R.I.P., storm chasers

Dec 4, 2003
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I have been combing through some back issues of Stormtrack and thought I'd assemble this list of dedicated chasers and storm enthusiasts who have passed on.

NEIL B. WARD (Jun 26 1914 - Apr 12 1972). Neil is considered to be one of the godfathers of chasing. He began chasing in the 1950s and eventually orchestrated cooperation between the state police and weather services. This helped correlate the hook echo with tornado activity. Coincidentally the the OU TIP (Tornado Intercept Project) began on the day of his funeral, April 14, 1972; a dryline passed during the ceremony.

CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS (1963 - Apr 26 1984). In the first "in the field" chaser death, Phillips was a 21-year old OU meteorology student from Englewood NJ who died when he swerved to avoid a rabbit and his car rolled over into a ditch in Logan County OK. He was accompanied by Laura Rustin and Matt Marshall, who suffered minor injuries. The storms on April 26 killed 10 and injured hundreds along a swath from Guthrie into northeast Oklahoma.

THOMAS FAVA (May 28 1961 - Jun 7 1990). Tom Fava of Harrison NY was an avid Stormtrack subscriber, according to his brother John. He was an avid collector of tornado books and articles, and had expressed concern over tornadoes striking large venues such as the Kentucky Derby and the Indy 500. He passed away at the young age of 29 from a heart condition.

GEORGE MILLARD (1924 - May 1 1995). George was a Nova Scotia resident who made it to the 1990 - 1994 seasons on the Plains. He corresponded frequently with Antonio Caridade of Japan and chased with him in 1990.

BEVERLY BISHOP (Oct 31 1949 - 24 May 1998). Beverly chased with Steve Tabb and Carson Eads during the mid 1990s. She passed away from cancer on the same day as the big tornado outbreak near Enid OK.

TETSUYA "THEODORE" FUJITA (23 Oct 1920 - Nov 19 1998). A man who needs no introduction, he was a key part of the University of Chicago meteorological community and developed an understanding of tornado lifecycle and damage intensity. He was an incredible researcher at heart, and his personal memoirs contain fascinating graphs of subjects such as his family finances and his health condition. Ted passed away in his sleep, interestingly in the same year and the same age as Col. Miller.

RANDALL C. RAMZY (Sep 24 1958 - Apr 16 2000). Randy's severe weather interest began in Ohio began suffering from leukemia in 1998 but clung to his interest in severe weather, aided by a legion of Norman area chasers including most of all R.J. Evans and Vince Miller, who gave him a Skywarn training session at the hospital. Randy succumbed at the age of 41.

ROGER JENSEN (Sep 5 1933 - Apr 26 2001). Roger Jensen is perhaps the father of storm chasing. He began chasing in the 1950s near his family farm in western Minnesota. His "big day" came on June 28, 1975 with a mile-wide tornado near Felton MN, and he continued to photograph storms from his nursing home at Terrell TX. His photos can be viewed at our Roger Jensen page.

JEFFREY A. WEAR (Dec 9 1977 - Jul 11 2005). Jeff, of course, was an avid participant in our Stormtrack board and was our very first non-staff registrant on our forum in 2003. He lost control of his car on rain-slicked roads near Kilgore TX while returning from a chase to intercept Hurricane Dennis. His website lives on at theperksofchasing.com.

ALEX SAHLBERG (Aug 22 1986 - Apr 13 2005). Alex was not very well known as he was new to storm chasing, but at a young age he served as a freelance severe weather photojournalist for several years and was quite active in the Duluth, MN area. He passed away from complications from pneumonia. A memorial thread may be found here.

ERIC NGUYEN (Jan 2 1978 - Sep 9 2007). Eric was an accomplished storm photographer from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He was a favorite of stock photo agency Corbis International, which called his Mulvane, Kansas tornado shot "the greatest tornado photo of all time". Eric had suffered severe negative reactions to anti-depressant medication and he died in Arlington TX from complications from an attempted suicide.

FABIAN GUERRA (Dec 6 1967 - Jun 6 2009) . Fabian was known in the Chicago music scene where he worked as a manager, booking agent, mentor, and a performer. Fabian found an interest in severe weather. He was killed in a traffic accident in Iowa when he swerved to avoid a deer and struck an oncoming tractor-trailer. He was enroute to meet with chasers Darrin Rasberry and Craig Maire. A thread for him is located here and he has a Blogspot tribute page.

