Three members of the TWISTEX storm chasing team including Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras, and chase partner Carl Young were killed on Friday in El Reno, Oklahoma when a tornado made a direct hit on their vehicle. The storm's total death toll now stands at 12.
The TWISTEX team, pictured above, was tracking a powerful EF3 tornado when it made a sudden turn to the northeast and slammed into them. They were unable to escape after losing control of their car, according to the Facebook page created in their memory. Jim Samaras, Tim's brother, posted this message this morning:
"I'm Jim Samaras - Tim Samaras's brother. Thank you to everyone for the condolences. It truly is sad that we lost my great brother Tim and his great son, Paul. Our hearts also go out to the Carl Young family as well as they are feeling the same feelings we are today. They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they LOVED. Chasing Tornado's. I look at it that he is in the 'big tornado in the sky...' We (the family) will keep folks aware of what the funeral estrangements are, but please in the meantime keep Tim and Paul in your thoughts and prayers."
A picture on TheWeatherSpace.com's Facebook page actually illustrates how quickly the tornado turned, catching the experienced storm chasers off guard. It appears to have made a sharp turn to the northeast at 45 degree angle out of nowhere, after steadily moving east-southeast for quite a while.
It's not clear how often storm chasers are killed in the course of their profession, but it seems relatively uncommon considering how experienced many chasers are.
Tim Samaras and the TWISTEX team were known for their multiple television appearances on both the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel.
UPDATE #2: The tornado that killed three men has been confirmed as the widest tornado ever recorded, at 2.6 miles wide. It was also upgraded from an EF-3 to an EF-5 rating, the highest possible on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds measured at 295 mph.
H/t to Astute-Hindquarters
UPDATE #1: This is a video of the actual tornado, shot by storm chaser Dan Robinson. According to the video description, the twister turned so suddenly and violently that Robinson was forced to abandon his vehicle and take cover in a ditch when it could no longer drive against the fierce winds:
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons