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Forum Home > Death's Honors > Timothy M. Samaras (November 12, 1957 - May 31, 2013)

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was an American engineer and storm chaser best known for his field research on tornadoes and time on the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers.

Early life: 

Tim Samaras was born November 12, 1957 in Lakewood, Colorado, to Paul and Margaret Samaras. Samaras was "forced" to watch The Wizard of Oz at age six. "When the tornado appeared", he recalled. "I was hooked!" He attended Lasley Elementary and O'Connell Junior High in Lakewood, before graduating from Alameda High School in 1976.In his twenties, he began to chase storms "not for the thrill, but the science." 

Career:

Samaras was the founder of a field research team called Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment (TWISTEX) which sought to better understand tornadoes. His work was funded in large part by National Geographic which awarded him 18 grants for his field work. 

Samaras designed and built his own weather instruments, known as probes, and deployed them in the path of violent tornadoes in order to gain scientific insight into the inner workings of a tornado.  With one such probe, he captured the largest drop in atmospheric pressure, 100 hPa in less than one minute, ever recorded when a tornado struck one of his probes near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. The accomplishment is listed in the Guinness World Records as "greatest pressure drop measured in a tornado". The probe was dropped in front of the oncoming tornado a mere 82 seconds before it hit. The measurement is also the lowest pressure, 850 hPa, ever recorded at Earth's surface when adjusted for altitude. Samaras later described the tornado as the most memorable of his career. 

Samaras and his team logged over 35,000 miles (56,000 km) of driving during the two peak months of tornado season each year. When asked, Samaras said that chasing was dangerous, but not because of the storms but rather because of all the road hazards encountering from so much driving.In total, he tracked down more than 125 tornadoes during his career. He was considered among the most careful chasers in the business by colleagues.

Samaras was a major producer of the National Storm Chasers Convention held near Denver, Colorado each February and attended by hundreds of chasers from around the world.[8] From 2009 until the show's cancellation in 2012, Samaras was a featured personality on Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers. He also worked for Boeing and the federal government during his career.According to Eileen O'Neill, president of the Discovery Networks, Samaras' work was directly responsible for increased warning times ahead of tornadoes.

Samaras coauthored, along with Stefan Bechtel and Greg Forbes, Tornado Hunter: Getting Inside the Most Violent Storms on Earth (ISBN 978-1426203022), in 2009. Samaras authored or coauthored dozens of scientific papers.

Death:

On May 31, 2013, Samaras, his 24-year-old son Paul, and TWISTEX team member Carl Young, 45, were killed by an EF5 wedge tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma. The tornado was sampled by University of Oklahoma RaXpol radar as 2.6 miles (4.2 km) wide, the widest tornado ever recorded. The tornado took an unexpected sharp turn, was at times obscured in precipitation, and traffic congestion was also present, all of which combined so that several other chasers were also hit or had near misses. It was the first known instance of a storm chaser killed by a storm and even before it was known that Samaras died led many to question storm chasing tactics, particularly close proximity to tornadoes.In addition to Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and chase partner Carl Young, seven other members of the public were killed by the same tornado.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a statement saying it was very saddened by Samaras' death. "Samaras was a respected tornado researcher and friend ... who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography," read the statement. Severe weather expert Greg Forbes called Samaras "a groundbreaker in terms of the kind of research he was doing on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes". Meteorologist Jim Cantore remarked "This is a very sad day for the meteorological community and the families of our friends lost. Tim Samaras was a pioneer and great man." National Geographic remarked "Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning in the field in an effort to better understand these phenomena." On Facebook, Samaras' brother said he died "doing what [he] LOVED. Chasing Tornado's [sic]".

Samaras is survived by his brothers Jim and Jack, wife Kathy, two daughters, and two grandchildren.

Personal life:

Tim Samaras and his wife Kathy had three children - Paul (born November 12, 1988) and two daughters, Amy Gregg and Jennifer Scott - as well as two grandchildren, Alyssa and Jayden. The family lived in Bennett, Colorado at the time of his death.

Samaras held an Amateur Extra Class ham radio license, the highest amateur radio class issued in the United States. In addition to tornadoes, he was interested in all aspects of convective storms with particular research focus on lightning. He was an avid amateur astronomer and also interested in electronics and inventions.

In 2011, Samaras took time off chasing to help build homes in Alabama for victims of tornadoes earlier that year. According to O'Neill he worked "from dawn to dusk" with "the same dedication and focus he brought to his meteorological work".



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June 7, 2013 at 10:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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