I'm just going by the west wind in Rotaan
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ncstorm:


now if someone will show me how to track the hurricane hunters during flights, I can officially call myself a pro..LOL



tropicaltidbits.com
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Quoting ncstorm:
I asked this earlier but I cant view Allan Huffman's page for the Euro..I get an error message..anyone else?


same here
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Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SouthDadeFish:
I just finished a blog on Invest 91L for those interested:

Link

Looks like Florida is going to get soaked.
bring the water i just spreed 2 1/2 acres in grass seed
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Quoting Andrebrooks:
Guys,I have a blog too about 91L.

WOW Nice blog, very informative. LOL
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Quoting ncstorm:


I see Accuweather at the top of the page..did they take over his site?? I hope not..


Consider they are owned by the Weather Channel, highly unlikely.
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Quoting Ameister12:
91L


More clouds forming over the low. Also it has some impressive winds in the stronger thunderstorm over 30 mph.
Member Since: May 28, 2013 Posts: 0 Comments: 405
Quoting keithneese:


I just tried and got the error message as well.


I see Accuweather at the top of the page..did they take over his site?? I hope not..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15662
Quoting CybrTeddy:
For the new guys this year, you're going to see this a lot:
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 20, 0, DB

Translated:
AL = Atlantic
91 = Invest or storm designation.
2013060300 = June 3rd, 2013 at 00z.
BEST = Best Track.
220N, 868W = Coordinates.
20 = Intensity of disturbance (in knots)
DB = Disturbance.



now if someone will show me how to track the hurricane hunters during flights, I can officially call myself a pro..LOL
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15662
Quoting ncstorm:
I asked this earlier but I cant view Allan Huffman's page for the Euro..I get an error message..anyone else?


I just tried and got the error message as well.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I asked this earlier but I cant view Allan Huffman's page for the Euro..I get an error message..anyone else?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 15662

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.