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 asked this earlier but I cant view Allan Huffman's page for the Euro..I get an error message..anyone else?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
400. 7544
Quoting Tazmanian:


yeap looking at the models you posted fl will get drench in the comin days they wernt too far off after all developing this thing lets see wat happens but it just might go further south imo
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Quoting Andrebrooks:
Guys,I have a blog too about 91L.



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
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Perhaps. Or maybe I'm clairvoyant. Or perhaps I just get really lucky. Or I might just have a friend who feeds me the info early. Or maybe i work there myself... ;-)


Lol...No, you posted last season you did make a program that notified you of any changes on the ATCF page. Now go make me a pie!
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Guys,I have a blog too about 91L.
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BRB

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
Quoting 7544:


lol now for the models runs nne?





seems like it keeps it at TD i think 91L has a ch at 40mph TS may be 50
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Gone for a few hours and we have 91L.
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392. 7544
Quoting Tazmanian:
and here you have it 91L

AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 25, 1009, DB,


with 25kt winds


lol now for the models runs nne?
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Not sure that would make him happy, :o) but I bet he's getting a lot of the answers we're still looking for....

The only person who saw it first before Taz, ever, is Grothar. ;o)

@ Taz... r u keeping the invest log again this year? I find it interesting that we have had 2 in 2 days...



yes
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I just finished a blog on Invest 91L for those interested:

Link

Looks like Florida is going to get soaked.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 11 Comments: 2448
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.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CybrTeddy:


He's in a place with far more rainbows and less bad weather now.
Not sure that would make him happy, :o) but I bet he's getting a lot of the answers we're still looking for....

Quoting Thrawst:


you seen nothing 1st
The only person who saw it first before Taz, ever, is Grothar. ;o)

@ Taz... r u keeping the invest log again this year? I find it interesting that we have had 2 in 2 days...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
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Made a blog post on 91L (40 mins ago before it got designated). Sorry for being late on informing all of you, but anyone who wants to should drop by.
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and here you have it 91L

AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 25, 1009, DB,


with 25kt winds
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Thrawst:


you seen nothing 1st




LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:
Perhaps. Or maybe I'm clairvoyant. Or perhaps I just get really lucky. Or I might just have a friend who feeds me the info early. Or maybe i work there myself... ;-)
All of the above?

lol
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
Quoting Tazmanian:




i saw that 20% blob 1st


you seen nothing 1st
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91L
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


20 kts, it's a 25mph disturbance.
Ok, thank you for answering :)
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8041
Quoting Bluestorm5:
20 knots or 20 mph? Forgot which is which...


20 kts, it's a 25mph disturbance.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
This is a fantastic photo:



Wonder if his son took that.


He's in a place with far more rainbows and less bad weather now.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Really not fair Nea...You have a program that alerts you.
Perhaps. Or maybe I'm clairvoyant. Or perhaps I just get really lucky. Or I might just have a friend who feeds me the info early. Or maybe i work there myself... ;-)
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Tornado-chasing according to Tim Samaras:

That's the secret—you need people who are compatible. And of course, showering regularly is a good thing too.

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
374. Mikla
The blob has some things going for it:
- Anti-cyclone above
- OK, but not great SSTs
- Decent convergence, divergence and vorticity
- Appears to be lots of moisture
- On RGB, if you squint just right and stare for awhile you kinda...sorta see some kind of rotation at the low/mid level.

But high shear and dry air to the North is against it for now. It'll have to work pretty hard to become anything other than a windy rain event as it moves NNE or so.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


There we have it, 91L.



2nd invest of the season things are heating up
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Last thing: If anybody would like to see some nice and calm impressions from some of the volcanic lakes in western Germany (Eifel) where we've spend the last days, have a look at my blog. But it's not important at all. The heavy stuff is taking place in southeastern Germany right now with all the flooding. Maybe record braking ...
Now I'm out. A nice and safe week to everybody!
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Voila!

BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_al912013.invest
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201306030025
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
INVEST, AL, L, , , , , 91, 2013, DB, O, 2013060300, 9999999999, , , , , , METWATCH, , AL912013
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 20, 0, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,
20 knots or 20 mph? Forgot which is which...
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8041
Quoting Neapolitan:
Voila!

BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_al912013.invest
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201306030025
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
INVEST, AL, L, , , , , 91, 2013, DB, O, 2013060300, 9999999999, , , , , , METWATCH, , AL912013
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 20, 0, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,


Really not fair Nea...You have a program that alerts you...PR just refreshes.
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Quoting Levi32:
Good evening, all. It's hard to talk about other things in the midst of the saddening news of fatalities due to the recent tornadoes, but we do have tropical activity that will affect Florida and the southeast U.S. this week.

Tropical Tidbit for Sunday, June 2nd, with Video

thanks levi!
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Voila!