ERIC FLESCHER (Apr 9 1951 - Mar 2 2010). Eric has been described as a "Renaissance man with a broad variety of interests ranging from severe weather, to astronomy, to carnivorous plants, to cooking, and more". He was a teacher and worked as a consultant for Project IMAGE and SPICA at Harvard University, NASA, Smithsonian, Annenburg PBS Foundation and Newton’s Apple, and was in regular attendence at chase conventions. He fell into a coma caused by meningitis in December 2009. A large thread of support and tribute for Eric can be found here.

MATT HUGHES (Jul 31 1979 - May 26 2010). Matt was a prominent celebrity on Discovery's 'Storm Chasers' series. Matt was responsible for placing co-star Sean Case's Tornado Intercept Vehicle close to tornadoes to capture IMAX footage of storms. A police report indicated he Matt had reportedly battled depression, and a police report indicated he been drinking and attempted to hang himself, and he succumbed to the injuries 13 days later.

ANDY GABRIELSON (Feb 19 1987 - Feb 4 2012). Andy was among several chasers who accompanied Mike Bettes and crew on The Weather Channel's Tornado Hunt. He was well known for making spotter reports the highest priority while chasing. On his way home from a storm chase in Texas, Gabrielson was involved in a head-on collision with a wrong-way driver on I-44 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, near Tulsa.

TIM SAMARAS (Nov 12 1957 - May 31 2013). Tim Samaras was well known for his design of instruments used to gather storm data from the core of tornadoes. He was founder of a field research team called Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment (TWISTEX). Tim died while chasing the May 2013 El Reno tornado alongside Paul Samaras and Carl Young. Tim has a prominent Wikipedia page here.

PAUL SAMARAS (Nov 12 1988 - May 31 2013). Paul was a graduate of Alameda High in 2007. He earned a certificate in animation from Animation Mentor and worked as a photographer and videographer for Twistex. He died alongside his father and Carl Young in the May 2013 El Reno tornado.

CARL YOUNG (May 14 1968 - May 31 2013). Carl was a longtime severe weather enthusiast, and worked with Tim Samaras (Colorado researcher of TWISTEX) for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel (Storm Chasers) for over 11 years. He died in May 2013 while chasing the El Reno tornado with Tim and Paul Samaras.

RICHARD HENDERSON (June 6 1977 - May 31 2013). Henderson, a truck driver and rancher who was a lifelong resident of central Oklahoma, died in the El Reno tornado on May 31, 2013 after going out in his pickup truck to see and photograph the storm near his home.

CHRIS SNIDER (1984-2013). atmospheric science degree from Central Michigan University, broadcast meteorologist and storm chaser, died aged 29 on February 22, 2013 in Duluth MN of osteosarcoma complications.

SUSAN STROM
(c. 1966 - Aug 9 2013). She was well-known for her photography of the monsoon storms of Arizona, and regularly attended chaser conventions. She passed away at a young age from a rare form of ovarian cancer, and it was said she never complained even after a long battle. Her website lives on at this link.

JONATHAN SKINNER
( - January 12, 2014). Jonathan Skinner was a dedicated chaser despite a long struggle with cystic fibrosis. The disease took his life at age 30 in 2014. He was well known in the Colorado chaser community. After his death, friends launched his ashes via rocket into the inflow of a supercell in western Nebraska on May 15, 2015, per his wishes.

LINDA KITCHEN
( - March 22, 2014). Passed away at the age of 61 on March 22, 2014 from lung cancer. She was one of the original Twister Sisters. Her obituary is here.

AL MOLLER
(February 1, 1950 – June 19, 2014) - an early scientific chaser and noted photographer who went on to distinguished NWS forecaster career.

JIM LEONARD (February 17, 1950 ‒ November 3, 2014) - Pioneering chaser of hurricanes, tornadoes, supercells and waterspouts.

PHIL HENRY ( - 2015) - deployed the first TIV, a GMC Typhoon with extensive communications and safety modifications including a full roll cage and protective barriers. He was also an electrical engineer who often tested equipment while chasing.

HERB STEIN
( - Feb 2016) - Well-known severe storms research scientist who worked with both VORTEX projects, CSWR/ROTATE, OCS

CORBIN JAEGER
(1992 - March 28, 2017). Chaser from Peoria, Arizona who grew up in Aurora, Colorado. Jaeger died in a two-vehicle accident in Spur, Texas when, during a storm chase on March 28, 2017, his Jeep was struck by another chaser vehicle that ran a stop sign. Jaeger was a well-known member of the Arizona chaser community and was a member of the MadWx group as well as a regular at MonsoonCon.

