TODAY   |  June 03, 2013

3 veteran storm chasers killed by Okla. tornado

Weather scientist Tim Samaras, his son, photographer Paul Samaras, and meteorologist Carl Young were killed by a powerful tornado that struck Oklahoma City over the weekend. NBC’s Mark Potter reports, and The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes tells TODAY’s Al Roker about narrowly surviving the same storm.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> over the weekend, all eyes were on the midwest as a series of tornadoes pummeled that area, an ef3 in particular near el reno , oklahoma , claiming at least 13 lives. three of those weather scientists who were caught up in the middle of the storm. mark potter right now is in union city , oklahoma , and he's got the latest on that. mark, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, al. we now know those three storm chasers were, met a violent end doing the work that they loved and for which they were very well-known. they apparently were chasing a tornado that turned on them. the tornado that killed the veteran storm chasers was a powerful ef3 known as the el reno tornado which left a swathe of destruction west of oklahoma city . the victims were 55-year-old tim samar samaras , a renowned weather scientist, his 24-year-old son and photographer, paul samaras , and 45-year-old meteorologist carl young . tim samaras ' brother says as they were tracking the tornado it turned toward them.

>> because of the circumstances on a two-lane road it appears he could not get out of the way, and basically the tornado picked up his vehicle.

>> reporter: the canadian county undersheriff says that small car was found upright but badly mangled in the ditch. one body was inside. the two others were a quarter mile away in opposite directions. tim samaras and his team were regarded as courageous scientists who tried to help save lives gathering storm data. samaras placed conical shaped sensors in the tornado path and he was a star on cable tv . his friend, weather channel storm expert greg forbes says samaras was a weather pioneer.

>> an amazing scientist, extremely highly respected by the meteorological scientific community as well as the chaser community.

>> reporter: on a youtube site samaras reflected on storm chasing .

>> on one hand they're incredibly beautiful. on the other hand these powerful storms can create devastating damage that change people's lives forever.

>> reporter: now in his last tweet of the day he died, tim samaras wrote that it was "a dangerous day in oklahoma , stay weather savvy," he said, and his death and that of his team along with the incident involving the weather channel vehicle will likely spark conversations and arguments over the safety of storm chasing and whether there may be too many people out here doing that now. al?

>> mark, you raise a good point. thank you very much. well the spotter community has a tribute on their website. they all have gps tracking devices so you can see where they are. if you look at the graphic they spelled out tim samaras , paul samaras and carl young 's initials as a tribute to their friends and colleague who were killed in this tornado . joining me mike bettes from the weather channel . as people have heard, mike and his crew of two others were caught up in that same storm and you guys were able to survive, you with a damaged hand, some scratches for your other folks, but some broken bones for your driver. so mike, you get caught up in this thing. what's going through your mind as this is happening?

>> you know, it's hard to say. i was aware the whole time. we were just tumbling. initially i just couldn't believe it was happening and then it was kind of survival mode after that. it was what do we have to do inside this vehicle to make sure we're going to be okay. we ducked down, seatbelts on, i remember my head hitting the air bag and we were just holding on and everything happened so fast. we were just holding on, trying to get past the tornado , trying to get out of the path of it and got caught on the front end of it.

>> it wasn't until yesterday you heard about paul samaras , his son and carl young as well dying. what was your reaction when you first heard that?

>> shock. shock. i knew tim pretty well and he has a very good reputation of being a great scientist and being a very, very careful driver, a very careful navigator so it's very surprising to me that this happened. we don't know the circumstances but it's shocking to me.

>> you've survived this. are you going to go back out there on the chase?

>> i don't know. you know, it's given me perspective, what's important in my life. it may not be up to me, al. 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, truly it was.

>> we're glad you're safe and the debate about storm chasing and these thrill seekers are going to -- because you guys are scientists, a lot these folks aren't. mike bettes from the weather channel thank you.