National Geographic : 2013 Nov
The Last Chase 61 to date in Lakewood, Colorado, before either of them was married. After that conversation, the woman called Sa- maras, to whom she hadn’t spoken since learn- ing she was pregnant nearly 30 years earlier. He requested that she purchase a DNA kit. When the results came back as a 99.9 percent match, Samaras sent an email to Matt: “I want you to know that I’m very happy and proud to find out that you’re my son.” The Samaras family wel- comed Matt into their home. Thereafter the two men got together whenever they could. Samaras sent Matt photographs of lightning and torna- does. As a birthday present, the son received the father’s book, Tornado Hunter. The inscription inside read: “This gives you an insight into who I am, and why I do what I do. Love, Dad.” Like the surviving Samarases, Winter spoke for a few minutes as they stood together before the 800 gathered that somber day in early June. He did not, however, share his most poignant story. Just the previous September, Samaras had gone to visit Winter in Des Moines. They were eating dinner at an Applebee’s, chatting about the weather and science as they tended to do, when Winter decided to ask Samaras point-blank, “If something ever happened to you out in the field, how do you think Kathy would handle it?” Samaras did not seem startled by the ques- tion. “Matt,” he replied, “Kathy’s a strong wom- an. She understands this is my passion. And if something happened to me, she’d move on.” On the drive back to his hotel, Samaras re- turned to the subject unprompted. “If something did happen to me or my team out in the field,” he said, “I’m going to go down getting my data. That’s the only reason I chase. It’s for the data.” But then, Samaras added a new thought—a flash of elemental romance within the man’s stoic scientific core. “And it better not be a little rope tornado that does it. It better be a multivortex or a wedge,” he said. “I don’t want to be taken by a skinny little rope.” Regaining the engineer’s stolid composure, he concluded, “And if it happens, I’m going to go out collecting my data.” The storm chaser left his son with that fore- cast—a perfect one, as it turned out—and there- after drove off, to an eternity of awaiting roads and severely great weather. j “He was doing research, trying to save lives in our community,” the director said firmly, and that was the end of the matter. Other matters are not so cut-and-dried. Despite three additional videotapes that have surfaced since the tragedy at El Reno—one by a storm chaser whose car was about a quarter mile from the Cobalt when it disappeared from view, an- other by a storm chaser whose footage appears to show a small vehicle falling out of the sky, and a third that was recovered from Paul Samaras’s camera—no one will ever know for sure what happened at 6:23 p.m. on May 31, 2013. Was the Twistex team able to see the tornado before it hit them? Were they attempting to deploy their probes at the time, or to outrace the tornado, or to stay put? Had the Cobalt been sucked up by one of the ferociously spinning vortices? For others in the storm-chasing community, one question was most excruciating: If it had hap- pened to Tim Samaras, couldn’t it also happen to them? Every one of them knew the answer. Yet not a single one of them vowed to give up the chase. Nor, in truth, would have Tim Samaras. During the funeral of father and son Samaras, the pastor placed a McDonald’s cheeseburger near the podium, where storm chaser after storm chaser paid tribute. Among the others who said a few words were Kathy Samaras, daughters Amy and Jennifer—and, standing alongside them, holding their hands, a 35-year- old man whom few in the audience knew. His name was Matt Winter, and he was Tim Samaras’s other son, though he himself had learned this fact only seven years earlier. Grow- ing up in Des Moines, the boy had maintained an odd fascination for severe weather that his parents had not nurtured. On his 11th birthday a tornado had blown through west of town; while everyone else at his birthday party had clambered into the basement, Winter pleaded to be allowed to stand outside and watch. At the age of 26 he followed National Geographic’s online coverage of Tim Samaras dropping his probes in the path of the Manchester, South Dakota, tornado. Three years later, in 2006, at a Doppler weather conference in Des Moines, he heard Samaras speak. It was after this event that Winter’s mother figured she should sit her son down and tell him about the man she used With additional reporting by Samantha Larson.