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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Quoting HurricaneHunterJoe:
Looking at satellite loops....looks like the just north of cancun circulation blew itself out/ and a new and larger circulation has got some spin/turning SSE of Cancun?

there is one in the gulf of honduras as well as I said earlier its a trof of low pressures plus monsoon trof so there is likely to be several spin ups
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12423
Only SHFR
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550. DDR
Good evening
Raining by the buckets in parts of north Trinidad,expecting about 3-4 inches by this time tomorrow.
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Yeah I like HurricaneDean07.It was a beautiful hurricane to track..until it ran into Mexico..
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17481
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

:(

That happened with Stormpulse.com Too. ;( It was a great website until they made a couple upgrades and made it to where you had to pay to be a member. Went to check and see what has happened the past year since I left the site, and they've put memberships upwards of $500! Insanity!
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A new blog post regarding 91L and an update to my forecast from last blog. Hopefully it's simple enough to understand and if I made a mistake, correct it for me please. Also, make sure you leave a comment :) Thanks!

Bluestorm5's Blog

Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8041
Quoting BahaHurican:
I think kid's gotten better with time. And, contrary to some people's view, he's gotten better at commenting on systems NOT likely to impact the Caymans... ;o)

Frankly it's up to the kid to make himself sound more reasonable. However, that's no reason to act as if every single thing he says is crazy.

hey Baha just to let you know I'm not a kid a matter of fact haven't been one for a few years :)
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12423
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

That appears to be the case, unfortunately. Guess I'll be finding another site to look at model data.

:(
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No don't go Dean! Don't change your handle, keep it, I think a lot of us agree we like this one.
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Quoting ncstorm:


dont the wind shear maps only go out to 3 hours?


Models intensity like SHIPS evaluates patterns like the wind shear, relative humidity , SST ect, clearly the main problem for the system will be the shear, because the GOM is already with 28°C plenty of warm to support any kind of tropical cyclone!!!
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Looking at satellite loops....looks like the just north of cancun circulation blew itself out/ and a new and larger circulation has got some spin/turning SSE of Cancun?
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

That appears to be the case, unfortunately. Guess I'll be finding another site to look at model data.


So will I..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039
Quoting kmanislander:


Good to see you too. Happy blogging this season :-)


Glad to see you kman! I always pay attention to your posts.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11425
Quoting wunderkidcayman:
I know there will be times that this year people will hate me more so when they find out I'm right


uhhh i tried to help ya out... :|
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Quoting galvestonhurricane:
Any high school graduates on here? And, are you going to major in meteorology?
You missed an EXCELLENT discussion here earlier this week on this very topic.... maybe tropix chat w/ some of the others?

Very exciting to see some more of our "cadet" class moving forward... lol

Quoting kmanislander:
Cayman doppler radar ribbon cutting ceremony
Hey, kman. Good to see you. I'm trying not to be too envious of the Caymans and JA with new radars... dunno when ours'll be replaced here. :o/
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22565
537. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting BahaHurican:



This looks like around 100 chase vehicles in the tornado warned area on Friday afternoon. Is that normal, or were there more chasers than usual that afternoon?


This is alot compared to average. I think the location was convenient to many, it was expected to occur there that day on a multi-day outbreak which tends to bring out more chasers, kinda in the height of the spring tornado research for this year.. It unfolded in that spot in a way & time that got them to flock there. Maybe another odd in the stack of misfortune that made this a dangerous storm to chase.
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Looks like "whatever" becomes "something" off the east coast.Perhaps more favorable conditions.It's to early for this crap -_- Sandy wasn't that long ago.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17481
Quoting BahaHurican:
I think kid's gotten better with time. And, contrary to some people's view, he's gotten better at commenting on systems NOT likely to impact the Caymans... ;o)

Frankly it's up to the kid to make himself sound more reasonable. However, that's no reason to act as if every single thing he says is crazy.

thanks Baha

Quoting kmanislander:


Good to see you too. Happy blogging this season :-)

hey Kman spoke with the boss the Radar should be up this week coming the boss was pretty angry that it was not up by the 1st but he said it should be up in the week
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12423
Quoting ncstorm:


Thanks TA! We got to pay now to view the models??

