Tabloid Meteorology – The Weather Channel goes a bridge too far in storm chasing

UPDATE: I have a “before” picture of the vehicle now, posted below.

UPDATE2: Perhaps storm chasing has reached a tipping point.

Respected Tornado Reseacher And Storm Chaser Among Dead In Oklahoma |

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Family members and members of the storm chasing community are confirming that well-respected tornado researcher and storm chaser Tim Samaras is among the eleven confirmed victims of Friday’s tornado that ripped through El Reno, Oklahoma. Samaras was one of the most well-known and respected tornado researchers in the world and had made many appearances on television shows like the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers and was a regular contributor to shows on National Geographic.

The day that should change tornado actions and storm chasing forever

Update 9:30 a.m., June 2: We now hear that “veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras; his son, Paul Samaras; and chase partner Carl Young, are among those killed by Friday’s EF-3 tornado in El Reno, OK.”


In the midst of all the tragedy unfolding in Oklahoma, media and storm chasers have been swarming all over the tornado outbreak. I’ve seen this many times in my years in television news: when you are tasked with going live, sometimes common sense gets literally thrown to the wind.


The photo shows the SUV Mike Bettes and a few of his crew member were travelling in when it was thrown by the tornado. Photo by SeanSchoferTVN/Twitter

The Weather Channel lost sight of reality today, trying to get close to get the best footage for live coverage, and paid the price. Fortunately, they weren’t killed.  Just last year, the TWC ran this segment by TWC meteorologist Mike Bettes, where he asked:

Mike Bettes’s Open Mike Discussion “Storm Chasers, Have They Gone Too Far?”

And it seems, Mike Bettes doesn’t listen to his own advice. Watch:

From TWC’s report on the incident:

Meteorologist Mike Bettes was chasing the monster rain-wrapped tornado near El Reno, Okla. when he says the storm picked up the heavy chase SUV and threw it an estimated 200 yards.

“We were ahead of the storm. We stopped to broadcast and I saw a large violent wedge tornado,” Bettes said in a live phone interview after he established phone connection after the incident.

“What we were trying to do was just get away from it and get to the south side of it,” Bettes said. “But what ended up happening was all three of our vehicles that we chase with were all hit by it.”

Basically, he put his team so close, he couldn’t get away from it.

And, he should know better. From the videos I’ve seen, this appeared to be a multiple vortice tornado, with a central core surrounded by other vortices (typically 3 or 4). Sometimes these outer vortices are intermittent and invisible.


Trying to dodge multiple vortices in the middle of live TV is of course a recipe for disaster.

h/t to Firsthand Weather

UPDATE: Before the tornado caught it, all blinged out:


Image by Kevin Parrish of NBC News


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I love when you can nail hypocrites talking down to people. Glad they’re OK.

Wild ride tonight. Rode it out with a few neighbors in the storm cellar. No apparent damage near us. It will be interesting to get better information and damage estimates tomorrow.

I was just watching TWC for a bit. Boy, certainly pushing the envelope. It’s one thing to play chicken with a tornado with a narrow base where it’s really tough to get hit, it’s a whole different scene with half mile wide wedge tornado that you can’t dodge.
I had air bags in my car “tested” when a pickup truck turned left in front of us. It’s really amazing that people can be strapped into a metal can while its sheet metal is twisted in ways I can’t do at home, but that you can walk away from afterwards.
Yep, I think at least two storm chasing teams need to rethink their goals. If it’s just to provide ground truth to the radar images, they really should be more careful about their communication links!

Mike Bromley the Kurd near the Green Line

The misleading opening statement in the video….”year of the tornado”….


Mike is a dunce


Not Mike Bromley

This storm was not typical. It was more like a hurricane. Tornadoes formed, dissipated, and reformed near the preceding one. It was not what these chasers are used to. Of course, you are right. They should know and take precautions accordingly. The tornado that got the chase vehicle, and several others, though I think this one was the only one picked up and tossed, had taken a sharp turn to the south. Again, unusual. Apparently five fatalities, all vehicle related. The number of hospitalized seems to be about fifty. Better numbers will of course be forthcoming. Flooding is the problem at the moment. It is not clear how much damage was done.

