Among the at least nine people killed by the tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma on Friday night were 55-year-old Tim Samaras, his son, 24-year-old Paul Samaras, and 45-year-old Carl Young. The three were part of the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment (TWISTEX) team, which the elder Samaras founded to measure tornadoes’ strength and improve warning times for the storms. The group’s work was featured in National Geographic and on the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers for five seasons. (The New York Daily News ran a story about their exploits in the wake of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado just last month.) Tim Samaras, an engineer by trade, was part of weather-tracking community for 30 years, and friends and colleagues described him as one of industry’s most careful experts.
“Tim was not a cowboy, he was as cautious as possible about his approach to studying these dangerous storms,” explained Mike Nelson, a meteorologist for Denver’s 7NEWS who’d worked with Samaras. And photojournalist and “Weather Paparazzi” Doug Kiesling told CNN, “Tim wasn’t one of the guys that would go up close. He would go into the paths, drop probes, and then get out of the way …We knew this day would happen someday, but nobody would imagine that it would happen to Tim. Tim was one of the safest people to go out there.”
The exact circumstances of the Samarases’ and Young’s deaths aren’t known, though they apparently died near El Reno when an EF3 tornado hit the area with 165 m.p.h. winds during rush hour. CNN reports, “Crews hauled away a mangled white truck Sunday that had been crushed like a tin can” near the intersection where they were found. “The metal frame was twisted almost beyond recognition. The windows had been smashed to bits.” Meanwhile, the authorities are searching for the storm chasers’ missing camera equipment so they can “see what happened and what went wrong.”