Joe’s Wx Blog: The death of Tim Samaras

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Many by now have heard about the death of engineer/scientist/researcher and storm chaser Tim Samaras. He died Friday evening apparently in the tornado in El Reno, OK. We, in the weather field, knew something like this was going to happen one day. I as well as many others have written about it many times before. The funny thing is that of all the chasers who have done this over the many years, his death especially is a surprise. While some chasers take unnecessary risks, Tim was one who put safety above all else it appeared.

For those that remember him from the Discover show Storm Chasers, he was the one who was the calm one and the more laid back one for the last couple couple of seasons. He created a organization/research project called TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in/near Tornadoes EXperiment) which was organized for the research of tornadoes. About 10 years ago, after his invention of a tornado probe, he caught a tornado going right over one of his inventions after many misses and it recorded not only video but also a 100 mb (3″ of mercury on a barometer) pressure drop as the tornado moved over the probe. This was the 1st time over we had information like this.

Why wasn’t the probe sucked up by the tornado. His design of it allowed the actual winds of a tornado to force it down into the ground as the winds blew over the probe. Here is what the video looked like from the Discover Channel.

Tributes are pouring out nationwide for him. Here is a good one from Robin Tanamachi.

The storm chasing community has an interesting way of showing their admiration for Tim as well. People will turn on their GPS units and relay their location to an organization known as The Spotter Network.. Here are the folks in MT remembering Tim. The folks in ND did as well this AM.

The thing about this, and what is more surreal is that Tim wasn’t in this for the money or to get the super close-up shot that I referred to yesterday. He was more into the science of things and the research of things as well.

He was also fascinated by the lightning aspect of storms. It’s something that we have little understanding of and he would invent/create/purchase these HUGE special cameras and tote them around in trucks to photograph is super slow motion the birth of lightning strikes. he achieved that goal by inventing a special camera that shot lightning in 10,000 frames/second. Think about that. Normal video is 30 frames/second. He created something 300+ times faster. Then you had to point the darn thing in the right direction. Take a look at this video…showing the fruits of his labor.

and here he is showing the camera off. Look at the size of that thing. It’s not your ordinary point and click camera. It’s 1600 pounds!

My association with Tim dates back about a decade. I invited him to be a presenter at a KC AMS meeting. One had to do with tornado genesis…then a few years later he came back to KC and presented his lightning research and some of what you see on the above video for the 1st time to the weather community here. He was a very down to earth person and made sure to keep things on a very easy to understand basis for those who we’re as smart as he was. Tim, his son Paul and Carl Young were veteran chasers and certainly were brilliant minds when it came to this stuff and so much more. That’s why their deaths in particular were so surprising to me and it shows the danger in this field.

We’re not sure of all the details about the deaths. There is an effort underway to find the video cameras apparently that may answer some questions. The NWS in Norman, OK put out this video of the radar showing the El Reno, OK tornado.

It’s believed that the tornado’s turn to the NE was what created the situation that unfolded. (graphic courtesy of

My friend and fellow research Jon Davies wrote this today about Tim.


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