Last Interview with a Storm Chaser

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Last Interview with a Storm Chaser
Tim Samaras, a high-profile meteorologist and storm chaser, was killed in an Oklahoma twister last week. For years, Samaras has driven into the heart of tornadoes, equipment in hand, to learn more about them.

Late last month, as tornado season was opening in Oklahoma, Samaras talked to National Geographic about what motivated him to engage in such dangerous work—starting with a boyhood viewing of The Wizard of Oz.

Tim Samaras, a veteran storm-chaser, took aim at a storm with a laser near Last Chance, Colorado, in 2009. Samaras, his son Paul, and a fellow storm-chaser Carl Young were killed while chasing a storm in El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31. Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic

Tim Samaras, a veteran storm-chaser, took aim at a storm with a laser near Last Chance, Colorado, in 2009. Samaras, his son Paul, and a fellow storm-chaser Carl Young were killed while chasing a storm in El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31.
Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas:

  • Samaras used sophisticated cameras and other devices to understand how tornadoes develop. However, in the Nat Geo News interview, the first “tools” he mentions are not GIS or meteorological instruments. What “tools” does Samaras use to take in “those incredible, fleeting moments” of being close to tornadoes?
    • His own senses. “You see the detail in the tornado, the wind flow; you can actually hear it. . . and then actually even the smell of tornadoes.”
      • How do students use their senses to evaluate changes in the weather? 
  • Can students name some specific sets of data Samaras and other storm chasers collect?
  • Tim Samaras was a popular and respected meteorologist. In the Nat Geo News interview, he says he was inspired by watching The Wizard of Oz as a young boy. Mae Jemison, a doctor, astronaut, and the first African-American woman to travel in space, was inspired by the character of Lt. Nyota Uhura on the TV series Star Trek. Have any students been inspired by pop culture to learn more about a subject or career path?
  • Read our activity “Preparing for Extreme Natural Events.” Have any students experienced tornadoes or other extreme natural events? Were they prepared? Does their family have an emergency plan?
    • In his Nat Geo interview, Samaras mentions “hurricane clips,” which are “simple metal clips that hold roof trusses on by nailing laterally to keep the roof on longer. Other solutions would be to strengthen garage doors to handle stronger winds. Once the garage door goes in high winds, the garage is pressurized and the walls and roof lift.”
  • 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes have devastated several local schools. Does your school have an emergency plan?
    • One high school profiled in the Oklahoman article protected student athletes from the storm by having them retreat to a locker room, put on football helmets, and crouching on the floor. (It worked.)
    • A day-care facility profiled in the New York Times crowded their pint-sized pupils into fortified restrooms, “draping them with protective covering and singing songs to keep them calm. As the wind ripped the roof off one of the bathrooms and the debris rained down on the children, they remained calm, singing ‘You Are My Sunshine.’” (It worked.)
  • What would students put in emergency-supply kits (recommended in “Preparing for Extreme Natural Events”) for families, classrooms, or communities?
    • FEMA gives you some ideas here.
    • This Oklahoman article, written by a survivor of a 1999 tornado, offers “Six Tips for Tornado Survivors.” This may help inform what to include in emergency kits, including locations of area churches or other shelters, insurance information, and even damage documentation for future tax relief.

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