The three men were the first professional “Storm Chasers” to be killed by a storm they were chasing. Samaras and his team (Paul was his son) were not thrill-seekers: they were scientists gathering data on tornados to help learn how to predict them more accurately — and sooner. Tim Samaras was the founder of TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment), and he invented instruments designed to be left in the path of a tornado and send back measurements of their characteristics. In 2003, a TWISTEX instrument found that the atmospheric pressure difference between the outside of a tornado and its core was at least 100 hPa (or 100 millibars, which equals 10,000 Pascals) — the largest pressure drop ever recorded, and the drop took less than a minute. Another device he designed: a 1-million-frame-per-second camera that could record the minute details of lightning strikes. The team’s work was funded by the National Geographic Society, which gave Samaras 18 grants over the past decade. The team members sometimes appeared on the TV show Storm Chasers (Discovery Channel, 2007-2012).
The three men were stalking a mile-plus-wide EF-5 tornado in El Reno, Okla., on May 31, driving parallel to its track, when the storm suddenly turned and caught up with Samaras’s car. The smashed car was found on a dirt road after tumbling for about a half mile, said Canadian County undersheriff Chris West. Tim Samaras was still seat-belted inside the car. His son Paul was found a half-mile away, and Young was found a half-mile away in the other direction. All were dead. “Tim had a passion for science and research of tornadoes,” his family said in a statement. “He loved being out in the field taking measurements and viewing mother nature. His priority was to warn people of these storms and save lives.” At least 11 other people were killed by the same tornado, most of them in cars, who could not outrun the rush-hour storm. Tim Samaras was 55, Paul Samaras was 24, and Carl Young was 45.