After having time to digest the news that broke Sunday morning of Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague, Carl Young’s death during the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado, I wanted to publish my thoughts. Since the implementation of still-photography, individuals have chased thunderstorms and tornadoes, and as technology has advanced, so has the number of “storm chasers”. The range of people who call themselves “chasers” is vast…from single mothers to doctors to school teachers to meteorologists and scientists. Some do it for fun, some do it for scientific reasons, yet some do it for profit. Whatever demographic one belongs to, he or she must realize the inherent risks that come along with storm chasing.
Those that know me, know that I used to chase storms. I only did it when the opportunity presented itself and was never serious about the practice. Sure, I invested money in the craft in the form of computer software and related items, but I never wanted to make a living chasing storms. Was it fun? Absolutely…it was addicting. I had great chase partners that instilled in me a fascination for Mother Nature’s power, but also provided me with the knowledge of what NOT to do. There were countless times we found ourselves underneath tornado-warned storms hoping to bag a tornado, but we were always sure not to get too close (which to this day is debatable). We always ensured we had an “exit strategy” in place in the event Mother Nature didn’t exactly cooperate.
As amateurs, we KNEW the risks, yet we enjoyed what we did. Professional storm chasers know these risks as well, yet they enjoy what they do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t keep investing thousands of dollars of their own money into their craft. Professional chasers knowledge of the atmosphere can sometimes rival the knowledge of scientists that have spent their entire career studying it.
The question then arises, “Well, how can three of the most well-known and respected storm chasers be killed?” It’s an interesting and intriguing question. Since the news broke, I’ve read articles online and viewed news reports, and according to some of the mainstream media, the blame for such a tragedy lies directly on those that were killed. Anyone with zero knowledge of the subject matter can arbitrarily place blame, but until one has been IN the situation — in the field chasing storms — he or she has no idea what these storm chasers go through. A portion of the general public has even gone so far as to call these guys “glory hounds”.
Tim, Paul, and Carl were scientists. Their research through the years has helped in the advancement of tornado warnings and tornadic study, and has subsequently saved hundreds — if not thousands — of lives. They were not “glory hounds” and were not acting irresponsibly in the field. The tornado that ended up taking their lives unexpectedly changed track as it’s intensity strengthened. There is no way that these guys could’ve foreseen the track shift. To label these guys as “glory hounds” is irresponsible, idiotic, and disrespectful. Their death has sent ripples through the meteorological community and they will be missed. These were good men who died doing what they loved…storm chasing with the singular intent of helping the scientific community better protect the population.
Tim, Paul, Carl….you will forever be missed, but you have left your mark on all of us. We will NEVER forget you.