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<h3 class="titlespan">Proximity|1</h3>
<h2 class="title">Chasing the Beast</h2>
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<p class="caption">With deceptive speed, a tornado touches down near El Reno, Okla., on May 31 and spawns smaller twisters within its record 2.6-mile span. <span class="photocred">Photo by Chris Machian, The Omaha World-Herald</span></p>
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<p class="lead">They had been chasing the beast for little more than 10 minutes, inching toward it with a series of 90-degree turns on the checkerboard maze of roads that sliced through the wheat and flax fields of central Oklahoma. Tim Samaras sat in the front passenger seat of the white Chevrolet Cobalt, considering the next move in a storm chaser&rsquo;s game of cat-and-mouse with the massive tornado that thundered across the landscape.</p>
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<p class="byline"><strong>By Kevin Simpson</strong>, <em>The Denver Post</em></p>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleTimS);"><img src="./img/portrait-tim-samaras.jpg"></a>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleTimS);"><p class="caption mugcap">Tim Samaras</p></a>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleCarlY);"><p class="caption mugcap">Carl Young</p></a>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peoplePaulS);"><img src="./img/portrait-paul-samaras.jpg"></a>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peoplePaulS);"><p class="caption mugcap">Paul Samaras</p></a>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleTimS);"><p class="caption mugcap">Tim Samaras</p></a>
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<p>The 55-year-old Coloradan, an iconic figure in this subculture who straddled celebrity and serious research, worked from a time-tested playbook: Determine the tornado&rsquo;s path, carefully maneuver his vehicle ahead of it, deploy three probes of his own invention to collect close-range data and then scamper out of the way.</p>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleCarlY);"><img src="./img/portrait-carl-young.jpg"></a>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peopleCarlY);"><p class="caption mugcap">Carl Young</p></a>
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<p>Next to Samaras, Carl Young gripped the steering wheel and intermittently controlled a camcorder that also captured their running dialogue &mdash; a mixture of storm narration, navigational give-and-take and unwelcome driving tips. Though less renowned than Samaras among the general public, Young, 45, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., carried considerable cachet within the storm-chasing community as a meticulous forecaster, devoted researcher and engaging personality. </p>
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<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peoplePaulS);"><img src="./img/portrait-paul-samaras.jpg"></a>
<a href="javascript:void(0);" onclick="revealBio(peoplePaulS);"><p class="caption mugcap">Paul Samaras</p></a>
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<p>Paul Samaras, Tim&rsquo;s 24-year-old son, sat silent in the back seat, audibly detached from the scenes he was videotaping with his own equipment. Though he had no speaking part in this portion of the day&rsquo;s drama, his very presence spoke to the way his emerging talents had happily intersected his father&rsquo;s passion.</p>
<p>They skirted the edge of mayhem along with dozens of other chasers, some also intent on taking measure of the tornado&rsquo;s elusive, evolving parameters. Others buzzed the area on a meteorological thrill ride, video cameras in hand, venturing as close as they dared to shoot images that in short order would find a worldwide audience through social media.</p>
<p>Storm chasers of every stripe converged on Friday, May 31, 2013, drawn by the promise of exactly what now unfolded &mdash; a breathtaking tornado of monumental proportions. Their presence highlighted the sometimes dangerous intersection of scientific inquiry and extreme sport, when chasers and locals turn out in critical mass to stalk often unpredictable and potentially lethal twisters.</p>
<p>This supercell thunderstorm, an imposing phenomenon that spawned vortices spinning within vortices like tornadic Russian nesting dolls, raced along with gathering speed. A terrifying, beautiful thing to behold.</p>
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<p class="caption">Storm researcher Gabe Garfield, who chased the May 31 El Reno, Okla., tornado with three friends, stopped to take video of the twister&rsquo;s early stages. <span class="photocred">Video by Gabe Garfield, Special to The Denver Post</span></p>
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<p>&ldquo;Are you in movie mode?&rdquo; Samaras said, as Young handed him his video camera.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Yeah,&rdquo; Young replied. &ldquo;Make sure it&rsquo;s in focus.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Together, the three men made their way in the Cobalt east along Reno Street, just south of the town of El Reno, a short jog on Interstate 40 west of Oklahoma City.</p>
<p>Moments later, caution kicked in. Samaras, who&rsquo;d spent decades stalking storms and anticipating their behavior, sensed trouble. Even as the Cobalt churned through the wind in an effort to outrun the storm so they could place the probes, Samaras reconsidered their speed and course, calculating whether it would be wise to hang back and let the tornado pass in front of them.</p>
<p>&ldquo;OK, we&rsquo;ve gotta be careful in case this thing wraps up,&rdquo; he said, fearing that the tornado could initiate a gradual left turn. &ldquo;I would slow up here, &rsquo;cause if this thing starts moving to the north, we&rsquo;re in trouble. Slow up. We&rsquo;re almost right alongside of it here. Slow up! Let the thing go off to the east a little bit, see if that thing transverses us.&rdquo;</p>
<p>They didn&rsquo;t appear to realize that they already had ventured into the transparent edge of the huge tornado&rsquo;s rotation. Sub-vortices ripped across fields to the south. In the moment, Young saw opportunity beckon.</p>
<p>&ldquo;We can pass it right now, Tim,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s no problem. Really. I mean, I have a clear shot.&rdquo;</p>
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<p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got debris in the air,&rdquo; said Samaras, and the loud thud of an object striking the car punctuated his words. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the problem.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Just ahead, the north-south intersection of Reformatory Road offered an escape valve.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Very large hail,&rdquo; Samaras said. &ldquo;OK, we&rsquo;ve got, we&rsquo;ve got a turn to the north which is good. Got this inflow jet, so we&rsquo;re gonna follow it around to the north and get outta here. Now we go up north and then east.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Behind the wheel, Young felt the Cobalt straining against winds that likely topped 70 mph. Though they assumed this to be inflow, the wind produced as the tornado sucked air into its expanding rotation, in fact it was the larger circulation of the tornado itself.</p>
<p>Samaras plotted a new course. They would head north on Reformatory and give the tornado a wide berth. Then they would resume the chase to the east, making up lost time as the funnels carved meandering arcs across the countryside.</p>
<p>It was the smart play, the safe play. It was the strategy that, on almost any day in Tornado Alley, would offer the best chance to intercept the tornado on their own terms, to plant the probes and — with some luck — reap the potentially huge research benefits of a calculated risk.</p>
<p>Young&rsquo;s camcorder rolled, collecting images and capturing some of the last verbal exchanges among the storm chasers in the car before the beast suddenly turned on them.</p>
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<div id="peopleTimS" class="reveal-modal people-modal infobox">
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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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<div id="peoplePaulS" class="reveal-modal people-modal infobox">
<img class="bio-mug" src="./img/portrait-paul-samaras.jpg">
<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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<div id="peopleMarcA" class="reveal-modal people-modal infobox">
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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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