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Deadly Okla. Tornado an Eye-Opener for Storm Chasers - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Deadly Okla. Tornado an Eye-Opener for Storm Chasers

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Friends of three veteran storm chasers killed in the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado last week are paying tribute to their lives.

Tim Samaras, his son, Paul and colleague Carl Young were killed when the tornado turned and headed down the crowded interstate they were on, full of people trying to flee the storm.

"It's absolutely tragic. The loss of those three individuals is a loss for everyone," says Valley News Live Storm Chaser Eric Whitehill.

Having met the men that lost their lives in El Reno, Whitehill sees the tragedy as an eye opener for himself. He says, "Tim and Carl were known as some of the safest storm chasers out there."

But he adds, it should also be an eye opener for everyone. "They go out, and they're putting themselves in dangerous and deadly situations they shouldn't be in."

Whitehill has been chasing storms throughout the U.S. for the past decade. He says what worries him most is that more and more people are hitting the roads, and they do not know what they are doing.

"Just because you have an iPhone doesn't mean you can go out and take footage of dangerous storms," he says.

In one instance, he came upon a group of people out with their phones trying to take pictures. "I asked them, 'Hey, do you guys know what's coming?' they said, 'Well the storm right?' I said, 'No, we've got baseball-sized hail coming.'"

Whitehill says it is not only putting too many people in harm's way, but it is also hindering his ability to provide vital safety information. He says, "(Things like) is this storm producing a tornado or not? How big is the hail? And relay that information not only to Hutch and Lisa and Robert and Mick at the station but also to the National Weather Service."

While many may want to be the first and the best with footage or pictures, Whitehill offers a warning. "Leave it to those of us who have the knowledge. We have the experience of how to do these things in a manner that's most safe," he says.

Even with all the advanced equipment he has, he knows no one, even the professionals, is ever truly safe explaining, "You don't get second chances. This is mother nature. She will do what she wants to do."

Some people may take the National Weather Service SKYWARN classes to become trained storm spotters. Those classes provide the basic knowledge of storms, but Whitehill says the information is not nearly enough to keep people safe if they want to chase a storm.

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