The phrase “storm chaser” conjured up an image familiar to us from television and the Internet. Picture a wobbly video, punctuated by the excited shouts of the person behind the camera as he tries to capture a grainy image of a far-off funnel cloud.
To many, the amateur thrill-seekers behind those clips are nothing short of nuts. But most of us have done just a little bit of “storm chasing.” Maybe we snuck out after a tremendous blizzard, just to see the eerily empty streets piled high with snow. Maybe we peeked out the window during a deafening thunderstorm to watch the lightning illuminate the landscape. And who didn’t snap a few photos during the recent floods?
We’re certainly no strangers to serious storms, but the type of weather that recently claimed several lives in Oklahoma is, blessedly, almost unknown to us here. Still, it’s important to remember that the storms we do experience can be just as deadly as their bigger, badder cousins in other parts of the country. And it’s worth noting, too, that even the most experienced, prepared and cautious people can still become overwhelmed by the force of nature.
Father-and-son duo Tim and Paul Samaras and their colleague Carl Young, were three such people. With decades of experience between them, these so-called “storm chasers” nevertheless fell victim to the wrath of the massive tornado that struck Oklahoma in late May.
The trio’s death made headlines around the world for a few reasons. One is that they were minor celebrities, having been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” program. But the other, more-important reason their deaths brought so much attention is that they were so good at what they did. And they died, anyway.
Since their death, the team’s colleagues have made an effort to let the world know that, despite the “storm chaser” moniker, the Samarases were trained, experienced professionals who pursued scientific inquiry, not cheap thrills.
“We all know that this is difficult and dangerous and sometimes things go wrong. But I think to portray Tim as just a chaser out for a thrill is just the wrong thing,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said of the elder Samaras. “I just want people to know that Tim was a scientist. He was out there to learn and understand and to make science more understandable.”
We hope the local area never sees a tornado like the one that recently struck Oklahoma. But it would be a mistake to think that we can treat our “little” tornadoes and storms with anything less than the highest level of respect. Careful preparation and responsible reaction to severe weather are our best tools to preserve life.