Don Wagner

What happens when storm chasers catch one


One could say the same thing about combat photographers. What they need is better gear, or say, a roll cage. I appreciate their work.


I wasn’t watching TWC, but from what I have seen, watching through various TV stations and spotters, live, this is unfair.
In the wake of the previous Moore tornado, local stations were telling people to -evacuate-, so they did, and the i35 was packed with people fleeing the OK City area. The chasers got caught in that traffic jam. This does not seem to have been a matter of getting to close the way ‘core-punchers’ tend to do, this was due to the news stations giving very bad advice, resulting in this disaster. Now, maybe more information will get out that will change my perception of what happened here. But at present, this seems to be the case.
It was also somewhat unusual in that you had a train of supercells not greatly separated in space, one after another.


I-40 is a major east-west interstate that was shut down, so westbound travelers had to go somewhere. I’m not sure, but I bet they were detoured onto I-35 which is major north-south road. I-35 is usually very busy on any day, but especially on a Friday.
The line of storms was going in the standard SW to NE direction, but then the line turned east and even started moving in a NW to SE direction. So the standard “go south” option was the wrong one.
The teams that are here for the NCAA softball championship rode out the storm in the hotel’s underground parking lot. And there was a hockey game at the Cox Center that they also evacuated everyone to the garage. But, there are reports that the underground tunnel system in downtown OKC is a bit soggy because of the 5+ inches of rain.


Agree, but disagree.
First, for all intents and purposes the only people that seemed to be in that area were chasers, so it’s not like they were blocking legitimate escaping traffic.
Second, there’s no way our insurance will be paying for that vehicle, unless they’re magicians and managed to talk an insurance company into insuring a clearly marked tornado chasing vehicle against tornado damage. My guess is they didn’t.
Third, the video from that vehicle is some of the most incredible I’ve yet seen. Watching the multiple suction zones forming and zipping around was breathtaking… and useful. Not to mention the scene where they get crushed ALONE should keep a lot of chasers farther away than they normally might have risked.
In my personal opinion the movie Twister did far more harm than today’s ill-fated chase.
Meanwhile, it was stressful watching the packed highways with tornadoes and softball-sized hail descending upon them. I sincerely hope when tomorrow dawns the first responders have nothing but good news.
I was watching on CNN (I despise Anderson Cooper, I got the distinct impression he was annoyed that his day was “wasted” by storms), FoxNews (Shepard Smith is great at this stuff, but the Lo-Def feed is horrid), and KFOR-4 in Oklahoma City, which was the authoritative channel. Within minutes YouTube had some great videos. Things have sure changed.

Gary Hladik

No doubt the tornado was magnified by global warming. Before global warming, that would have been a safe distance. /sarc

Kurt in Switzerland

That would be a multiple VORTEX tornado, not a multiple vortice tornado.
Plural for vortex is vortices, so singular for vortices is vortex.
But singular for multiple flips in your tornado-chasing SUV is still STUPID.
Kurt in Switzerland


Bwaaa….amateurs never take less likely possibilities seriously.
A roll cage for a vehicle that just might be rolled by weather? Good idea clowns.


Reminds me of a dog. What does it do when it finally catches the hubcap?

Fools rush in.


Mike Bromley the Kurd near the Green Line says:
May 31, 2013 at 9:36 pm
The misleading opening statement in the video….”year of the tornado”…

You missed this introductory text:

Just last year, [actually 2011 I think] the TWC ran this segment by TWC meteorologist Mike Bettes, where he asked:
Mike Bettes’s Open Mike Discussion “Storm Chasers, Have They Gone Too Far?”

Ed Zuiderwijk

The hunters becoming the hunted.


Footage was shown here in Australia on SBS News. You could see the from inside the vehicle that it was being hit by various airborne objects, one looked like a vehicle another was a bale of hay. There does seem to be an increase in bad weather reports, and the desire to be first to report right in the centre of the event. Glad they were unhurt, but rather silly thing to do. Reminds me of the eruption of Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand in 1995. Some of my workmate got in their cars and drove ~400km’s to go see it firsthand.