RANDALL YARNALL
(1961 - March 28, 2017). Chaser from Cassville, Missouri best known as co-star of the Weather Channel television show "Storm Wranglers". Yarnall died in a two-vehicle accident in Spur, Texas when, during a storm chase on March 28, 2017, their vehicle ran a stop sign and collided broadside with a vehicle driven by Corbin Jaeger. Yarnall, Jaeger and Kelley Williamson, co-star and passenger in the Yarnall vehicle, all died in the accident.

KELLEY WILLIAMSON (1959 - March 28, 2017). Chaser from Cassville, Missouri best known as co-star of the Weather Channel television show "Storm Wranglers". Williamson died in a two-vehicle accident in Spur, Texas when, during a storm chase on March 28, 2017, their vehicle ran a stop sign and collided broadside with a vehicle driven by Corbin Jaeger. Williamson, Jaeger and Randall Yarnall, co-star and driver of the Williamson vehicle, all died in the accident.

JOEL TAYLOR (1980 - January 2018). Oklahoma native known as one of the stars of the Discovery "Storm Chasers" television show. Taylor died from an overdose while on a cruise ship in January 2018.

MATTHEW BIDDLE ( - April 10, 2018). Biddle died in April 2018 after a battle with long-term health problems. Matt was a prominent figure in storm chasing in the 1990s era and beyond. He participated in the VORTEX research project, and worked as a consultant for the movie "Twister". His distinctive El Camino chase vehicle was a fixture on the Plains in the 90s.

JIM SELLARS (March 3rd 1954 - May 22, 2018). Jim was a longtime chaser, storm spotter and lifelong Springfield, Missouri resident. Per his wishes, there are plans to lunch his ashes into a supercell.

The following are not storm chasers, but were in an incident involving a chaser:

DAVID & MILDRED FRANK (July 12, 2015) - The Franks were residents and owners of a greenhouse in Pennock, Minnesota. They were killed when a storm chaser ran a stop sign near the town and collided with their vehicle. The chaser was criminally charged, and later received a 90-day suspended jail sentence and one year probation. In a civil court case, he was ordered to pay $100,000 to the victims' family.

Tim V/Dan R

(Updated April 1, 2019. Thanks to everyone below who posted info.)
 
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Oct 10, 2004
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What a nice thing to do, Tim. I'd like to add Alex Sahlberg, a young man from Minnesota who never had a chance to do much chasing before his sudden death at age 18, but was just as much of a dedicated weather enthusiast as anybody. I only met him online a few months before he died. I'm sure there are people out there that knew him much better than I did, so feel free to chime in on his behalf if you so desire.

His website also lives on at http://realwx.tripod.com.
 
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A very thoughful thread Tim :)

For me, Ted Fujita, was probably the most influences on storm chasing, as it was reading up on some of his research and witnessing some archive footage of his model vortex machine, that got me into creating a vortex machine also, but in my case, I built mine where I used a hand held fan, that allowed me to make the tornado mobile withing a small area of where my experiments were done :), as well as creating and studying mutliple vortex tornadoes :)

So many great pioneers of severe weather research and they may be gone, but they're most definitely not forgotten, and their legacy is carried on in each of us, that continues that on the jounrye to understand the conditions that we seek :)

Thank you Tim for putting up such a nice thread :)

Willie
 

Joey Ketcham

Nice thread.

To me Neil Ward, Roger Jensen and Dave Hoadley will always be the fathers of storm chasing and have been an influence to me and many others. These guys started chasing in the 1950’s when very little was understood about thunderstorms and tornadoes; they were doing something that was unheard of at the time and they did so without any of the technology that we have today. I couldn’t begin to imagine what storm chasing in the 1950’s was like, Neil and Roger did and Dave Hoadley does know.

If you look in the storm track library there are still articles in there written about the mentioned, definitely worth reading. I remember first reading those years and years ago, I still love reading the articles to this day.

Dave Hoadley: The Chase Fever, The Early Years
http://www.stormtrack.org/library/people/hoadley.htm

Storm Pioneer: A Biography of Neil B. Ward
http://www.stormtrack.org/library/people/ward.htm

Roger Jensen & His Photography (already mentioned in Tim's post)
http://www.stormtrack.com/jensen

Articles on the life of Dr. Ted Fujita
http://www.stormtrack.org/library/people/fujita.htm

Does Dave Hoadley still chase?
I know he use to do the cartoons for Storm Track, but other than that don't hear much about him.[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
 
What a nice thing to do, Tim. I'd like to add Alex Sahlberg, a young man from Minnesota who never had a chance to do much chasing before his sudden death at age 18, but was just as much of a dedicated weather enthusiast as anybody. I only met him online a few months before he died. I'm sure there are people out there that knew him much better than I did, so feel free to chime in on his behalf if you so desire.

