A monstrous tornado was heading to central Oklahoma on the evening of May 30, 2013. In the small town of Guthrie, located 30 miles north of Oklahoma City, Cathley Finely and her partner Bruce Lee were driving along a back road.
That’s when they noticed Tim Samaras and two others standing by their white sedan and looking out into the distance, over the low hills. Samaras knew the couple, and they were all there for the same reason.
The three were researchers of severe weather. And a tornado was reportedly coming.
The Twistex days
The researchers founded Twistex, a storm chasing organization that gathered atmospheric data to measure and understand tornadoes. Each of the three founders had a defined role.
Samaras getting close to the funnel to deploy measurement microprobes, while Finley and Lee would cut through the storm in their cars that were equipped with rooftop weather stations.
For a couple of years, team Twistex was featured on the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers until its cancelation in 2011.
The old crew separates
When the three former teammates reunited in Guthrie, all they wanted was to take the tornado head on like the old days. But the twister was predicted to reach its peak in Oklahoma City, and with no Twistex and no funding left, Finley and Lee packed it up and called it quits.
They’d sworn off chasing storms through city streets long ago, due to the increased risk. On the way back to their home in Minnesota, the two continued to track the storm.
As it turned out, the forecast was wrong and the tornado ravaged a wide-open farm over 20 miles from the city. The monster twister was two and a half miles wide and reached a category EF-5.
A tragic mistake
Finley assumed that Samaras, who stayed back to chase the storm, was living it up. The tornado was the stuff storm chasers dream of. But at 1 a.m. the next night, Finley and Lee received a phone call that delivered some devastating news.
Samaras, just like the storm forecasters, incorrectly predicted the tornado’s trajectory. His vehicle got swept up in the funnel and he died from injuries that he sustained.
Storm chaser deaths might be somewhat uncommon, but they do happen. Finley and Lee speculate that Samaras’ passing was due to not having the help he needed to guide him. He lacked the resources and team to inform him where the storm was going.