Another point to consider are those idiots who pay to be storm chasing tourists. WTF? They really do not need to be in the way. There have been lots of reports about those people in the area.
I don’t have a problem with the guys from the stations who report back on the location of the storms. I have great respect for the station helicopter pilots who go up in the storms to track them. The local stations are very good and they track the storms by streets. It is only nervewracking when they mention your street!
But the great local reporting may cause some people to delay taking shelter. I was getting ready since I made the decision to shelter in place – I contacted the neighbors. key friends, etc and watched the TV. Then the storm turned east and I was ok (northern suburbs), but the central city was not. So, those people may have decided to hit the road.
By the way, one cable news show made it sound like everyone in the OKC Metro area was in their cars and in a panic. OKC Metro has about one million people. The vast majority were safe in their houses and not panicing.
I prefer Gary England on Channel 9. Gary and his crew are very calm. Some of the other TV guys tend to get over dramatic. But one excellent thing that happens in OKC is that most of the radio stations switch to the TV stations, so even people traveling through the area can hear all of the warnings.
Here is an interesting story about the above ground shelters in Moore –


Well, I dunno… Traditionally, journalists have been worthy of respect because they have the guts to go where most of us won’t go voluntarily. War fronts, disasters, etc. Bettes showed some guts, thus he deserves some respect.


I’m a little worried about Luther Wu. In his last post he was trying to evacuate and things weren’t going well:

Luther Wu says:
May 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm
Storm chasers getting hammered w/debris- it’s coming right at me (dang) but still time to dodge.
funnels popping out of a 4- mile radius area- debris flying everywhere

U OK Luther?


commieBob, I’m betting on power outage… not stressing yet.


Incidentally, if you have the ability to watch this in HD, be awed:

Paul in Sweden

When I saw the wreckage of that car I thought this is getting to be like NASCAR with the cars all trimmed with sponsor stickers. How long will it be until there is a ‘Red Bull’ tornado run?


Perhaps that “common sense gets literally thrown to the wind.” is due to fact and fiction becoming blurred

Heroes and death.

Drive into a GIANT tornado?
Stupid is as Stupid does.

CodeTech says:
June 1, 2013 at 3:38 am

What a film.

The trend in the news seems to be ever more hype for storm events with reporters in the brunt of the weather. We see intrepid young reporters standing in the hurricane to show us how much the wind is blowing, I suppose, or in blizzards, floods and now tornadoes. I keep wondering what is going to happen when one of the sweet young things gets hit by something moving along at 70+ mph. Guess this one was what happens when the reporter gets caught in the tornado. I’m glad he survived, but although stupidity is not illegal, it can carry a death penalty. The story should be about the storm and those affected by it, not the reporter. I tend not not watch these folks hyping the weather for ratings.

Illuminating WUWT posting of the roar of the tornadoes and the stink of the tabloid journalism; the exhilaration, the one-upmanship. I, and my sailboat, survived Hurricane Hugo. I stared the Ringgold, Georgia tornado in the eye from the Quality Inn. All things considered, I’d rather be home in my cabin in Wisconsin without broadcast television.
Safety is the new Liberty, and recklessness is the new Freedom, and Anony Mouse is the new John Handcock.

Jack Maloney

As a result of CAGW hysteria, weather has become a profit center and media event, spinning lies, lives and fortunes.

Bill Illis

Last week-end, the Tornado Vehicle Intercept Vehicle II, got video from inside an F3-F4 tornado.
The TVI II is specially made 7 ton vehicle with moveable sloped armor, bullet-proof glass and hydraulic spikes to anchor in a dirt road.'s%20Field%20Pictures%20(14).JPG
Watch this video to the end because it just gets crazier as it goes on. Near the end, one can see the inner vortex just 10 feet away. Bandwidth should support putting this on 1080p HD or you might want to open in Youtube and watch full-screen.


wow – that video is unbelievable!
that photo at the top of the post is gonna be one of the photos of the year; there is something so perversely appropriate about that suv having “TORNADO HUNT 2013” plastered all over it.


2011 was a year with many tornadoes and many deaths. It’s just not related to GW.

“commieBob says: June 1, 2013 at 3:16 am
I’m a little worried about Luther Wu. In his last post he was trying to evacuate and things weren’t going well:
Luther Wu says:
May 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm
Storm chasers getting hammered w/debris- it’s coming right at me (dang) but still time to dodge.
funnels popping out of a 4- mile radius area- debris flying everywhere
U OK Luther?”

