An interview with Brantley Hargrove, the author of a new biography of the storm chaser Tim Samaras, who was killed by the biggest tornado ever recorded. To understand the life of a chaser, Hargrove had to become one himself.
Jonny Auping | Longreads | April 2018| 15 minutes (4,096 words)
In his recently released book, The Man Who Caught the Storm, Brantley Hargrove tells the story of an unlikely legend named Tim Samaras, who lived his life grappling with and addicted to one of nature’s most dangerous marvels.
Samaras was a tornado chaser with a simple but absurdly treacherous goal: to get close enough to a twister to glean data from within its core. Hargrove, who spent months on the road chasing tornadoes for the reporting of the book, retraces and recreates Samaras’ most dramatic missions, culminating on May 31, 2014 in El Reno, Oklahoma, where he would face off with the largest tornado ever recorded. That same tornado would take Samaras’ life along with those of his son, Paul, and fellow chaser Carl Young.
“We now live in an era when the Mars Pathfinder rover has touched down on the Red Planet,” Hargrove writes. “The human genome has been mapped. But twisters still have the power to confound even the most advanced civilization the planet has ever known.”
Samaras legacy and life’s work represented a crucial foundation for how to better understand and predict historically unpredictable tornadoes.
But The Man the Who Caught the Storm is hardly a meteorological textbook. Rather Hargrove weaves a uniquely American tale of adventure — “nowhere else on the planet do tornadoes happen like they do in this country,” as he explained to me — diving into the circumstances and makeup that leads a man to chase what he should be running from.
Lacking even a college degree, Samaras was an outsider in the meteorological community, who not only developed one of the most sophisticated information-gathering probes the field had ever seen, but also had the courage (or perhaps unrelenting urge) to personally drop that probe in front of a twister.
Hargrove sat down with Longreads to discuss tornadoes, his own storm chasing, and the addicting thrill of being in the presence of something that can cause unfathomable chaos and destruction.
When did you first find out about Tim Samaras?