How a Legendary Storm Chaser Changed the Face of Tornado Science

May 31, 2013 seemed like just another rainy spring day in El Reno, Oklahoma. The afternoon was hot, the air heavy with moisture. On the darkening horizon, thick clouds billowed in a promise of rain.

But around 4 p.m. local time, the winds shifted slightly and the afternoon shower turned deadly. Two hours later, the tornado that touched down defied weather experts’ predictions, rapidly changing speed and direction and swelling to record-breaking sizes. At its peak, researchers estimate that the twister spanned 2.6 miles across.

Over the course of its 40-minute rampage, the twister caused millions of dollars of damage, 115 injuries and 20 deaths. Each of those deaths was significant, but three were particularly unusual: the first storm chasers ever known to be killed in a tornado. The violent winds enveloped Tim Samaras, 55, his son Paul Samaras, 24, and his colleague Carl Young, 45, toppling their car like a toy in a breeze.

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