anyCLIMBERS from OKALHOMA--your are in thought and prayers..


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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jun 2, 2013 - 06:06pm PT
While I don't like the exact title of this thread (i.e. I am not interested solely in climbers; maybe I am misinterpreting?), the latest news related to "risk taking people" (like climbers) is that 3 "storm chasers" died on Friday.,0,7503065.story
Three storm chasers were among those killed by violent storms in the Oklahoma City area last week, family members said Sunday.

Tim Samaras, a veteran storm chaser considered a leader in tornado research and data collection, died along with his 24-year-old son, Paul Samaras, and partner, Carl Young, while tracking an EF-3 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno Friday evening.

All three were known from the Discovery Channel show “Storm Chasers,” which aired for five years, ending in the fall of 2011.
Officials have not yet determined the circumstances of their deaths. The violent and erratic twister also swept up a Weather Channel truck, tossing it 200 yards and injuring members of the team inside.

Mike Bettes, an anchor and meteorologist for the Weather Channel who was in the truck, described the storm in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

"I think this was just an erratic tornado. I think the size of it and the speed of it changed very, very quickly," Bettes said. "I think the direction of movement changed quickly. And I think there were a lot of people out there that, you know, ended up getting stuck in positions we didn't want to be in."

More details in:
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph says she could hear the audio from storm chasers trapped on Oklahoma highways as a tornado bore down.

"They were screaming, 'We're going to die, we're going to die,' " she recalls. "There was just no place to go. There was no place to hide."

... killed by a tornado in El Reno that packed winds of up to 165 mph. They were among 10 killed in storms Friday in Oklahoma.
Samaras' crushed vehicle was found along a road running south of and parallel to Highway 40 just outside El Reno, Okla., leading authorities to speculate he was tracking the tornado as it was heading east before suddenly turning south, says Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West. One body was found inside the wreckage, a second about quarter-mile east and a third a quarter-mile west, West says.
Forbes says GPS readings confirmed there were probably two dozen storm-chasing vehicles in the area at the time.

Social climber
somewhere that doesnt have anything over 90'
Jun 2, 2013 - 08:01pm PT
Being a Texan, my thoughts go out to our neighbors.
John M

Jun 2, 2013 - 08:10pm PT
I wonder if the storm chasers ended up in a traffic jam because fewer and fewer people have storm cellars, and cities, schools and churches are not building them either, so some people are trying to run away from the storms. Thus leading to more people on the road.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 2, 2013 - 10:18pm PT

I am down in Texas bringing a sailboat home.

Yeah, I don't talk about a lot of the stuff I've done because people don't believe it, but I worked on the spring 6 week long field experiments through the National Severe Storms lab. I never wanted to be out clogging roads if I wasn't helping science. I've done a couple of hurricanes as well, and I was really good at it. Supposedly Jerry (full professor at OU and leading numerical modeler of tornadoes and hurricanes) and mine's data was easy to pick out, because we know storm structure very well. I gave it up about ten years ago. I got tired of driving from Lubbock to South Dakota every day.

It is actually pretty hard to see a tornado. The vast majority are weak and last only a couple of minutes. Until the Moore F5, I had never seen a city get clobbered, and I've seen a lot of tornadoes. I only go out now if it is a really good day and it is thirty minutes from my house. Early in the season they move very fast, but in May they slow down and tend to head east. By the first week of June a high pressure ridge, known as the "death ridge" ends the season here, but as the jet moves north, there are a LOT of tornadoes up in eastern Wyoming, eastern Montana, and the Dakotas. I've seen tornadoes in all of those states.

As for the storm shelter discussion, you need to understand how rarely tornadoes hit populated areas. East of the Rockies is by far the most tornado rich area in the U.S., but statistically, a tornado crosses a single spot once every 1600 years. What has happened over and over again in Moore is just super bad luck. I have an underground shelter and I always keep the garage door open for the neighbors, and this year I have hosted up to ten people when the sirens blow. When I was watching the Moore monster come into town, the streets were totally empty and everyone had about 30 minutes of warning. This state has incredible warning systems. You must understand that although that tornado did cause deaths, without our amazing warning system, it would have been worse than Joplin, which killed 190 people or something crazy. We lost 24. In contrast, a tornado hit the town of Woodward back in the really old days and killed half the town. That was before radar and hit just after dark.

