CREATED Jun. 3, 2013
Omaha, NE - The death toll from Friday's tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area is now 14. Veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul and Carl Young died Friday night when the tornado they were chasing turned on them near El Reno.
June 3, NOAA released a statement on their deaths: "We are terribly saddened by this news. Samaras was a respected tornado researcher and friend of NOAA who brought to the field a unique portfolio of expertise in engineering, science, writing and videography."
Their deaths are believed to be the first among researchers while chasing tornadoes. They show that in severe weather, things can change in a split second.
Spring weather productions were also in near El Reno on Friday, shooting one of the tornadoes that killed the veteran storm chasers. One meteorologist tells Action 3 News, the traffic congestion turned deadly when a tornado formed right above stalled cars.
Eleven days after a tornado flattened Moore, Oklahoma, tornadoes hit the state again. Omaha native Jason McKittrick witnessed the havoc first hand. He's a local storm chaser and on Friday, thunderstorms surrounded his car in El Reno Oklahoma. "I have never witnessed that many civilians, people without maps, no expertise and no knowledge, they were just out there trying to get out of the storm,'' says McKittrick.
According to McKittrick, the most dangerous part of a storm is people trying to avoid it. On Friday, thousands of people were trying to avoid the tornadoes. McKittrick refers to the scene as chaotic. "We encountered people who were trying to evacuate, it appeared some of those driving south were driving in north bound traffic lanes of the interstate in the pouring rainstorm against traffic."
McKittrick says the vicious storm pinned south bound drivers against a river with no way to escape. His team and he were miles away taking photos. They watched the formation of the El Reno tornadoes, "It started out as a fairly small tornado only about 100 yards wide and in less than a minute, the tornado grew to 3/4 of a mile wide." Under the storm were people still waiting in their cars. "Then suddenly the tornado circulation develops right above them and sets down on them," says McKittrick.
When storm chasing, often the biggest hazard is driving. Road construction, distractions and packed roadways can turn dangerous fast. That's exactly what happened Friday night.