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Storm chasers killed by latest Oklahoma tornado (+video)

Storm chasers killed in Oklahoma tornado Friday were three of the most professional men in a field that has increasingly become about sensational stunts.

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In theory, the storm chasers are there as a public service. Tornado prediction remains challenging. Samaras noted that only 2 of every 10 storms he chased spawned a tornado, in a different National Geographic interview. That means having many spotters on the ground actually serves a valuable purpose in telling meteorologists where twisters are and where they're headed.

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"There's tremendous amount of value from spotters and storm chasers," Dr. Forbes told USA Today in a second interview.

But Samaras's interest went beyond tornado-spotting. To help scientists better understand what happens inside a tornado, he invented various instruments, most notably "the turtle" – a low, cone-shaped probe that can hug the ground as a tornado passes overhead.

"We still don't know why some thunderstorms create tornadoes while others don't. We're trying to collect as many observations as possible, both from outside and from the inside," he told National Geographic. "If we understand the [storm's] thermodynamic profile – what's the temperature, what's the humidity like, how cool is the air outside of the tornado – these are clues that help us to measure a thunderstorm that may produce a tornado."

In addition, "we're also trying to address tornado dynamics – how powerful the winds are near the surface – which will help us address some of the engineering issues with home building," he added.

One of Samaras's turtles recorded the biggest drop in atmospheric pressure ever recorded – a drop of 100 millibars in 10 seconds – when a South Dakota tornado passed directly above it in 2003.

"That's the closest I've been to a violent tornado, and I have no desire to ever be that close again," he told National Geographic.

He sprang from his car when the tornado was only 100 yards away to plant the device. Sixty seconds later, the tornado had arrived.

"The rumble rattled the whole countryside, like a waterfall powered by a jet engine," he added.

His commitment to the scientific aspects of storm chasing made him invaluable within the extreme-weather community.

"He was a pioneer in terms of taking scientific measurements," Forbes said on the Weather Channel. "We can do things with Doppler radar, but you're getting measurements there 10s to 100s of feet above the ground. We need to know what's happens right down at ground level."

What's more, Samaras was a leader in promoting safety among storm chasers. He and colleague Roger Hill have been holding an annual chaser convention, ChaserCon, in Colorado for the past 15 years. In recent years, more than 300 people have attended, Forbes said.

"He was involved in trying to make people better chasers – educating and research, that was his life," he added.


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