TWISTEX tornado footage (unreleased El Neno tornado footage; 2013)
Photograph of Tim Samaras's car after encountering the El Reno tornado.
In May 2013, the El Reno tornado touched down in Oklahoma and became the widest tornado ever recorded. During this event, a team of storm chasers working for the Discovery Channel, named TWISTEX, were caught in the tornado when it suddenly changed course. All three storm chasers in the vehicle died, leading to the first time a storm chaser has died on the job.
The El Reno tornado was a large tornado that touched down from a supercell thunderstorm on May 31, 2013 southwest of El Reno, Oklahoma. The three making up TWISTEX - storm chaser Tim Samaras, photographer Paul Samaras, and meteorologist Carl Young - set out to attempt research on the tornado. Tim Samaras, the founder of TWISTEX, was well-known and highly appreciated among storm chasers; ironically, he was known as "one of the safest" in the industry. TWISTEX had previously deployed the first ground-based research units, known as "turtle drones", in the path of relatively weak tornadoes in order to study them from inside. These drones measured atmospheric and seismic data, greatly advancing research of tornadoes. Tim was tasked to deploy one of these in front of a more powerful tornado for further research. When radar picked up on the developing storm, the team departed to photograph lightning. But when the tornado was detected, they decided to pursue it, seeking to place a turtle drone in its path.
The team travelled alongside the tornado, which was rapidly changing speed, direction, and even size, reaching a record-beating width of 2.6 miles. While the team was driving towards the highway in an attempt to turn south, deploy a pod, and escape the tornado's path, the tornado suddenly steered upward before darting towards and remaining almost stationary atop the team's location. As the tornado took the vehicle, Paul and Carl were pulled from the vehicle while Tim remained inside. Tim was found inside the mangled vehicle, while Paul and Carl were found about half a mile away.
After the search for Paul and Carl's bodies, the searchers found multiple belongings scattered in a nearby creek, including a camera Carl Young used to record the event. Gabe Garfield, a friend of the storm chasers, was one of few to view this camera's footage. Though the footage itself was never released, Gabe has provided a description of the video. In the footage, Carl can be heard noting "there's no rain around here" as the camera shows the air around them grow "eerily calm". Tim then comments "Actually, I think we're in a bad spot." The video ends here, though Tim was heard soon after repeatedly shouting "we're going to die" through the radio.
Additionally, another storm chaser named Dan Robinson barely escaped the tornado while attempting to photograph it. His car's dash cam recorded his encounter with the tornado, which he has released publically. However, the camera also caught the TWISTEX team, who was driving behind them. The footage shows the car as the tornado moves onto it. Dan has stated that, to respect the families of the three deceased storm chasers, he will likely not release it.
- Inside the Mega Twister (National Geographic documentary; Feb 7, 2014)