When tornadoes are about to happen, all of the TV stations stop all shows and all commercials, often for 6 hours or more. They have helicopters and small armies of really good chasers spread along the initiation line. There hasn't been a tornado not filmed in Oklahoma for ten years or something. The TV stations all have zillion dollar radars, and the weather service has theirs. We are home to the National Severe Storms Lab (very loosely lampooned in the horrible movie Twister, which I worked on for 6b weeks). We also have the Storm Prediction Center, which handles every weather watch for the entire nation. We also have a bunch of severe weather research centers all located in the same building on the OU campus in Norman. You can't live in Norman without a meteorologist living on your street.

The research and chaser community knows when we are going to have an outbreak, and as the day approaches the models get more precise. They model not only the "weather" but also the sheer environment, the available convective energy, and a ton of other indicators. We have always had guys fly in from other universities a couple of days ahead. On the day, it gets narrowed down to a few counties, and we often are sitting under blue skies when the temperature reaches the convective temp and towering cumulus begins and turn into supercells.

With all of that information, you would think that it is easy, but many, many, days the storms suck or they don't break the cap and we don't even get rain. The vast majority of tornadoes are weak and short lived. Many people live their entire lives without seeing a tornado around here.

Getting skunked happens a lot. Seeing a really major tornado, like an EF-4 or 5 is really rare. They are the top few percent. On the F5 in Moore, the helicopters and chasers were on those storms long before they put down tornadoes. The TV stations show the mesocyclone down to the street level now, so you KNOW it if it is coming.

Right now I'm in shock over the death of Tim Samaras on Friday in a large tornado in NW Oklahoma City. This has been a crazy year. We had no major tornadoes through the whole spring, and then in the past week the jet has been sending us those big troughs that come in over the Pacific Northwest.

A chaser has never been killed by a tornado before. We know storm structure so well that we always keep a bug out route, and I have been very close to many tornadoes trying to get data all around the storm. We also collect data just as vigourously on supercells that don't tornado, despite having a strong mesocyclone aloft. It is a big mystery why some storms tornado and one next to it doesn't. Of course a lot of them are easy to understand, but violent long track tornadoes are only now being modeled, using a lot of the data that we have collected in the field over the years. I've had a lot of my data end up in peer reviewed papers.

We now have a whole lot of geeks, the Twister Generation, who just chase to shoot video, as well as just curious locals, who clog the roads around good storms. A lot of us have become disgusted with this, because they don't do any research. That is why I never go out unless it is close, and if there are 50 backed up chaser vehicles on the same storm, I go home. Now I try to see one a year, but I saw a violent long track one the day before the Moore tornado, and that was a difficult storm with a lot of rain. I know how to find the updraft base, and watched it for about ten minutes.

I'll make a post about Tim Samaras, his son, and his partner in a minute. I'm just catching up on it and I have a bunch of texts coming in as I type this. Tim wasn't like that screaming bonehead that I won't name, but you may have seen on TV. Tim partnered with several universities and finally put out a string of instruments that were took direct hits after decades of failure.

He did a lot of other stuff that is pretty technical, but he recorded a 100 millibar pressure drop as one of his turtles took a direct hit. All of that data gets used my the modelers, because what goes on very close to the ground is poorly understood. He was bad ass, but very smart and knew how to be safe. The first chaser fatalities were always assumed to happen to the idiot geeks, but he was in the top 5 or so on field data collection, which I can assure you is extremely difficult. The roads have to be right. You have to be well ahead of the tornado to lay out your string of turtles, and get them directly in the path. We always carried turtles on the NSSL experiments, and only deployed them twice and both times they failed. Tim pulled it off several times, measuring all of the physical parameters which had never been measured other than with radar, which doesn't see very close to the ground.

I saw a couple of articles that made him sound like an adrenaline junky, but that isn't how weather is. It is extremely science intensive just to get in the right place to catch an incredibly short and rare event. To have a guy like Tim and his partner and son die is a total shock. He was light years ahead of anyone at the Weather Channel, who we kind of look at as a joke, because they can't put in the months and months and years and years that it takes. The experiments I worked on had anywhere from 8 to 20 vehicles and several portable Doppler radars, which can get close and see windspeeds close to the ground. It was all science, and everyone had advanced degrees.

