Sunday, June 2, 2013

On the loss of Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young

It was just yesterday afternoon (June 1) that a bunch of "weather weenies" and I were standing around discussing chaser philosophy.  The discussion was prompted by the Oklahoma City/El Reno tornadoes the night before, which at the time we knew had killed 9 people.

The reason chasers were being discussed, however, was because of news that The Weather Channel's own Mike Bettes had been in a TWC chase vehicle that had been rolled by the EF-3 when it made an unexpected hard left turn, catching many chase teams off guard. Multiple videos had also surfaced of chasers seemingly "pushing the limits" in their pursuit of glory.

While Mike was only slightly injured, thank goodness, our informal group agreed that we were getting closer and closer to the day when a chaser would lose their life to their passion, which so far had not happened. In fact, one person commented "I'm surprised it has happened yet this year."  Little did we know that that day had already occurred...

Of the nine confirmed deceased in the Oklahoma City metro on Friday night, three were renowned storm chaser/scientist Tim Samaras, son Paul Samaras, and chase partner Carl Young.  Tim was a veteran tornado, lightning, and hail chaser who had many scientific accomplishments on his record.  He had engineered "turtle" probes that were placed in the path of a tornado in order to get meteorological data from inside the storm. And recently he had worked on "The Kahuna" - a mega-camera housed in a nondescript white trailer that recorded lightning strikes at up to one million frames per second in order to further the science surrounding these magnificent bolts of electricity. Tim holds a Guinness World Record for recording the greatest pressure drop inside a tornado - an astounding 100 millibars - with one of his probes.  Tim and Carl, his chase partner of 10 years, had been featured on Discovery Channel's series "Storm Chasers."

Tim, Paul, and Carl. Photo credit:

Spotters with their GPS's on pay tribute to Tim, Paul , and Carl. Image credit: James Spann.
Last July, I had the distinct pleasure of listening to Tim and fellow chaser Chris Chittick speak at DASCCON-1, a severe weather workshop and conference in Jackson, TN.  I was able to meet Tim as he gave me and several other attendees a tour of "The Kahuna."  It was the first time the mega-camera had been on display to the general public.

Though I was certain I was in the presence of greatness, he was down-to-earth and very easy to talk to and obviously passionate and excited about his newest project. As we walked through the back of the truck where The Kahuna sat, he eagerly described how it worked and the scientific questions he hoped to be able to answer with it - namely filming in ultra-high-speed the moment a lightning strike was born.  This singular experience has given me high respect for his work and Tim as an individual.  He spoke to each and every person that came by, signed autographs, and took pictures with everyone that wanted one with him.

Myself and Tim Samaras at DASCCON-1, July 28, 2012
Below is a very well done tribute video put together by the Day family of northeast MS (@5stormchasers) that includes several pics taken at DASCCON-1.

Rest in peace Tim, Paul, and Carl.  The weather community mourns with your families, but we are confident that by now you have unlocked the secrets of the atmosphere that, with time, you would have discovered on your own through your dedicated research.

Additional links:
National Geographic bio on Tim Samaras
"Storm Chasers" tribute to Tim and Carl
The Weather Channel's tribute to Tim, Paul, and Carl

--Erik Proseus
Owner, Cirrus Weather Solutions, LLC

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