Last Friday Oklahoma was inundated with another round of tornadoes. Through the weekend we learned of a mother and her child being sucked out of their car and killed as well as veteran storm researchers Tim Samaras, his son Paul and Carl Young. Every life lost is as valuable as the last but Tim Samaras was a face a lot of us came to know and respect.
The deaths of these storm researchers as well as the close call experienced by The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes and his team have already caused a debate about Storm Chasing. CNN was already asking if we should have people out chasing these storms. If anyone followed the TWISTEX team or the career of Tim Samaras they would know he was an extremely cautious scientist. He was one of the safest Storm Chasers in the field. I have been a fan of his for years now and watched him and Carl Young as they both starred on The Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers with another well-known chaser Reed Timmer. I believe everyone in Falls City will remember when Reed and his team came through a few years ago in the “Dominator.”
Tim Samaras was unlike the wild and unpredictable Reed Timmer. Samaras holds the world record for “measuring the lowest barometric pressure drop (100 millibars) inside of a tornado that destroyed the town of Manchester S.D., on June 24, 2003. His team didn’t drive into tornadoes. They placed cameras and probes designed and built by Samaras in the path of these deadly and destructive storms to measure wind speeds and get a better knowledge of how and why storms do what they do. He was in it purely to get a better understanding of why some thunderstorms produce tornadoes while others don’t. His death affirms that we still don’t know why or how tornadoes work and that they can be very unpredictable. I hope the backlash of his death slows down as people come to know the man who was always extremely cautious of his team and his own safety. We may never know how tornadoes work, but now more than ever we need a team out there in the field researching and getting those warning times up. Men like Timmer and Samaras do a job I certainly wouldn’t want. They keep an eye on these storms, follow them and call in the warnings we so desperately need. Thank them, don’t condemn them. They gave their lives for scientific research. If they want to put themselves in harms way to keep us safer, that is certainly their decision. The discussion right now should be on why tornadoes like the one in El Reno followed the path it did. The track this tornado took many who had spent years studying tornadoes by surprise. We should value the time and information these men provided us. Because of people like Samaras and Young we get warnings days ahead of time for the potential of bad weather.
In our household we have a great appreciation and interest in the weather. We have developed a fondness for all of these storm spotters. Unlike television “characters” they were real, they taught us something. Besides being a fan of Samaras, I respected him. I was drawn to him. He was incredibly smart. He was my storm-chasing hero. My respect for Tim Samaras led me to start learning more about the weather and not just rely on what people on TV told me. I have taken classes to learn how to read a radar and read the clouds. I went from a kid who sat in the basement closet alone crying, to someone who is certified to call in a storm and more importantly know when to really be scared. My little boy was also huge fan of these guys. Every spring as the weather turns a bit rough, Alex plays Storm Chasers. He declares I am Tim Samaras (the level headed one), he is Reed Timmer (The wild and fun one) and sometimes Brian is Joel Taylor or Carl Young (The sidekick). Those are the type of real life heroes I like him to have. I’ll take him wanting to be like any of these guys over someone who lives in a pineapple under the sea, not that there’s anything wrong with that.