That appears to be the case, unfortunately. Guess I'll be finding another site to look at model data.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32524
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
ncstorm, I'm not sure if you've saw, but Allan's webpage is back up. It got a new design.

Link

Sarcasm Flag: ON(*Jasoniscoolman moment*) WOWWWWWW!!!!!! THATS A BIG UPGRAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway. That's a major upgrade for the better for the site. Great to see. :)
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Quoting HurricaneDean07:
\
Exactly. Im using a new Account with my actual name... For the purpose of not hiding behind a fake name anymore. I plan to make a career of my passion for weather. So why not?

Ah ok, yeah I say go with it.

Oh and post, lol. Gotta love autocorrect right!
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7958
531. beell
Quoting ScottLincoln:

Pretty much normal these days, especially for big setups in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The area where Samaras was killed was just east of the main pack, between the "C" in Union City and I-40.


If the earlier report of the search area at the intersection of Radio Rd and (edit) NW 10th is correct, they were approx 1.5 miles S of I40. Just east of the NE tracking storm and not far from where it made the hard right to the east and parallel to I40.
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I am out for tonight. See you all tomorrow.

Good night
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
ncstorm, I'm not sure if you've saw, but Allan's webpage is back up. It got a new design.

Link


Thanks TA! We got to pay now to view the models??
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039
ncstorm, I'm not sure if you've saw, but Allan's webpage is back up. It got a new design.

Link
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32524
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
Sorry haven't been commenting, been +1ing on my new account but I have to wait one more hour to be able to comment on the other account. After that, this account is gone. Good to see you on Kman. :)

Welcome back everyone! Let's make it a Great Hurricane Season (Well, You Know, the best it can possibly be) and keep the Troll spray on standby. Remember to -, ! and Ignore User if they are disrupting the blog.

I'll comment on this account a little longer, until my other account is freed up to comment. :)


Good to see you too. Happy blogging this season :-)
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12z Euro
96 hours




Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039
Quoting wxchaser97:

So you're still going to leave this account up though, right? So you can still archive you blogs and such, but just never use it to past again.
\
Exactly. Im using a new Account with my actual name... For the purpose of not hiding behind a fake name anymore. I plan to make a career of my passion for weather. So why not?
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Quoting ncstorm:


last year though, he got many right..took a lot of heat on this blog..
I think kid's gotten better with time. And, contrary to some people's view, he's gotten better at commenting on systems NOT likely to impact the Caymans... ;o)

Frankly it's up to the kid to make himself sound more reasonable. However, that's no reason to act as if every single thing he says is crazy.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22565
I know there will be times that this year people will hate me more so when they find out I'm right
Member Since: June 13, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 12423
Quoting HurricaneDean07:
Sorry haven't been commenting, been 1ing on my new account but I have to wait one more hour to be able to comment on the other account. After that, this account is gone. Good to see you on Kman. :)

Welcome back everyone! Let's make it a Great Hurricane Season (Well, You Know, the best it can possibly be) and keep the Troll spray on standby. Remember to -, ! and Ignore User if they are disrupting the blog.

I'll comment on this account a little longer, until my other account is freed up to comment. :)

So you're still going to leave this account up though, right? So you can still archive you blogs and such, but just never use it to post again.
Member Since: March 16, 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7958
Quoting docrod:



Oh wow. Pleased you let me know. I am about to post my radar links to our office (Fl Keys) tomorrow morn but mentioned the pending operations in your area. Glad to hear from you ... good eve - Rod
Cayman doppler radar ribbon cutting ceremony
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Quoting stormchaser19:
Wow, this shows you how strong the wind shear will be for 91L


dont the wind shear maps only go out to 3 hours?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039
Quoting ScottLincoln:

Pretty much normal these days, especially for big setups in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The area where Samaras was killed was just east of the main pack, between the "C" in Union City and I-40.
I noticed that. I was commenting earlier that a large number of the automobile fatalities happened between there and the interstate to the NE...

