Some thoughts on the death of storm chaser Tim Samaras

I’ve posted on storm chasers once before, back when one of Sean Casey’s chase team, Matt Hughes, died and some thoughts about worldly success and mortality were swirling around in my noggin. My family and I used to watch the Discovery channel’s “Storm Chasers” program, though we haven’t for some time and it’s my understanding that it is off the air now.

I do remember, though, the team that died this past weekend: Tim Samaras and Carl Young. I don’t recall Tim’s son, Paul, who also died, though it’s my understanding that he was on the program, too. And from the episodes we watched, they really did not seem like a large risk-taking team–that is, beyond the clear and obvious risk one is always taking in that line of research. Of all the individuals on the show, Mr. Samaras always came across (to me, at least) like the adult in the room. And there is nothing wrong with being the adult in the room!

There is a lot of talk, now, about the need to examine and investigate in light of the deaths and the need to consider regulations–all the sorts of things you would expect after something like this. Color me not interested. Not irritated, not delighted–just not interested. The fact that someone has died while engaged in a risky behavior that they felt they were doing out of a public service that justified the risks doesn’t sound to me like the sort of thing that should prompt a great deal of investigation and regulation, but–hey–who am I? If the publicity around the event turns up something that should be addressed with the public, that’s OK, too. Please forgive a taste of cynicism in the following, but I can think of more harmful things that politicians can be doing that debating regulations about amateur storm chasers, so if that keeps them busy it might be something of a blessing. 🙂 And lest I be misunderstood, I wouldn’t consider Mr. Samaras and his team to be amateurs. As I wrote a couple of weeks-or-so ago after the EF5 Moore, Oklahoma tornado, this world isn’t what God would have it be, and as long as it isn’t there will be people who place themselves in harm’s way in the service of others, and as far as I understand Mr. Samaras was one of those people.

But I suppose what has caught my interest more is a very specific reaction that has come out of the twisters of this past weekend. One of the many news links I came across yesterday was from the Today show and included an article and a video relating the thoughts of Weather Channel storm chaser Mike Bettes, apparently based on Al Roker’s interview with Bettes on Sunday. He and his team went through their own harrowing ordeal that weekend as their SUV was tossed, I believe, 200 yards. All occupants survived, though the driver experienced some serious injuries, I believe.

Please click through and read the whole article and/or watch the video: “Storm chaser: ‘I don’t know’ if I’ll go back after ordeal” But here are a couple of comments from Mike Bettes that got my attention… Asked if he thought he planned to continue storm chasing after this, Bettes responded:

“I don’t know,” he told Al Roker on TODAY Monday. “It’s given me perspective on what’s important in my life. It may not be up to me. I’ll talk to my family about it. If they don’t want me to go, I won’t go, simple as that. I have to keep them in mind. It was an eye-opener, it truly was.”

Later in the article, concerning the moment that the car was picked up by the winds, tumbling as it went airborne:

In that moment, he thought of his family. “I just saw my wife’s face and I thought, you know, that’s my life, I don’t want to give that up just yet.”

I can relate to that. I’ve always enjoyed the Five for Fighting song “100 years”, and I suppose I am coming up on the “I’m 45 for a moment” stanza of that song, but the one that has always resonated with me is the “I’m 33 for a moment” stanza:

I’m 33 for a moment.
Still the man, but you see I’m a ‘they’–
A kid on the way,
A family on my mind.

I do find that when I’m on an airplane about to take off, or whenever I wonder about my health at random times, or, in general, in an experience that reminds me of the fact that “[a man’s] days are like grass… the wind passes over it and it is gone” (Psalm 103:15-16), my thoughts inevitably turn to my family: how much I want to see them again and how I wish to be returned to them. I don’t think it’s boast worthy to say such–I imagine it is a very natural reaction and that even the beasts have their lower version of it embedded within their instincts. But to say it is natural is not to lessen the reaction’s force or to lessen it as an object worthy of reflection. And in those times, which can certainly vary in intensity from usually light and wispy to occasionally strong and demanding, I find that no source of comfort can match the ability we have as Christians to pray to God and simply ask, “Father, please return me safely to my family. And should You need to do otherwise, then please take care of them.”

There are those, of course, who believe that such prayers are an illusory palliative–allowing us to ease our minds through a comforting self-deception, but, of course, those who actually know God know better. And to the extent we do know him, those prayers are all the more effective in accomplishing their purpose, because to the same extent we truly know him, we also trust Him.

Sort of a random place to end up when discussing some recent storm chaser deaths, I suppose, but there’s nothing wrong with a little productive wandering while meditating. And as for Mike Bettes and his family, I don’t know what their call will be or, I suppose, even should be, but I appreciate his openness and sincerity about the experience. And if they decide that he should continue his work, I hope he takes the advice that he gives at the end of the article: “Safety comes first. There’s always another tornado to chase.”

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the death of storm chaser Tim Samaras

  1. obeirne

    I could never understand why anybody with a sense of reason would chase storms and have felt those who have been and are involved in such actions are tempting fate. Not being a risk taker myself, I just tend to shake my head – meraphorically speaking – whenever I hear of somebody doing something risky. Whenever it ends in tragedy I obviously feel regret that it has ended thus and my symnpathy goes out to those who are left behind. Hopefully others who had been considering of following suit in some risky venture will have second thoughts. But if not . . . 😦

  2. Very good article Mr. Smith; I heard a news video where the anchor spoke about this team as “storm chasers” and the man who they were speaking with via phone, told them that to call these people such a name does them an injustice. After, he went on to explain that they weren’t just out there chasing storms to video them, they were dropping off equipment in various areas trying to collect data that would give those folks who try and make early warning devices smarter and perhaps able to save more lives. I would be one of those very thankful people if my warning buzzers went off and I was able to get to safety. These men were not just joy riding they were contributing to a very worthwhile job, much like EMTs, Police and Fire and even you. When you board those plans to go to Charlotte or you and the family enter your vehicle and drive (and I don’t know how you folks do it because you are always on the road somewhere) to all these different towns for services, Feast events, Youth camps and etc……you also are working to save lives. My appreciation to all of you…………might I add though……..your benefits are much greater than most of these life savers;you must wait for your check till resurrection time.

  3. You are very kind, Mrs. Featherston, and thanks for your encouragement. There are those who chase with a thrill in mind or simply hoping to make some money off of the video they can sell, but I don’t think that Mr. Samaras was among those. Whether a camera was along or not, he would be doing the same thing, I think. Thanks, again.

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