National Geographic News
Portrait of storm chaser Tim Samaras after a storm.

Severe-storms researcher Tim Samaras was 55.

Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic

Melody Kramer

National Geographic

Published June 2, 2013

Tim Samaras, one of the world's best-known storm chasers, died in Friday's El Reno, Oklahoma, tornado, along with his 24-year-old son, a gifted filmmaker, according to a statement from Samaras's brother.

"They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED," Jim Samaras, Tim's brother, wrote on Facebook, saying that storm chaser Carl Young was also killed. "I look at it that he is in the 'big tornado in the sky.'"

Tim Samaras, who was 55, spent the past 20 years zigzagging across the Plains, predicting where tornadoes would develop and placing probes he designed in a twister's path to measure data from inside the cyclone. (Read National Geographic's last interview with Tim Samaras.)

"Data from the probes helps us understand tornado dynamics and how they form," he told National Geographic. "With that piece of the puzzle we can make more precise forecasts and ultimately give people earlier warnings."

Samaras's instruments offered the first-ever look at the inside of a tornado by using six high-resolution video cameras that offered complete 360-degree views. He also captured lightning strikes using ultra-high-speed photography with a camera he designed to capture a million frames per second. (See stunning videos shot by Samaras.)

Samaras's interest in tornadoes began when he was six, after he saw the movie The Wizard of Oz. For the past 20 years, he spent May and June traveling through Tornado Alley, an area that has the highest frequency of tornadoes in the world. He worked with his son Paul, who was known for capturing cyclones on camera.

The Samaras team used probes that Tim designed to measure the pressure drops within the tornadoes themselves. But the work could be frustrating. Tornadoes developed from only two out of every ten storms the team tracked, and the probes were useful in only some of those tornadoes.

When the probes did work, they provided information to help researchers analyze how and when tornadoes form.

"This information is especially crucial, because it provides data about the lowest ten meters of a tornado, where houses, vehicles, and people are," Samaras once said.

In 2003, Samaras followed an F4 tornado that dropped from the sky on a sleepy road near Manchester, South Dakota. He deployed three probes in the tornado's path, placing the last one from his car a hundred yards ahead of the tornado itself.

"That's the closest I've been to a violent tornado, and I have no desire to ever be that close again," he said of that episode. "The rumble rattled the whole countryside, like a waterfall powered by a jet engine. Debris was flying overhead, telephone poles were snapped and flung 300 yards through the air, roads ripped from the ground, and the town of Manchester literally sucked into the clouds.

"When I downloaded the probe's data into my computer, it was astounding to see a barometric pressure drop of a hundred millibars at the tornado's center," he said, calling it the most memorable experience of his career. "That's the biggest drop ever recorded—like stepping into an elevator and hurtling up a thousand feet in ten seconds."

Samaras received 18 grants for fieldwork from the National Geographic Society over the years.

"Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning in the field in an effort to better understand these phenomena," said Society Executive Vice President Terry Garcia in a statement on Sunday. "Though we sometimes take it for granted, Tim's death is a stark reminder of the risks encountered regularly by the men and women who work for us."

Samaras is survived by his wife Kathy and two daughters. The Samaras family released a statement on Sunday asking for thoughts and prayers for both Tim and Paul:

"We would like to express our deep appreciation and thanks for the outpouring of support to our family at this very difficult time. We would like everyone to know what an amazing husband, father, and grandfather he was to us. Tim had a passion for science and research of tornadoes. 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. Paul was a wonderful son and brother who loved being out with his Dad. He had a true gift for photography and a love of storms like his Dad. They made a special team. They will be deeply missed. We take comfort in knowing they died together doing what they loved. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers."

Kathy Samaras, Amy Gregg, Jennifer Scott

Jim Samaras told 7NEWS in Denver, Colorado, that his brother Tim was "considered one of the safest storm chasers in the business.