His website also lives on at http://realwx.tripod.com.
I agree. He was hit quickly with acute pneumonia. Lungs filled with blood and then died from the story that I was told. Quite a sad event. One that I sincerely hated to hear. I knew Alex for a couple of years before his death....he was going to be a good one from what I could tell.
 
Dec 10, 2003
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After this fateful year, it's appropriate to solemnly update this list.

Eric Nguyen (1978 - 2007)
Fabian Guerra (c. 1968 - 2009)
Eric Flescher (1951 - 2010)
Matt Hughes (1979 - 2010)
Andy Gabrielson (1987 - 2012)
Tim Samaras (1957 - 2013)
Paul Samaras (1988 - 2013)
Carl Young (1968 - 2013)
Susan Strom (c. 1966 - 2013)

My apologies for anyone I overlooked.

Yes, Dave Hoadley remains an active chaser. Ted Fujita (1920-1998) arguably could be listed as he did research chases in airplanes and if I recall correctly tried a recreational chase like Tom Grazulis did.
 
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Dec 4, 2003
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Oh man, it's sobering seeing this addition... thank you for summarizing. I was aware of the passing of them each time we got the news, but to see them appear here in this thread. :( Sometime this week I will go ahead and update the top comment and will leave all other comments as-is.
 
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I read that Fujita's first, last, and only tornado sighting was in Colorado in 1982. He was actually doing some field research on downbursts at the time, so I wouldn't call it a recreational chase - unless there was some other chase you were referring to.
 
Dec 10, 2003
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I'm not aware of Flora hitting the road but the old guard from Norman or maybe Roy Britt would know better than I. Mike, you may be right about Fujita. Scientific intercepts should count if it involves moving to track storms.
 
Dec 4, 2003
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I have updated the list of departed storm chasers at the start of this thread. It's sad to see it growing to a point where alphabetizing was something I considered. For now I'm keeping it in chronological order. One of my goals is to get each name linked to each person's memorial thread. I've done that for many of the names shown here, but haven't quite gotten all of them.

By the way, does anyone know Susan Strom's birthdate? For some reason this has been impossible to find. It's no big deal, but it would make the list complete. About all I know about that is she was born in Walnut Creek, California and lived in Fair Oaks up until the mid-90s.
 
Oct 10, 2004
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It's worth noting that, until May 31, 2013, no name on Tim V's list had "tornado" as the cause of death. Traffic accidents, both chase and non-chase-related, appear to be the biggest killer of storm chasers. Not altogether surprising, unfortunately.
 
It's worth noting that, until May 31, 2013, no name on Tim V's list had "tornado" as the cause of death. Traffic accidents, both chase and non-chase-related, appear to be the biggest killer of storm chasers. Not altogether surprising, unfortunately.

Not altogether unsurprising though considering all the close calls chasers have had over the years it just figures that it would have taken an unpredictable monster like the El Reno storm to be the first to claim chasers' lives. I'm almost of the opinion that, while storm-related chaser deaths are incredibly upsetting (and I expect this statement will upset some folk), we almost needed it to happen...
 
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We've never pulled posts due to poor taste, but if someone is intentionally trolling then there will be consequences.
 
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Chris Snider (1984-2013), atmospheric science degree from Central Michigan University, broadcast meteorologist and storm chaser, died aged 29 on February 22, 2013 in Duluth MN of osteosarcoma complications.

Storm Observing with Chris Snider (Blake Naftel)
 
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Dec 10, 2003
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Here are some additions and I know there have been others since this was updated. It would be nice to have a single updated and exhaustive memoriam thread.

Al Moller (February 1, 1950 – June 19, 2014) - an early scientific chaser and noted photographer who went on to distinguished NWS forecaster career

Jim Leonard (February 17, 1950 ‒ November 3, 2014) - no intro needed; pioneering chaser of hurricanes, supercells, waterspouts and all around great guy

Ron Przybylinski (September 15, 1953 - March 12, 2015) - NWS meteorologist; radar, QLCS and QLCS tornado expert

Herb Stein (... - Feb 2016) - Worked with both VORTEX projects, CSWR/ROTATE, OCS
 
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I would also suggest adding Phil Henry who passed away late last year.

He was my chase partner in the late 1990's and deployed the first TIV, a GMC Typhoon with extensive communications and safety modifications including a full roll cage and protective barriers. He was also an electrical engineer who often tested equipment while chasing. I know several ST members also chased with him.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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All, please let me know if you have any details to add to any of the above entries, or know of someone we missed. We may end up making this a more formal page instead of a forum thread due to the character limits and inability to rearrange the order of individual posts.
 
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