3 veteran storm chasers killed by Oklahoma tornado

Three veteran storm chasers were among the 10 people killed when a violent tornado barreled into the Oklahoma City metro area.

Jim Samaras told The Associated Press on Sunday that his brother Tim Samaras, 54, of Bennett, Colo., was killed Friday. Tim Samaras’ son, 24-year-old Paul Samaras, also of Bennett; and another chaser, Carl Young, also died.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it believed the deaths were the first time scientific researchers were killed while chasing tornadoes. The Samaras’ and Young were pursuing an EF3 tornado as it bore down on a metropolitan area of more than 1 million people.

“He looked at tornadoes not for the spotlight of TV but for the scientific aspect. At the end of the day, he wanted to save lives and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for that,” Jim Samaras said.

The classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” fascinated a then-6-year-old Tim Samaras, his brother said — not for the magical Emerald City, but by what took Dorothy there, the storm.

“He didn’t give a crap about Toto, he didn’t give a crap about the munchkins,” Jim Samaras said.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a statement Sunday, saying it was terribly saddened by Tim Samaras’ death.

“Samaras was a respected tornado researcher and friend … who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography,” the center’s statement said.

Tim Samaras had appeared on the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” show until last year and also contributed to the National Geographic Society.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Samaras his son Paul and their colleague Carl Young. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families,” Discovery Channel spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said.

The channel planned to dedicate a show Sunday night to the three men, capping the broadcast with a tribute that will read: “In memory of Tim Samaras, Carl Young and Paul Samaras who died Friday, May 31st doing what they love, chasing storms.”

Jim Samaras said his brother, nephew and their colleague were dedicated to avoiding trouble while chasing storms, and that the family wasn’t worried about whether he was taking care of himself.

“I don’t know if I would say I worried about it because one of the biggest things he stressed was safety. He knew what to look for. He knew where not to be and in this case the tornado took a clear turn toward them,” he said.

Video taken by a number of storm chasers showed debris pelting vehicles Friday. Winds swept one vehicle with a crew from The Weather Channel off the road, tossed it 200 yards and flipped it into a field — they escaped major injury.

Jim Cantore, a Weather Channel meteorologist, tweeted Sunday that meteorologists were in mourning.

“This is a very sad day for the meteorological community and the families of our friends lost. Tim Samaras was a pioneer and great man,” he wrote.

In Canadian County, Okla., where the men died, Undersheriff Chris West noted the three were hoping to help understand violent storms.

“They put themselves in harm’s way so that they can educate the public about the destructive power of these storms,” he said.

The men worked as a team and Tim Samaras had received 18 grants from the National Geographic Society for work in the field.

“Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning in the field in an effort to better understand these phenomena,” the society said on its website. “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.”

The Storm Prediction Center said scientific storm chasing is performed as safely as possible, with trained researchers using appropriate technology. It encouraged all, including the media and amateurs, to chase safely to avoid a repeat of Friday’s deaths.

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Kissel reported from Little Rock, Ark.; Peipert reported from Denver. Associated Press Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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