EL RENO, Okla. (WOOD) - The awesome and deadly power of tornados is often captured on video cameras, cellphones and even broadcast live as they touch down. Most of the images are shot by professional storm chasers -- but three Friday deaths are a reminder of how dangerous the job can be.
Storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and their partner Carl Young were killed while chasing the storms that ripped through El Reno, Oklahoma.
"I was fortunate enough to meet him once and to hear one of his talks on some of his latest lightning and tornado research," Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Laura Velasquez said.
Michigan native and Storm Team 8 chaser Ben Holcomb was chasing the same storm that killed Samaras, a veteran storm chaser, and his crew.
Holcomb said traffic in the area was so backed up with cars trying to beat the storm that it left many in the tornado's path with no place to go.
"Storm chasers have been pushing the limit of too close for a number of years. We knew this day was going to come. Didn't expect it to be Tim," Holcomb said. "You have to keep you safe distance from it, but mistakes happen and things happen, and it's a risk we all take out there as storm chasers."
Three Weather Channel storm chasers following that same tornado on Friday survived the twister sending their SUV flying through the air.
Meteorologist Mike Bettes says the tornado took a sudden turn and headed right for him and his crew. The SUV was said to have been lifted 30 feet into the air and tossed 200 yards into a field.
"It dawns on you when you are not gonna make it. And at that point, I remember telling everybody to get down. Everybody had their seat belts on, and the next thing I knew, we were going for a ride," Bettes said. "You just felt this tumble, tumble, tumble, tumble. And it was frightening."
All three men in the SUV suffered bruises and cuts, but they are expected to survive their injuries.
Holcomb admits some chasers do it for the thrill, but professional chasers like Samaras have contributed greatly to saving lives. The scientific data collected over the years have led to more accurate forecasting of tornadic conditions and thus greater warning times for the public.
Samaras' death is a lesson that even for the professionals, the deadly danger posed by tornados is real.
The risk to amateurs with no experience chasing the storm for little more than video on a cellphone is even greater.
"What the news today shows us is that as much as we know, there is that much that we don't know about how these storms could move, and if you are an amateur, if you don't have the meteorological background, I can not stress enough this is not something you want to mess with," Velasquez said.
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