Storm History: The 2013 El Reno Tornado

El Reno Tornado

TWISTEX, the research project that was the basis of the film Twister, was on the ground in 2013 for one of the most devastating–and deadly–tornadoes of all time.

On Friday, May 31, 2013, the El Reno Tornado was tearing through rural Oklahoma, part of a huge weather system that had spawned at least a dozen tornadoes. Among the researchers present was legendary storm chaser Tim Samaras. Little did he know that this would be the last storm he’d ever chase.

“The Widest Tornado Ever Seen”

Samaras, made famous by the Discovery TV show Storm Chasers, was a living legend in the community. His dedicated, detail-oriented field research was a huge element in helping researchers get a better grasp of how tornadoes form and move. He also inspired a generation to treat storm chasing with respect and to investigate storms themselves.

As such, it makes sense that he was on the ground for one of the biggest storm systems ever seen in Tornado Alley. The 2013 system was unprecedented, spinning off at least a dozen deadly storms and threatening the Heartland. Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young were there, ready to collect vital research data on the historic storm.

Nothing Goes According to Plan

Let’s speak plainly: Storm chasing is dangerous. Researchers get close to one of the most erratic phenomenons in nature, and they do so with the intention of bringing important information home. It’s frankly surprising that more storm chasers haven’t been killed.

Tragically, Tim and Paul Samaras, as well as Carl Young, were all killed when the surprisingly wide and highly erratic storm caught their vehicle. Their truck was flung a considerable distance before crashing to a stop. This incident would go on to become infamous in the chasing community. It only goes to show that storm chasing is never safe, and it’s never predictable.

What We Can Learn from Samaras’ Legacy

Even the most knowledgeable researchers and experienced chasers can lose their lives in pursuit of storms. When you play close to fire, you run the risk of going up in smoke yourself.

Let Tim Samaras’ legacy of research and storm chasing be educational, as well as a warning: Tornadoes are a dangerous force of nature that deserve respect.

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Written by
Jeremy Liu

Jeremy Liu has always been fascinated by extreme weather—but he prefers to write about the world’s deadliest storms from the safety and comfort of his home office. He’s much less likely to get hit with a flying cow that way. (And yes, Jeremy’s favorite movie is Twister.)

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Written by Jeremy Liu