Tornado deaths lead many to question the future of storm-chasing

The deaths of three veteran storm chasers in an Okla. tornado Friday have called into question the practice of those risking their lives to shoot up-close video footage of dangerous weather events.

Tim Samaras, 55, son Paul Samaras, 24, and partner Carl Young, 45, were killed while chasing a tornado in El Reno, Okla. The elder Samaras and his crew were esteemed researchers with experience, leading many to question whether shooting video footage of severe weather events is worth the risk.

“Certainly the media has to look at crews and how they position them in this because they’re not experienced storm chasers like the spotters are and also the scientists,’’ The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore said on TODAY Tuesday in a discussion with Matt Lauer and Al Roker. “The thrill-seekers are out there, and I don’t know how they can be monitored or kept out of harm’s way, but there are certainly too many people on the road.

“We’ve known this for years, and the numbers have only grown. Obviously what’s happened to our friends, our scientists, and even one of the thrill-seekers, as we learned this morning, who lost his life, there’s just too many people too close.”

Video: Storm chaser caught in tornado: It felt like I was going to heaven

Many amateurs are hoping to sell their videos to news organizations or to go viral online.

“We have to look at ourselves because we run that video, our friends at the Weather Channel, (and) news organizations all over,’’ Roker said. “There’s a market for it. These were experienced storm chasers, scientists. The thrill-seekers and the folks trying to make the fast buck are probably going to still go out there.”

On TODAY Monday, storm chaser Mike Bettes, who narrowly escaped serious injury when his truck when thrown by an Okla. tornado Friday, said he'd reconsider going back out in bad weather.

"I don't know,'' he told Al Roker. "It's given me perspective on what's important in my life. It may not be up to me. I'll talk to my family about it. If they don't want me to go, I won't go, simple as that. I have to keep them in mind. It was an eye-opener, it truly was."

In Tuesday's discussion, Lauer questioned whether the chase for compelling but dangerous video footage would stop if news organizations agreed to stop running it.

“It would change it for me,’’ Cantore said. “It is my job to be out in the field, it is my job to show the viewers what is going on, how bad the storm is, why I’ve asked you to evacuate, so I will do my job. I will go back out there.”

Tornadoes, which have no set path, raise the danger factor.

“We look at hurricanes,’’ Roker said. “We put ourselves in harm’s way there. We try to take as few risks as possible. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes, as we’ve found out, are unpredictable, violent storms.’’