Storm Chaser Retrospective: Remembering Tim Samaras

When you hear the words “storm chaser,” your first thought is likely the image of Tim Samaras. Samaras’ work was pivotal in helping scientists get a better understanding of tornadoes, their movements and the ways we can predict storms more accurately to help save lives.

Samaras was the host of a Discovery Channel show aptly named Storm Chasers, and worked until his death in 2013 to help science better understand the volatile storms he based his career around.

Tim Samaras

His Mission

Tim Samaras dedicated his life to chasing and chronicling storms. For him, storm chasing wasn’t something to undertake lightly. He understood how volatile and dangerous tornadoes are, and made it his life’s goal to make them easier to predict.

To do so, he helped develop advanced sensor equipment that was small and easy to deploy in order to get more accurate data about tornadoes from the ground.

This was important for a number of reasons. Doppler radar can’t tell you about the pressure, temperature or humidity inside a tornado: that’s where ground-level equipment comes in.

However, heavy equipment that takes too long to set up can get the storm chasing researchers killed, and equipment that’s too lightweight will simply be picked up and destroyed by the tornado.

As such, Samaras’ dedication to studying tornadoes from the ground makes sense: it was vital research that remains incredibly dangerous.

His Life

Samaras was born in Lakewood, Colorado. He worked for a research facility throughout the 80’s helping map explosions of high-end weapons systems. After joining a meteorology program in 1990, he began tracking storms, recording their movements, and selling the tapes to local news stations.

By the early 2000’s, in spite of shifting trends among meteorologists, Samaras began deploying his Hardened In-situ Tornado Pressure Recorders, turtle-shaped probes designed to give insight on the interior of a tornado.

It was a mission to deploy such a device that claimed Samaras’ life, and the lives of his son, Paul, and their colleague, Carl Young, on May 31st, 2013. A series of critical events came together to put the three veteran storm chasers in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An unpredictable tornado picked up their car and tossed it aside, ending their lives. Now, over six years later, Samaras’ memory serves as a reminder of how important tornado research is.

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Written by Cameron Norris