For a lot of Texans, knowing what to do during a tornado warning is second nature, because when you live in Tornado Alley, you know how deadly and destructive twisters can be.
For many weather professionals and hobbyists, too, Tornado Alley is ground zero for researching some of the nation’s deadliest natural disasters, and a ticket to the greatest thrill ride on Earth.
In Brantley Hargrove’s debut book “The Man Who Caught The Storm,” the author highlights the life of one legendary “tornado chaser” who revolutionized the way we study twisters, and lost his life doing it.
Tim Samaras was an engineer and researcher who had been part of the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers.” When the show was canceled, funding for his research ended, too, and he moved on to different work.
“He was actually pursuing his secondary love, which was lightning,” Hargrove says. “He was a part of this big, federally-funded DARPA research program that was trying to unravel some fundamental mysteries about lightning and other electromagnetic phenomenon.”
On May 31, 2013, Samaras was chasing a storm in Oklahoma, using a vehicle he had designed to carry equipment to take photos of lightning, including one that could take 1 million frames per second. He died in the storm, along with his son and a colleague.
To capture lightning, Hargrove says, it’s necessary to be far from the storm. On that day, he says “all the indicators were pointing to something explosive, and he simply couldn’t resist,”
He was driven, Hargrove says, by curiosity about tornadoes, but also drawn to the excitement of the deadly storms.
“I’ve been storm chasing,” Hargrove says. “It is an adrenaline-pumping experience, and once you’ve seen one, you’re never quite the same.”
Hargrove says Samaras made important contributions to storm research, and our understanding of how tornadoes work.
“Prior to Tim coming onto the scene, in the 21st century, we had absolutely no data from the ground level, at the core of a tornado,” Hargrove says. “We just had nothing…and Tim filled that in in 2003. He actually gave us, from a very highly-calibrated, and very dependable instrument, for the first time ever, pressure measurements, temperature, humidity.”
For Samaras, the scientific importance of gathering data went hand-in-hand with his passion for storm chasing.
“I think the data, and Tim’s passion – the desire to be in the presence of extreme storms, I think they were inextricable,” Hargrove says. “I think he was out there because it was what he loved to do. I think he was also trying to get data. And I think his mission made his passion mean something.”
Hargrove says Samaras by no means gave his life willingly, and would certainly not have knowingly taken a fatal risk with others in the car.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.