Three storm chasers were among 13 people killed by tornadoes that rampaged through central Oklahoma last Friday, underscoring the high risk of tracking twisters.
Tim Samaras, 55, founder of the tornado research company Twistex, was killed in an Oklahoma City suburb along with his son, Paul 24, and Carl Young, 45, a Twistex meteorologist.
Mr Samaras’s brother Jim said his sibling had done a lot of research and innovative work with probes and other instruments placed in the path of twisters to gather data.
“He’s mostly going to be remembered as somebody who tried to help save lives,” he said. “He died doing what he loved and literally put his life on the line to save others.”
Five tornadoes touched down in central Oklahoma and caused flash flooding 11 days after a huge twister tore up the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore and killed 24 people. It experienced only limited damage this time.
As usual, so-called storm chasers closely tracked the storm to measure its power, gather research and take video to feed the television and internet appetite for dramatic images.
“It is too early to say specifically how this tornado might change how we cover severe weather, but we certainly plan to review and discuss this incident,” said David Blumenthal, a spokesman for the Weather Channel, for which Tim Samaras and Mr Young had worked in the past.
Three employees of the channel suffered minor injuries when their 4x4 vehicle was thrown about 200 yards by the winds while tracking the El Reno storm on Friday.
In a field known for risk-takers seeking the most dramatic images, Mr Samaras was seen as a cautious professional whose driving passion was research rather than getting the “money shot”, according to friend and fellow storm chaser Tony Laubach.
“Tim Samaras was the best there was and he was the last person you would think this would happen to,” he said.
“It’s going to bring everybody down to earth. A lot of chasing has been getting very, very careless, and Tim is not a careless person. He is as nimble and skilled as he could be.”
In interviews, Mr Samaras said he had been enthralled by tornadoes ever since childhood when he was forced to watch the film The Wizard of Oz, in which the central character is swept into another world by a tornado.
“That tornado was the best part of the entire movie,” he told the Weather Channel in 2009. “From that day, I was hooked for the rest of my life.”
Some of his research was funded by the National Geographic Society. Its executive vice-president, Terry Garcia, said: “Tim was a courageous and brilliant scientist.”