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<h3 class="titlespan">Initiation|4</h3>
<h2 class="title">Chasing the Beast</h2>
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<p class="caption">The same Chevrolet Cobalt that the TWISTEX team used to chase the El Reno, Okla., tornado is shown in an earlier photo. During the El Reno chase, the car did not have the roof-mounted instrumentation shown. <span class="photocred">Photo by Ed Grubb, Special to The Denver Post</span></p>
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<p class="lead">Erik Fox awoke on Friday morning, May 31, at home in Waurika, Okla., ready to take a closer look at his tornado forecasting models, which pointed toward the probability of epic conditions. As he often did on promising days, he spoke on the phone with his good friend Carl Young. It was practically ritual.</p>
<p>On the morning of a storm chase, they would dissect the forecast and plan to meet later for dinner or drinks to trade stories and observations.</p>
<p>As Fox headed north from near the Texas border, the morning was all anticipation.</p>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleErikF);"><p class="caption mugcap">Erik Fox</p></a>
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<p>&ldquo;We all knew it could be a dynamic, explosive day,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Carl mentioned that it could be a big tornado day.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Fox, a sturdy, 12-year Army veteran with two combat tours behind him, had chased with Young earlier in the spring, taking a meteorological tour of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, an area that storm chasers call &ldquo;Dixie Alley.&rdquo; Fox learned a lot about his friend across those miles, as Young played deejay with his seemingly endless supply of movie soundtracks.</p>
<p>From an early age, Young displayed a fascination with movies, and collected Godzilla figures that he used with model buildings to create his own monster videos. By high school, where he was a straight-A student, he considered attending the University of Southern California&rsquo;s film school before deciding to go for an economics degree from Cal-Berkeley.</p>
<p>But the love of film never went away &mdash; spaghetti westerns, in particular. He amassed a number of soundtracks and, in the course of pursuing his collection, met a producer-director of B movies who befriended him and got him a few bit parts.</p>
<p>Yet the weather, another childhood fascination in which he found use for his video camera, gradually surfaced as a dominant theme in his life. He earned a master&rsquo;s degree in atmospheric science from the University of Nevada-Reno and started storm chasing on his own in 2000.</p>
<p>Fox remembers driving through Hattiesburg, Miss., when Young got the call from Samaras saying that they&rsquo;d been funded by National Geographic for lightning research starting in late May. He immediately called his dad, Bob Young, to share the news.</p>
<p>Carl Young and his father had seen their relationship renewed in 1996, after Carl got divorced and moved in with Bob, who had retired from a career as an IBM salesman to South Lake Tahoe, Calif.</p>
<p>&ldquo;We were almost inseparable,&rdquo; said Bob. &ldquo;For me, it was a rebirth with Carl.&rdquo;</p>
<p>They water-skied from the dock at his lakefront house, played golf, shot skeet, traveled all over the country. When Carl started storm chasing, Bob even went with him on an eight-day road trip that culminated with three tornado sightings in Sleepy Eye, Minn.</p>
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<blockquote>Is there a thrill in it? Yes. Any chaser who says they&rsquo;re not in it for the thrill is lying. But it&rsquo;s not dangerous if you know what you&rsquo;re doing and you&rsquo;re experienced.</blockquote><div class="attrib">Erik Fox</div>
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<p>More recently, Carl Young had been teaching atmospheric science and some geology as an adjunct professor at Lake Tahoe Community College while also working for an environmental agency, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, as a program director. He saved his vacation time for storm chasing, though he and his girlfriend, a doctoral student from Lithuania, had planned a trip in July to view another of Young&rsquo;s passions, the rock group Depeche Mode, on its European tour.</p>
<p>To friends and colleagues, Young was just about the most laid-back guy imaginable — but also a keen forecaster who became known for finding what he called &ldquo;little nuggets,&rdquo; nuances in a weather pattern no one else seemed to see. He was working on his master&rsquo;s thesis when Samaras first suggested he ride along with him as part of his research. They spent the next 11 seasons chasing together.</p>
<p>When Fox chatted with Young on the morning of May 31, they didn&rsquo;t get into specifics of their respective chase plans for the day. But they did talk weather.</p>
<p>Among the many conditions in play, Fox saw something that concerned him: a capping inversion, a layer of elevated warm air acting like the lid on a steamer, allowing energy to build beneath it. Eventually that lid would pop off, creating a sudden surge of warm air into the colder atmosphere above &mdash; the recipe for a thunderstorm. And given other conditions, like increased wind shear at ground level, the storm was ripe to spawn a massive tornado.</p>
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<p>Fox kicked these observations around on the phone with Young, who echoed his excitement.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Is there a thrill in it? Yes,&rdquo; Fox said. &ldquo;Any chaser who says they&rsquo;re not in it for the thrill is lying. But it&rsquo;s not dangerous if you know what you&rsquo;re doing and you&rsquo;re experienced. I just didn&rsquo;t trust the storms that day. I had something in my gut that said to be extra careful.&rdquo;</p>