There were 1/2 dozen vehicles in the area... wonder how the other chasers fared.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22565
Quoting stormchaser19:
Wow, this shows you how strong the wind shear will be for 91L

Going to be difficult. Im giving it a 40% chance of developing into a Tropical Cyclone. This, in all odds, will likely not become Andrea.
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Evening gang - post on !! - Rod
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


He does this May through November. I can tell you many stories. He his famous on here for his forecasts.
You don't have to tell me what I already know. Note I never said, "Don't say that!" My comment was "Wait until July." In June and November, kid will pick up on the WCar disturbances that are likely to form.

Give him his head in June, when such systems are climotologically favored. July to October, he can get slammed just the way the rest of us do when we say something off the wall.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22565
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


He got a lot wrong. I mean a lot.


I dont remember it that way..Ernesto in fact he got tore to pieces on here but he ended up being right..some bloggers never apologize on that one..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039
Sorry haven't been commenting, been +1ing on my new account but I have to wait one more hour to be able to comment on the other account. After that, this account is gone. Good to see you on Kman. :)

Welcome back everyone! Let's make it a Great Hurricane Season (Well, You Know, the best it can possibly be) and keep the Troll spray on standby. Remember to -, ! and Ignore User if they are disrupting the blog.

I'll comment on this account a little longer, until my other account is freed up to comment. :)
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Quoting kmanislander:


Doppler radar up and running now but no internet link as yet I believe. Will check and let you know.

The ribbon cutting was about 6 weeks ago.



Oh wow. Pleased you let me know. I am about to post my radar links to our office (Fl Keys) tomorrow morn but mentioned the pending operations in your area. Glad to hear from you ... good eve - Rod
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Any high school graduates on here? And, are you going to major in meteorology?
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Quoting Dragod66:
why is errbody hating on the caymans? if ya disagree ignore it. simple as that!


I am not hating on the Caymans. Odd post.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11425
Shear is gradually decreasing.


Member Since: May 28, 2013 Posts: 0 Comments: 407
Wow, this shows you how strong the wind shear will be for 91L
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Quoting Dragod66:
why is errbody hating on the caymans? if ya disagree ignore it. simple as that!

Nobody's hating on anyone. I was quite literally just asking him to try to limit those kind of posts this year. No disrespect intended.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 32524
Quoting docrod:


Agreed - hence my earlier sigh.

need to pm you later - nothing urgent - just looking for an update on your local Doppler radar I asked about years ago. Very wet here. - logging out now.


Doppler radar up and running now but no internet link as yet I believe. Will check and let you know.

The ribbon cutting was about 6 weeks ago.
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:
Baha Re #486

Remove the "s" from https

and it will display
I thought I had.... :o/

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22565
Quoting ncstorm:


last year though, he got many right..took a lot of heat on this blog..


He got a lot wrong. I mean a lot.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11425
Quoting kmanislander:
Good evening all

91L a non event for now. High shear dominates the area. The NHC position looks good to me with the buoy near 20 / 85 reporting WNW winds. The broad low would be N of there just on or near the N tip of the Yucatan. See data below

Wind Direction (WDIR): WNW ( 290 deg true )
Wind Speed (WSPD): 17.5 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 21.4 kts

Steering is very weak so do not expect much in the way of motion in the near term.



Agreed - hence my earlier sigh.

need to pm you later - nothing urgent - just looking for an update on your local Doppler radar I asked about years ago. Very wet here. - logging out now.
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why is errbody hating on the caymans? if ya disagree ignore it. simple as that!
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


He does this May through November. I can tell you many stories. He his famous on here for his forecasts.


last year though, he got many right..took a lot of heat on this blog..
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 16039

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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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