National Geographic : 2013 Nov
44 national geographic • november 2013 probe in the direct path of an F4 (4 on the Fujita scale) tornado on the outskirts of Man- chester, South Dakota. The probe would record a 100-millibar barometric pressure drop, the most drastic such decrease ever captured at the time. Meanwhile the little town of Manchester was, as Samaras would put it, “literally sucked into the clouds.” After his feat at Manchester, Samaras traveled to Chicago to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show. When the host asked him how he had be- come interested in tornadoes, the storm chaser replied that as a child he’d been mesmerized by the tornado in the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz—that it was, frankly, the only thing about the movie that interested him. Oprah replied, “See, my favorite part is when Glinda the good witch says, ‘You’ve always had the power’ ”— implying that the storm chaser had missed the most poignant message in the movie. In point of fact, from an early age Sama- ras had known he had the power to make his dreams come true. From boyhood in Lakewood, Colorado, he had two preoccupations—how things worked and the weather—that would one day converge. His father sold toy trains and airplanes to hobby shops, and worked as a wed- ding photographer on weekends. The boy held the lighting equipment while his dad took the photos and watched him build model airplanes in the basement. When the elder Samaras saw how much his son enjoyed tinkering, he took out a want ad for used television sets, then piled them all in front of Tim—who promptly took them apart, repaired and reassembled them. Meanwhile his mother had given up making him play Little League baseball after she noticed that he would spend game time in the outfield gazing not at the ball but instead at whatever in the sky interested him. Samaras became a ham radio operator by the time he was 13 or 14, a radio repair technician at 16, a service-shop foreman at 17. He did not bother to enroll in college. Instead, in 1977 the high school graduate walked into the office of Larry Brown of the University of Denver Re- search Institute without a résumé. Brown saw something in the teenager and hired him. “Within weeks,” Brown says, “it was obvious he could fix things that my most senior technicians couldn’t.” By 20 Samaras had Pentagon security clearance and was helping to test, build, and His mother had given up making him play Little League baseball after she noticed that he would spend game time in the outfield gazing not at the ball but instead at whatever in the sky interested him.