Three veteran storm chasers died doing what they loved: roaming the Great Plains in search of dangerous storms like the one in Oklahoma that ended their final pursuit.
Tim Samaras, his son Paul and colleague Carl Young, who through the years had shared dramatic videos with television viewers and weather researchers, died Friday night when an EF3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph turned on them near El Reno, Okla. They were among 13 people who died in the storm in Oklahoma City and its suburbs.
Their deaths in pursuit of the storm are believed to be the first among scientific researchers while chasing tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said.
"They put themselves in harm's way so that they can educate the public about the destructive power of these storms," said Chris West, the undersheriff in Canadian County, where the men died.
Tim Samaras, 54, and Paul Samaras, 24, both of Bennett, Colo., were trapped in their car along with Young, 45, of South Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California and Nevada border.
Many times before, Tim Samaras had told anyone who would listen that tornadoes were unpredictable.
"I don't know if I would say I worried about it because one of the biggest things he stressed was safety," said Tim's brother, Jim Samaras, who confirmed the deaths to The Associated Press. "He knew what to look for. He knew where not to be and in this case, the tornado took a clear turn toward them."
Tim Samaras and his Twistex tornado chase team had been featured on the Discovery Channel and given grants by the National Geographic Society. They also were regular presenters at conferences dedicated to advances in meteorology.
The Oklahoma storm that killed the three chasers developed before their eyes Friday.
Tim Samaras tweeted a photo of clouds rising through a volatile atmosphere and noted: "Storms now initiating south of Watonga along triple point. Dangerous day ahead for OK - stay weather savvy!"
It was his final tweet.
"He looked at tornadoes not for the spotlight of TV but for the scientific aspect," Jim Samaras said. "At the end of the day, he wanted to save lives and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for that."
The tornado in the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz" fascinated a then-6-year-old Tim Samaras, his brother said.
"He didn't give a crap about Toto, he didn't give a crap about the munchkins," Jim Samaras said.