National Geographic : 2013 Nov
36 national geographic • november 2013 he and two members of his crew—a 45-year-old meteorologist named Carl Young and Samaras’s 24-year-old son, Paul—bolted eastward from their home in Bennett, Colorado, for the mid- western plains known as Tornado Alley, where his other love awaited. The tornado that very evening in Rozel, Kan- sas, had been gorgeous, glowing tangerine against the sun while its long rope undulated like a belly dancer—and, thankfully, left Rozel largely un- harmed in the process. “Wow, did you see that?” Tim said to a fellow storm chaser, Jeff Pietrowski, who would remember Samaras’s jubilant expres- sion. While logging thousands of miles over the next four days through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, Samaras and his team, known as Twistex, would encounter at least 11 tornadoes. Then, af- ter four nights back home, Samaras returned to the road, in a truck outfitted with a gargantuan high-speed camera for the purpose of conduct- ing lightning research in Kansas—though, as he acknowledged in a Facebook posting, he was “bringing secondary vehicle for a ‘side’ of tornado chasing (I love sides).” In the May 31 videotape Samaras sits in that secondary vehicle, the Cobalt, a storm chaser on yet another chase. A man in exuberant pursuit of his passion. And yet it could not be more ap- parent that something is different this time— maybe because the viewer knows something that Samaras does not. “It’s heading straight for Oklahoma City,” he mutters. The tornado is the progeny of several thun- derstorms that developed along a cold front over central Oklahoma that afternoon. At just after 6 p.m. it dropped out of the tip of the southernmost supercell, where the warm and moist air was most prevalent. Now it is a dense, moist leviathan. It rotates counterclockwise in a crazed ballet across the klieg-lit plains. The trees in its path shake as if possessed by the devil. Unlike its exquisitely geometric counterpart in Rozel, El Reno’s tornado is a black wedge of indistinct composition. “OK, I’m gonna stop,” says Young, who was filming the storm as he drove. “We’ll get a great view of it. This good?” The Cobalt comes to a halt. Samaras and Young climb out, along with Paul, who is peer- ing through a different video lens. The three men stand at the edge of a gravel road and squint Samaras was asked to play a lead in a new series called Storm Chasers. It became a primary funding source for years. The Clark Kent-ish engineer was now a TV star.