BEGIN
NHC_ATCF
invest_al912013.invest
FSTDA
R
U
040
010
0000
201306030025
NONE
NOTIFY=ATRP
END
INVEST, AL, L, , , , , 91, 2013, DB, O, 2013060300, 9999999999, , , , , , METWATCH, , AL912013
AL, 91, 2013060300, , BEST, 0, 220N, 868W, 20, 0, DB, 0, , 0, 0, 0, 0,


There we have it, 91L.
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Woo-hoo! The big squall line is moving through. I just saw lightning...no, it was that strobe light on the cell tower. Wait, I just heard thunder...dang, it's the dog knocking over the trash can...get away from that trash, you dumb dog. Well, at least we're getting a gully washer, we're up to... .02 inches...well, rats!
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Quoting 7544:
looks like our 20% blob wants to go more nne than north imo




i saw that 20% blob 1st
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You beat me Nea!
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14565
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,
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This is a fantastic photo:



Wonder if his son took that.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
Quoting HurricaneHunterJoe:


Some nice wind speed, but no circulation.
Member Since: October 20, 2012 Posts: 7 Comments: 2873
Quoting txjac:


Removed ...
Made a joke and then realized what the blog was about so I removed it
I did laugh, though.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
National Geographic: Pictures of Storm Chaser Tim Samaras, Who Has Died
Rest in peace!

And good night from Germany.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Thanks, Levi. We're pretty glad u made it okay and that your vehicle wasn't one of the ones severely impacted by those Friday tornadoes. I guess you are getting quite an introduction to severe wx, tornado alley style...


To say the least...
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358. txjac
Quoting weatherh98:


Now you're talking lawsuits against the government though. It would be better to make them sign a waver making sure they know what they are getting into and they are risking their lives.


Removed ...
Made a joke and then realized what the blog was about so I removed it
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Member Since: September 18, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 5237
356. 7544
looks like our 20% blob wants to go more nne than north imo
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Quoting daddyjames:


Close, but not quite right. The "hard soil" would be in the Joplin area, as it is part of the Ozark plateau and the si0l is extremely rocky.

OK soil has a huge clay content - causing to expand and contract greatly depending on the amount of water it has and how warm it gets. It also retains water very well, as well as having a high water table. The self-promoting construction companies say they can do it, and it is possible. But, it is expensive to build and maintain basements in most of OK, especially in the region being hit.

However, above ground shelters have been doing extremely well, and is backed by research, and are less expensive to build and maintain.

Oklahoma tornadoes: Above ground shelters stood up in face of EF5 Moore tornado
Researchers who toured Moore after the May 20 tornado said aboveground storm shelters held up well in the storm and can be a better choice than underground storm cellars.

Yeah, knew I was missing something. I just hope these aboveground shelters will be a thing one day.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8041
Quoting BahaHurican:
Hey, blue... u guys under warnings again? seems like it's raining all over the world... except at SAR's house...


No, I'm in Nova Scotia, but there's a forecast of t-storms here too, after midnight. This is the second evening in the past three that Québec, Maine and NB have got hammered. 15,000 lost power around Québec City on Friday, and there was flooding.
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Quoting ncstorm:


If I knew a F5 tornado was coming and it was coming north, Im going to head SW..those homes and schools in Moore were obliterated and those people knew it was at least an F4..good luck on taking that chance and riding it out even in a brick building in a bath tub..at least in a car heading AWAY from the tornado, you stand a better chance..
All good, but how do you know which direction is AWAY from the storm? How do you know you aren't leaving your house to get away from one storm, only to get hit by another in your car? As I said earlier, the met was telling people to drive south, which put them in the path of the two later tornadoes...

Think I'll take my chances with the hurricanes.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22575
Quoting Bluestorm5:
As we learned after Moore tornado, there wasn't many basements in Oklahoma due to "high water table" and "hard soil". Only 2% in Moore got basements and 15% got storm cellar.

EDIT: However, construction companies said basements is possible in Oklahoma as they figured out the ways to break through hard soil and prevent water damage.



Close, but not quite right. The "hard soil" would be in the Joplin area, as it is part of the Ozark plateau and the soil is extremely rocky.

OK soil has a huge clay content - causing it to expand and contract greatly depending on the amount of water it has and how warm it gets. It also retains water very well, as well as having a high water table. The self-promoting construction companies say they can do it, and it is possible. But, it is expensive to build and maintain basements in most of OK, especially in the region being hit.

However, above ground shelters have been doing extremely well, is backed by research, and are less expensive to build and maintain.

Oklahoma tornadoes: Above ground shelters stood up in face of EF5 Moore tornado
Researchers who toured Moore after the May 20 tornado said aboveground storm shelters held up well in the storm and can be a better choice than underground storm cellars.

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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.

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