National Geographic : 2013 Nov
50 national geographic • november 2013 “Lanny, you know better!” Samaras said. But then he began cursing himself: “Damn it, I missed it!” In more than two decades of storm chasing Sama- ras had witnessed only a single F4 tornado—in Hallam, Nebraska, on May 22, 2004. He had yet to lay eyes on an EF5 like the one in Moore. That day, May 30, at sunset over the Okla- homa highway, it was already evident that the following day would bring weather that only a storm chaser could love. The forecast called for hot and humid conditions, which would build up tremendous energy in the atmosphere. There would be enough wind shear to make a thun- derstorm spin. Somewhere in this state, perhaps close to Oklahoma City, Mother Nature would, in all likelihood, put on a glorious horror show. Lee and Finley told the others that they didn’t intend to stick around. There were way too many storm chasers already in the vicinity—hundreds of them. Doing safe and honest research while navigating through the gawkers sounded like a nightmare to them. For his part, Samaras didn’t let on what his crew’s plans would be. The light- ning truck was parked near the courthouse steps in Alva, Oklahoma, two hours north of where they now stood. Their motel in Concordia, Kan- sas, lay another four hours to the north. The Twistex team had two more evenings’ worth of lightning research ahead of them. But in the meantime Samaras had been discussing with Lanny Dean a possible deployment of devices they had been developing that measured a tor- nado’s low-frequency sound waves. It happened that Dean was also a tornado tour-group opera- tor, and on the 31st his bus was fully booked. If the two storm chasers were to deploy their experimental devices that day, it would fall to Samaras and his team to do so. If. The plans were not firm. Still, the man who four days ago had tweeted, “gawd I love my job,” was disinclined to miss out on what tomorrow’s weather might bring. “See you in June,” Young said to Lee and Fin- ley, as they departed. Storms now initiating south of Watonga along triple point. Dangerous day ahead for OK—stay weather savvy! —final tweet from Tim Samaras, May 31, 2013 From beginning to end, the storm was a thing both magisterial and brutish. Conditions had The tornado revealed its deadly intentions, mauling wherever it went. Brick homes were pulverized. A big and sturdy dairy barn disappeared entirely.