"He knew he wasn't going to put him[self], his son, or anyone else that was with him in the line of danger," said Jim Samaras. "He enjoyed it, it's true." Jim went on to praise the technology Tim developed "to help us have much more of an early warning." His brother's passion was "the saving of lives," Jim Samaras reflected, "and I honestly believe he saved lives, because of the tools he deployed and developed for storm chasing."

Other remembrances:

Severe storms photojournalist Doug Kiseling told CNN: "This thing is really shaking up everyone in the chasing community. 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."

Discovery Channel: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young who died Friday, May 31st doing what they love: chasing storms." (Discovery Channel)

7NEWS chief meteorologist Mike Nelson: "Tim was not only a brilliant scientist and engineer, he was a wonderful, kind human being. If anyone could be called the 'gentleman of storm chasing,' it would be Tim. He was iconic among chasers and yet was a very humble and sincere man." (Facebook)

17 comments
dan wesley
dan wesley

One last...don't bring a whimpy piece of equipment into a tornado...you might lose.Truck and what ever in the hell that bubble was.that you were to sacred to get out and deploy....to windy and you might get wet....so sad.

dan wesley
dan wesley

Ok...here we go...I am sorry for the loss...but when you punk out...QUIT at what you do and still continue to attempt to state that you have the onions to go into the teeth of the devil make sure you mean it. The only episodes I ever watched he only cared about the equipment...NOTHING ELSE.NOT A DAMN THING ELSE.Someone please post here who made the move into or near enough to get them all killed...It was not him.......He was at the hotel the morning before telling his team that TODAY IS OUR LAST CHANCE!!!! Then he would pack up his pretty Apple and not  do ANYTHING physical...NOTHING!!!!!!! Again...I am sorry for the loss of life...meaning those that were with him....SAD.


Debi Daly
Debi Daly

If the wife and mother ever reads this, I would like to tell you that they are with you all the time.  Talk to them.  They can hear you but cannot talk back.  They are in spirit form.  However, until Jesus returns to take us all to the place that he "went to prepare" we are all hovering around watching our loved ones.  Please know you will be reunited with them soon.  God bless you lady, wherever you are...

Debi Daly
Debi Daly

If the wife and mother ever reads this, I would like to tell you that they are with you all the time.  Talk to them.  They can hear you but cannot talk back.  They are in spirit form.  However, until Jesus returns to take us all to the place that he "went to prepare" we are all hovering around watching our loved ones.  Please know you will be reunited with them soon.  God bless you lady, wherever you are...

B. Stojan
B. Stojan

Big damage! His programs were excellent.

Why not use big heavy car?


Igor Kolosha
Igor Kolosha

Sad news indeed and he will no doubt be missed, but he died doing something he loved. I can only hope for the same.

Uma Shankar
Uma Shankar

OMG! I  had just posted his tornado formation on my FB, his capture,  showing the world its formation during the Oklahoma disaster so overwhelmingly. I can't believe!!!May HIM & HIS TEAM have a joyous ride to the HEAVENS!

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

Truly a courageous team. It will be difficult to find another group as willing and inventive to follow in their tracks. RIP all!

Kakha Khmelidze
Kakha Khmelidze

OMG what a sad news omg...

a few months ago I read an excellent article about this person! R.I.P. TIM!

Jackie Stubbs
Jackie Stubbs

My prayers go out to the families of these brave souls who risked there lives for our safety 

Andrea Parrish
Andrea Parrish

My heart is heavy after hearing about the passing of Tim, his son and his chase partner Carl. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Samaras and Young families. Tim was a brilliant man whose passion and perseverance will never be forgotten.

Mark Lassman
Mark Lassman

@Debi Daly Yes, one's loved ones, after they pass away, ARE always with us, at least in our memories. However, the bulk of your statement makes the presumption that this family believes as you do. Maybe they do. I don't know. If they do believe as you do,  your statement is not out of line. 

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