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It’s with a great deal of dismay — not to say surprise — that I learned that three of the victims of Friday’s Oklahoma tornadoes were storm chasers.
A star of the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers,” his son and a colleague have been identified as three of the 13 people killed after an outbreak of tornadoes struck the Oklahoma City area on Friday.
Tim Samaras, 55, died with his son Paul, 24, and friend Carl Young, 45, in Canadian County chasing down a tornado that wreaked havoc along Interstate 40, Fox 25 reports.
I don’t understand storm chasers. At least The Flying Wallendas have the laws of physics on their side. A 150 mph wind (as in Friday’s EF-3) has eight times the destructive power of 75 mph hurricane-force winds, not to mention the hazard of flying debris. You cannot have a close encounter with a EF-3 or higher storm and expect to walk away.
This whole storm chaser business seemed to become A Thing around the time of one of the most idiotic movies of all time: Twister. It made tornadoes seem … approachable, like America’s answer to Godzilla. About that time, all the Bug Channels started proliferating on the nether reaches of cable TV listings. Now that all the toothless residents of Louisiana have been signed to reality-TV deals, there is a lot of air time to fill with cheap-to-produce content, and storm chasing fills the bill.
I’m sure storm chasers tell themselves they’re Saving Lives. No. That’s why God invented Doppler Radar.
On Saturday, I saw some harrowing footage which showed the chase vehicle as it was being demolished by a disintegrating barn and a giant hay bale. As the video rolled it became apparent that the chasers took on another significant risk: collision with the vehicles of other storm chasers.
As a child of the Plains, I was raised to respect the weather, especially springtime weather. My dad taught me to read the signs: the towering, anvil-topped thunder heads gleamed bright white in the distance, but close up, under the cloud was a midnight blue. With the cloud overhead, sometimes you’d see the pillows and billows which indicate updrafts and turbulence. If the cloud took on a green cast, that meant hail.
My first twenty tornado seasons were evenly split between Kansas and Oklahoma. The only time I saw a funnel cloud was two weeks before my high school graduation. That one sent us to the backyard storm cellar; the funnel passed right overhead in the clouds. The damage was two miles away. A high school classmate perched high on a hillside to shoot a home movie of that one on the ground; in return for his footage, he received a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, home of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. That’s how rare live storm images were back in the ’70’s.
My most anxious summers were the two I spent during college in the heart of Tornado Alley – Duncan, in southwestern Oklahoma – living in a mobile home. Tornadoes have a known affinity for mobile home parks.
I have recurring dreams about tornadoes. I also have recurring dreams about being caught in public in my underwear, and about blowing off a class in college until the Final Exam. So there you go.
Ironically, my closest personal brush with a tornado happened here in Louisiana. One morning an EF-1 struck about two blocks from my house, doing damage mostly to roofs, awnings and signs over about a five block stretch. We were close enough to hear the “vacuum cleaner” on that one. I’ve also seen a half dozen waterspouts, which look like tornadoes, but don’t compare in terms of power and fury.
In closing, I do feel badly for the families, friends and associates of the victims. May God be with them and give them comfort in their loss. Storm chasing is not a reasonable pursuit, unless you’re an employee of the NSSL and you have a very large life insurance policy.
P.S. I first read about this story on the Facebook page of a friend and OU classmate who lives in suburban Oklahoma City — in an underground house. Like a reasonable person.
Cross-posted at stevemaley.com.