<p class="lead later">In a building on the edge of the University of Oklahoma campus, National Weather Service forecaster Marc Austin arrived at the office prepared for a long shift, even as the day began with deceptively mild conditions.</p>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleMarcA);"><p class="caption mugcap">Marc Austin</p></a>
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<p>Almost immediately, he joined discussions with colleagues about how to frame briefings over the next several hours to drive home a single, urgent message: <a href="http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/?n=events-20130531" title="The May 31-June 1, 2013 Tornado and Flash Flooding Event - NOAA.gov" target="_blank">A potentially deadly day</a> loomed ahead.</p>
<p>He focused his attention on the lowest levels of the gathering storm, the best vantage point to monitor its movement. The radar scanned at roughly five-minute intervals, a time lapse that could make the storm difficult to track if it moved quickly and unpredictably &mdash; which this one eventually did.</p>
<p>Between 5:30 and 6 p.m., Austin watched on his radar as the southernmost storm percolating in the atmosphere, dubbed &ldquo;tail-end Charlie,&rdquo; became dominant among the cluster that had developed around the area long anticipated in the forecasts.</p>
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<p class="caption">Marc Austin, forecaster with the National Weather Service on the University of Oklahoma campus, later learned he had lost three friends to the twister. <span class="photocred">Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post</span></p>
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<p>Severe thunderstorm warnings had gone out at 4:45 p.m. with predictions of golf ball or larger-sized hail. Austin issued the first tornado warning at 5:36 p.m., with a small twister reported shortly before 6. He could see the elements coming together in color on his radar screen.</p>
<p>Splotchy green echoes became gradually more robust, changing to yellow and then orange as the signal detected heavier precipitation. The image&rsquo;s counterclockwise rotation developed a &ldquo;hook echo,&rdquo; a sickle-shaped protrusion on the southwest side of the storm caused by strong low-level winds meeting a rear downdraft. Tornadoes usually form on the northern tip of that hook.</p>
<p>Calls filtered in from storm chasers, including Austin&rsquo;s wife, Sharon, reporting a tornado touching down. At the same time, Austin looked to the bank of television monitors tuned to news channels, where he could see the first live images of what his wife had described.</p>
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<p>He watched as multiple suction vortices &mdash; smaller substructures of tornadoes &mdash; appeared almost as full-size tornadoes themselves, descending from the blackened sky and dancing across the landscape as if on a carousel. Austin knew this could be deceptive to viewers on the ground. As he could discern on multiple radar feeds that created a three-dimensional picture of the atmosphere, a massive rotation loomed above.</p>
<p>&ldquo;It was apparent that it would come down at some point,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I knew some people would get caught off guard, not realizing that the tornado was quite a bit larger.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Still, the tornado had formed over a relatively remote area about 10 miles southwest of El Reno and didn&rsquo;t appear to be moving very fast.</p>
<p>That would change.</p>
<p class="lead later">Gabe Garfield, a research meteorologist and also a colleague of Austin&rsquo;s, gathered with dozens of other storm chasers in the parking lot of Love&rsquo;s gas station on the south end of El Reno. He had taken the afternoon off to indulge his hobby with three friends, and all of them scrambled into his Hyundai Sonata when they saw activity brewing to the west.</p>
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<p>The storms still loomed about 2 miles distant when Garfield&rsquo;s group pulled his car off on a side road to set up a tripod to shoot video of the tornado&rsquo;s early stages.</p>
<p>Garfield, capturing the almost hypnotic, misty swirl on his camera, acted on a subconscious calculation. This tornado&rsquo;s behavior offered a rare opportunity to gather footage; he&rsquo;d witnessed twisters at this range before and had confidence in his ability to keep himself, and those traveling with him, out of harm&rsquo;s way.</p>
<p>But his friends grew nervous. They urged Garfield back into the car. His instincts told him to stay and keep shooting, but he complied. Much later, after he knew more precisely how fast the tornado had actually been moving toward them, he would have a term for his friends&rsquo; insistence: &ldquo;Saving grace.&rdquo;</p>
<p>They quickly packed up and headed east as the circulation seemed to gain ground on them. The Sonata dipped a mile south and then turned east again on unpaved road. Yet they had put no more distance between themselves and the tornado. It had either accelerated, grown bigger &mdash; or both.</p>
<p>From its moderate speed moving 20-25 mph, it started covering ground at around 40 mph.</p>
<p>Concern and traffic converged.</p>
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<p>Heading east along Reno Street, Garfield directed the vehicle south to dodge gridlock, then headed east again at the next opportunity, which was 15th Street. Approaching U.S. 81, he realized not only that the tornado was gaining on them, but that it was expanding.</p>
<p>To the south, he could see precipitation giving shape to the edge of the tornado&rsquo;s core flow. But in this case, the visible funnel only hinted at the size of the beast. What seemed a safe distance quickly revealed itself to be a danger zone. From the front passenger seat, Garfield saw a line of chasers behind him as the car arrived at U.S. 81 and directed the driver to turn south on the smooth pavement in the hope they could outrun the expanding twister.</p>