Yeah, I agree commieBob. When Luther posted that he was in the path and bolted, I took that as a cue to turn on the weather radar. Truly impressive front and an amazing live radar echo dissection by the experts.

“…Basically, he put his team so close, he couldn’t get away from it.
And, he (Bettes) should know better…”

After watching, and turning TWC off in disgust, weather actor Mike Bettes twisting logic and science to make asinine CAGW causation statements, e.g. “…caused by global warming, oh my, and it’s getting worse…”; Knowing better is not a Mike Bettes trait.
Often it seems that Bettes and other weather channel ‘show’ personnel feel they can do Jim Cantore’s storm analysis better and showier than Jim. Maybe they can, but they’re darn lucky they didn’t send one of their “show” blowhards and his video team to their death. If TWC fails to learn from this almost tragic experience, sooner or later, they’ll get their wish.


Tornado Hunt 2013? Looks like it found them. The Weather Channel should mount the hood of that van in their lobby as an example of what not to do.

The Weather Channel is a joke. Quite frankly, chasing storms for fun and profit has no value
other than entertainment.

@Steve says:
May 31, 2013 at 10:48 pm
No, that had nothing to do with it. At the time, it was still early, and the chasers (and super cells) were west of the metro in rural area. There was no exodus yet. There may have been looky lues, and there were probably too many chasers, news and otherwise, but the roads were not congested at that time.

R. Craigen

He who sows the wind…

Hope Luther Wu can check in soon. People were lost in Arkansas, including the Scott County sheriff.

Gail Combs

Phil says:
June 1, 2013 at 1:02 am
Reminds me of a dog. What does it do when it finally catches the hubcap?
Mine caught the lug on the tractor tire and hung by his teeth suspended about two foot in the air for about a minute. Wish I had taken a picture but I was too busy laughing.


They should repaint the logos on that SUV as “TORNADO FOUND 2013″….
Good that they’re OK….hope Luther Wu is too!
Maybe the gov’t should take some of the money they’re wasting on CAGW and put it
towards helping folks build shelters for this sort of weather….assuming we’re getting
a repeat (cycle) of 50-60 years ago, how long did this kind of weather last?
Would probably be a good use of the money, and definitely a case of preparing
for a known disaster (as opposed to the “precautionary principle” and CAGW)….
I can just see Hansen, et. al. out there trying to make the wind stop by using
their protest signs….maybe Gore could blow back in the opposite direction..
oops, hot air might aggravate the situation…darn…..


Storms making a right hand turn are typical when tornadogenesis occurs. Its a classic sign that a large tornado is on the ground.
I have several relatives in both law enforcement and who are members of RACES. They are the real storm chasers who work as a team to track the storms. Unlike the ambulance chasers at TWC.
TWC used to be about the weather. Not anymore. The local stations in OK, KS, MO and TX have phenomenal people with real hard science backgrounds and dedicated resources behind them to track and report on these storms. The TWC sucks up the oxygen that should be given to the local stations and the RACES teams who do the heavy lifting every day every year.
I listen to the storm spotters on the ham RACES network to get a precise location fix on tornadoes and how bad they are. The spotters perform an invaluable service as they put eyes on what the doppler radars are showing. Everyone should get a handheld receiver to listen to the spotters as the TV stations can and often get knocked off the air during bad weather. Everyone should get a handheld receiver!!


God looks after children and fools….

Scott B

Thanks for this Anthony. Not just TWC, but many storm chasers got caught unprepared yesterday. Very fortunate that none died. They are taking too many risks. Unless the community shames this behavior enough, it will only get worse. With TWC and CNN showing these reckless videos constantly and many chasers justifying their behavior and being rewarded, this will only egg them on to get closer next time. Eventually chasers and possibly innocents around them are going to get killed and the government will step in. That will hurt the responsible professionals out there.

The official number is apparently still at five,, but I just heard a verbal report that the ME’s office is revising the total fatality number to nine, for the whole storm.

Brian Macker

What, no roll bars??? Should have skimped on the fancy paint job and invested in some roll bars.