The volley of Friday tornadoes that swirled near El Reno, Okla., killed 13 people, including three people who intentionally entered their path: veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras, 55, his son Paul Samaras, 24, and researcher Carl Young, 45.
The men were mourned by family and colleagues over the weekend. Samaras was the field organizer and founder of the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in-near Tornadoes Experiment, more commonly known as TWISTEX, a tornado research organization, and spent more than 20 years following storms.
"I chase the most powerful storms on the planet," he said in a video uploaded to YouTube last year. "All my life I've been on a quest to figure out how these things worked. Tornadoes have represented the biggest challenge as they are very fleeting in nature and extremely difficult to pinpoint their proposed destruction."
"At times I have mixed feelings about chasing these storms," says Samaras in the video, which shows the inside of a tornado using one of his devices. "On one hand they are incredibly beautiful, on the other hand these powerful storms can create devastating damage that change people's lives forever."
The El Reno tornado that killed the storm chasers was given a preliminary EF3 rating by the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., meaning its winds likely maxed out at around 165 mph. The weather service said Monday morning the rating remains preliminary as it reviews radar data.
Radar images captured by the radio station KTLX show the tornado developing from a storm passing through the area.
Samaras was found dead inside his mangled car wearing a seat belt, according to ABC News. At least one of the other men was found 1/4 mile from the vehicle. NBC News cites Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West as saying the two other men were heaved 1/4 mile in opposite directions.
Another team of storm chasers was hit by the same Friday twister. Three vehicles driven by members of the Weather Channel Tornado Hunt Team were tumbled by winds, but their occupants survived.
"It was like we were floating. We were tumbling," said Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes, whose car tumbled about 200 yards after receiving a direct hit by the tornado. "We were airborne at least one point and we were floating. Then we weren't tumbling anymore and we came down hard."
Each of the Weather Channel chasers walked away with minor injuries. The cable network says it was the first time staffers were injured covering severe weather.
Shortly before his death, Samaras tweeted a safety advisement to followers. "Dangerous day ahead for OK--stay weather savvy!" he wrote.
"This is a devastating loss to the meteorological, research, and storm chasing communities," fellow TWISTEX researcher Tony Laubach wrote in a Sunday statement posted on the group's Facebook page. "I ask that you keep the families in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time. There is some comfort in knowing these men passed on doing what they loved."
Samaras was recognized as an "Emerging Explorer" by the National Geographic Society in 2005, according to a CV posted to TWISTEX's website, and received an outstanding service award from the National Transportation Safety Board for investigating the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800. He appeared in three seasons of the Discovery Channel series "Storm Chasers," which was cancelled last year.