<p>When their ears popped, indicating a pressure drop, that signaled more bad news. The tornado&rsquo;s outer circulation had begun to overtake them. South wasn&rsquo;t working. They absolutely had to go east.</p>
<p>But as they approached the next east-west intersection, police had blocked off all southbound flow short of their target. In the moment, traffic laws faded to insignificance. They swerved around the barricade, veered east on 29th Street&rsquo;s unpaved outlet and hit the gas. Potholes hammered the car&rsquo;s suspension.</p>
<p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to die,&rdquo; came a voice from the back seat.</p>
<p>&ldquo;No, we&rsquo;re not, we&rsquo;re just going to keep going,&rdquo; Garfield said.</p>
<p>But the advancing tornado had begun to claim casualties, just as Austin, back at the National Weather Center, had feared. Mike Bettes of the Weather Channel found his heavy-duty SUV, specially armored for storm chasing, picked up and tossed an estimated 200 yards — though he and his passengers survived with minor injuries.</p>
<p>Another man, fleeing the storm, pulled off the road when traffic snarled to wait for the tornado to pass. It launched his pickup truck about 20 feet into the air and rolled it four times. And again, miraculously, he and his three passengers survived.</p>
<p>But just as the storm passed U.S. 81, a little shy of Alfadale Road, an amateur storm chaser was killed minutes after he sent a cellphone photo of the tornado to a friend and told him how much fun he was having. Two more men, in separate vehicles, were killed as they tried to head south out of the circulation. In all, at least 20 people would die as a result of the heavy weather that day, most of them due to the flooding that occurred as the major storm passed through the area.</p>
<p>The tornado alone would claim eight lives.</p>
<p>Viewed through the rear windshield of Garfield&rsquo;s Sonata, the twister had borne down on them, gaining speed as it crossed U.S. 81. And then, quite suddenly, the chasers looked back to find it miles away. They looked at each other in amazement.</p>
<p>How did this happen?</p>
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<a href="chapter5.html"><h2>Chapter 5 | Contact</h2></a>
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<p class="small" style="float:left;color:white;">Copyright <span style="top:.18em;position:relative;font-size:1.1em;">&copy;</span> 2013, The Denver Post</p>
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<h2>Tim Samaras</h2>
<p>The Colorado-based storm chaser founded the meteorological research group dubbed TWISTEX.</p>
<p>A self-taught engineer without college degrees, his career spanned both serious science and celebrity as one of the leading characters in the Discovery Channel show, &ldquo;Storm Chasers.&rdquo;</p>
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<h2>Paul Samaras</h2>
<p>The son of Tim Samaras and photographer/videographer for TWISTEX, Paul and his quiet, creative personality quickly grew in stature among storm chasers as his passion for capturing images merged with his father&rsquo;s passion for studying tornadoes.</p>
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<h2>Carl Young</h2>
<p>The adjunct professor at a community college also worked as an avid environmentalist and 11-year TWISTEX partner to Tim Samaras. His ability to find &ldquo;hidden nuggets&rdquo; in weather patterns made him a highly regarded forecaster, while his effervescent personality made him the life of the party.</p>
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<h2>Ed Grubb</h2>
<p>The Thornton, Colo.-based storm chaser and longtime colleague of Tim Samaras had a lesser role in the TV &ldquo;Storm Chasers&rdquo; series but remained a frequent chase partner. He toured Tornado Alley with the Samarases and Young until just days before the El Reno twister.</p>
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<h2>Gabe Garfield</h2>
<p>The Norman, Okla.-based storm researcher followed the El Reno tornado in the field and made a narrow escape from its path. Later, he compiled radar data, video images and other information to help reconstruct the twister&rsquo;s path and its intersection with the TWISTEX team.</p>
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<h2>Marc Austin</h2>
<p>The Norman, Okla.-based National Weather Service forecaster issued the tornado warnings that preceded the May 31 El Reno twister. He manned the NWS desk as the tornado ripped across a rural patch of central Oklahoma.</p>
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<h2>Erik Fox</h2>
<p>The Waurika, Okla.-based storm chaser had toured &ldquo;Dixie Alley&rdquo; with good friend Carl Young earlier in the spring. In the wake of the El Reno tornado, Fox helped organize the volunteer search for the belongings of the TWISTEX crew.</p>
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<h2>Dan Robinson</h2>
<p>A storm chaser from New Baden, Ill., Robinson narrowly escaped the violence of the El Reno tornado. His vehicle preceded the TWISTEX vehicle down Reuter Road by a mere 28 seconds and his video proved crucial in providing clues to the fate of the Samarases and Young.</p>
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<h2>Bruce Lee</h2>
<p>A senior atmospheric scientist at WindLogics, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Minn., Lee worked with TWISTEX for several years on various tornado projects. He and his wife, Cathy Finley, both formerly taught at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.</p>
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<h2>Cathy Finley</h2>
<p>A senior atmospheric scientist at WindLogics, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Minn., Finley met Tim Samaras at a 2005 workshop and determined their research efforts complemented each other. She and her husband, Bruce Lee, both previously taught at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.</p>
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