To lose a guy like Tim is mind boggling. I'm going to get the details right now, but the weather channel is covering them right now, and is giving them the credit that they deserve from 25 years of work.

No chaser has died in a tornado until now, although we have all had scary moments. If you don't know what you are doing, a car is the worst place to get hit, but we always keep a way out. I can just put the probe in reverse, back up 500 yards and let them go by. This tornado took a very odd turn, and the visibility was poor.

Sorry to take up so much space here, but most people do not understand tornadoes and human response. In Oklahoma, the biggest dimwit can look at a radar image and see the hook echo which is where the tornadoes happen, when they happen. The lead time has been going up greatly because of all of this collaboration, and it is important from just a physics point of view. Nobody knows how a tornado forms. Sure there are a zillion radar loops showing the rotation aloft, but getting that lowest thousand feet to the ground is a huge scientific problem.

The problem is that there are many radar indicated tornado warnings on storms that have wicked rotation aloft, but don't tornado. This has cause a big cry wolf problem, and people stop paying attention to the warnings. Weeding those storms out is a huge problem.

Trad climber
Jun 2, 2013 - 10:46pm PT
what is a turtle?
tinker b

the commonwealth
Jun 2, 2013 - 10:58pm PT
i actually read all that.. thanks. i learned a bunch.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jun 2, 2013 - 11:19pm PT
Thanks for sharing, BASE104 - very interesting stuff. Sorry about the loss of one of the best researchers and his helpers.


A "turtle" is a portable (and rugged) data sensor deployed on the ground.
Tim Samaras, a 45-year-old electronics engineer from Denver, and his storm-chasing partner, Pat Porter, are in a van that carries six probes, often called "turtles"—squat, 45-pound metal disks that look like flying saucers. Through embedded sensors, the probes can measure a tornado's wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature. Samaras's mission, and his passion, is to plant them in the path of the funnel. His hope is that both he and the instruments survive.

photo of Tim Samaras, 2003

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 2, 2013 - 11:42pm PT
It is an aerodynamically and lead weighted thing that had a full suite of instruments. You turn them on, place them along a line if you are lucky enough to have a road, and hope they take a direct hit. They have been through wind tunnels, and won't budge in 250 mph winds. We failed over and over again. We would be on a tornado, but the road system is what it is, and if you don't have a N/S road to place them on, you are hosed. I only saw them deployed twice in over a decade and countless months on these spring field experiments.

Tim Samaras was very commited and extremely good at picking the path. He could safely place them, and on one that took a direct hit, he recorded a 100 millibar pressure drop in 40 seconds. Nobody had seen that data. It affects windspeed (which was also measured), thermodynamics, everything.

It is pretty science intensive. No way could I discuss it here.

There had been modelers who insisted that rising wind inside the center of tornados must have been over 300 or 400 mph. He gathered that data and took care of that end. His data has been used and published over and over again.

It isn't an adrenaline activity. It is usually incredibly boring, disappointing, and frustrating. You can have everything, including the NCAR Electra and P3 hurricane hunters, but if you don't get the right set up, you will get a sunburn over the spring.

We've worked with lots of airplanes which carry really sweet radars to give a 3 dimensional picture of the storm. The coolest is at the S Dakota school of mines. They have an old WW2 era armored airplane and he flys in and out of the updraft, getting clobbered with baseball hail.

One time the NCAR Electra, which is a really large aircraft, hit a downdraft that was so bad that it bent the frame and the back door wouldn't open. That took a ton of money to fix.

On hurricanes, the hurricane hunters would drop sondes on us as we made transects in and out of the eyewall. I don't like hurricanes. They last for days, they are hard on the instruments, and everything gets so wet that it is fungal.

NASA has a couple of new satellites that are seeing detail in hurricanes that will blow your mind. They have high res radar and infrared cameras that show features that nobody knew existed. These features explain why even a relatively small hurricane can cause a lot of damage if it has these features. Nova did a 2 hour special on them a while back. My buddy Jerry is working with the national hurricane center and they are finding out amazing things that nobody knew about from the regular radars.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 2, 2013 - 11:59pm PT
Nobody can believe that Tim was the first chaser fatality. Yeah, he enjoyed the big storms like we all do, but he collaborated with a bunch of researchers and recorded data that had never been seen.

One year our project was called Vortex-RFD. The Vortex field experiments were huge with huge budgets. This year we were trying to measure a downdraft that we were noticing on the back side of the storm, and it was a problem with modeling.

Almost all downdrafts are rain cooled air that is heavier than the surrounding air and just falls to spread out on the ground like pouring syrup but it covered miles.

We discovered that it was hot and moist. That air should not have been falling in the mid troposphere environment, which is usually cold and dry in supercells. That meant that it was adiabatically forced, and solving that was huge. Now it is 10 years old and in all of the papers and models. We spent a whole summer with ten probe vehicles trying to get on the west side of a tornado and measure this. We succeeded and it changed tornado science a lot.

It all comes down to improving warnings and eliminating the warnings when nothing happens. People stop paying attention and the fatality rate was going up.

On the F5 Moore tornado, all of the warnings, including the on-air meteorologists told everyone that this tornado was so powerful that you couldn't sit it out in a closet. They plainly said if you weren't underground, you would die. As I watched it come in, there was nobody outside being an idiot. Everyone had taken shelter, and usually a neighbor has an underground shelter.

I'm getting emails. Signing off.

I will say that I used to run into Tim all over the great plains. We all knew where the tornado risk was, and it was common to run into a friend 600 miles from home, on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Tim was the best, or I should say, nobody was better.

Trad climber
Jun 3, 2013 - 12:08am PT
condolences. I had no clue about the science.

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 3, 2013 - 12:14am PT
hey there say, base104, i had just read about the loss of this man, tim samaras, and his son--and partner...

was wondering if you knew him, i have not read any more of all this yet, but will do now...

oh, oh my, clint...
i just put the title this way, in case some of
the "this does not pertain to climbing folks' would not think i was
rude, to post it here... :(

wanted the climbers, to know that i was thinking of THEM in a knit-circle-way, too, and not just the folks in oklahoma that i don't know...
they whole state, was on my folks...

:) folks that really know me, surely know i'd never put those folks
aside... :(

god bless... and thanks for noting how it may seem
odd, in the OTHER direction, this time, :)

as to this:
To lose a guy like Tim is mind boggling. I'm going to get the details right now, but the weather channel is covering them right now, and is giving them the credit that they deserve from 25 years of work

thank you so very kindly base104 for all this information and taking time to share it all, and to SHARE also, about tim...
very good stuff to learn, and to cherish, as to his work--even more so, now that he is gone...

thank you...

thanks to clint for posting, i was a tad too late, :)

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 3, 2013 - 01:16am PT
Back in the day, it was mainly all researchers and we traveled wherever the tornadoes were going to happen, from midland texas to south Dakota.

I used to run into Tim and the rest of the gang all of the time, but I doubt he remembers me. We would run into each other in rural Nebraska or any other odd place where storms were going to happen.

I know him a little, but I know more about the data that he had been getting over the last five years. He was finally getting data inside tornadoes, after decades of trying.

I couldn't believe it was him. It defies reality. Chasing sounds dangerous, but it is actually pretty safe. driving on wet roads is the biggest danger.

Trad climber
Jun 3, 2013 - 01:29am PT
driving on wet roads is the biggest danger.

I started to laugh; but upon reflection saw the reality.

Mountain climber
Jun 3, 2013 - 02:29am PT
Man, I thought you worked in oil and gas.

Very sorry about your friend.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 3, 2013 - 10:03am PT
I do work in oil and gas. NSSL would use a few of us because they were having a problem with some of the vehicles getting off mission. We had far more field experience and could get to the right point at the right time to get the required data.

I did it for about ten years. A chaser had never been killed, and we were sure that it would have been the cowboy chasers who are just out there shooting video to peddle.

Time was doing great things. For instance, we kept failing at getting a turtle in a tornado despite years of trying.

He designed a far better model and pulled it off several times. He was closely affiliated with the research community, and his death is a shock.

I still don't know what happened other than the tornado took a huge jog in its path and cut off his bug out route, which we always keep.

Here is a picture of the tornado coming in to Moore, the F5:

Moore F5 tornado approaching Moore, OK. It grew to F5 status when I bu...
Moore F5 tornado approaching Moore, OK. It grew to F5 status when I bugged out south and let it pass.
Credit: BASE104

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