Storm Chasing Fatalities - A Look Back

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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I put together this graphic showing all storm chasing fatalities (15) in the history of the activity:

chaserdeaths2.png

These occurred in the following incidents:

April 26, 1984: In the first "in the field" chaser death, Christopher 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.

July 11, 2005: Jeff Wear of Norman, OK was killed on Interstate 20 near Kilgore, TX after he hydroplaned in heavy rain and struck a flatbed truck head-on. He was returning from a chase to intercept Hurricane Dennis on the Gulf coast.

June 6, 2009: Fabian Guerra of Chicago was killed on Interstate 80 in Iowa when he swerved to avoid a deer, crossed the median and struck an oncoming tractor-trailer in the early morning hours of the 6th. He was on the way to Nebraska to meet up with two other chasers for a chase in that area later that day.

February 4, 2012: Andy Gabrielson was killed on the Turner Turnpike (I-44) near Sapulpa, Oklahoma in a head-on collision with a drunk driver going the wrong way on the highway. Gabrielson was on his way home from an earlier chase in Oklahoma. The wrong-way driver also died in the accident.

May 31, 2013: Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, all experienced storm chasers, were killed when the El Reno tornado overtook their vehicle on Reuter Road. Richard Henderson, a lifelong Oklahoma resident, was killed by the tornado when he went out near his home to observe the storm and take pictures. A fifth fatality involving a likely chaser (unknown to the community at the time) was uncovered by researchers studying the tornado and its impacts.

July 12, 2015: David and Mildred Frank, residents of Pennock, Minnesota, were killed when a storm chaser ran a stop sign near the town and collided with their vehicle. The Franks were not chasers. The chaser survived with minor injuries and was later criminally charged, receiving a 90-day suspended jail sentence and 1 year probation. A subsequent civil suit by the family yielded a $100,000 judgement. Fatal accidents had occurred at the same intersection before, and residents had submitted previous complaints about it to authorities. The chaser, despite being in the vicinity of severe storms and posting about them to his Facebook page prior to the accident, insists he was not actively chasing at the time of the crash. Multiple news articles also headlined the story with "storm chaser".

March 28, 2017: Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson and Randall Yarnall died when the Yarnall/Williamson SUV ran a stop sign near Spur, Texas and collided with Jaeger's vehicle. Yarnall and Williamson were chasing and live streaming in an official capacity for The Weather Channel at the time of the crash. Jaeger's family has filed a civil lawsuit against TWC.

June 20, 2019: Dale Sharpe from Tugun, Australia, died after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 2 near Harper, Kansas. His car became disabled in the oncoming lane of the highway after striking a deer. When the car began billowing smoke from the engine compartment, he exited the vehicle and was struck by a second car that swerved to avoid the initial accident.

(Above info compiled by Tim Vasquez and Dan R., with some details provided by ST members)

FYI, we have another thread (here) that lists/memorializes all storm chasers who have passed on, regardless of the cause.
 
Last edited:
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Dan and Tim, thanks for doing this. I knew anecdotally that before 2013 there had been no storm-related deaths and only driving-related deaths, but (I guess because I’m a CPA) I’m a stickler for documentation so I’m glad someone took the time to formalize the record.

My takeaways in looking at the chart:

- Not that we didn’t already know it, but storm chasing is quite safe, despite what the mainstream public may think (as evidenced by reader comments about how crazy and stupid we are, posted to any mainstream article about chasing).

- Further to the above point, even some of the traffic accidents are only loosely related to chasing. For example, Phillips was chasing, but the accident had little or nothing to do with the weather. Guerra wasn’t chasing at all at the time, just positioning for the next day. Wear’s accident was caused by the weather, but how many other fatal accidents among non-chasers occurred that day or in other storms? I’ll bet the percentage of chasers having fatal accidents in the bad weather they purposely put themselves in is far less than the overall population’s fatal accident rate in bad weather.

- Of the storm related fatalities, Samaras and crew actually try to position equipment in the path of the storm, so we should not infer too much from that tragedy. I am not saying it is not a cautionary lesson, and the lessons have been discussed plenty on Stormtrack and elsewhere. In fact, one could say that their experience and safety consciousness should have offset their closer-than-most approach, and of course we all know that many other chasers got into bad positions that day too. Then you have Henderson, who was not an experienced chaser at all. Combine all of this with the El Reno “perfect storm” of sorts, and you have a situation that can hardly be extrapolated to chasing risks in general. The chasers who perished that day should hardly be considered a “control group” for anyone looking for a risk correlation.

- Some will probably be alarmed by the fact that the fatalities are obviously increasing at the right of the chart. But even here I would say it is not enough to be statistically significant. The last two fatal accidents of 2015 and 2017 were two years apart, while the two in the 2000s were four years apart. I don’t think that is a statistically significant clustering difference for the more recent ones, but then again I am not a statistician. And I don’t need to be one to know that some of the qualitative trends of chasers pushing the envelope, trying to get the money shot, distracted driving among chasers and non-chasers alike, are all increasing the risks. Still, I would venture to guess that, just like my bad weather driving comment above, the percentage of chasers involved in fatal accidents is probably much lower than a similar measure of the overall driving population.
 
May 31, 2018
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Richmond Virginia
Thank you Dan for putting this together. While it’s sad that we’ve seen an increase since Fabian Guerra’s death, hopefully this serves as a good reminder to drive responsibly in or out of the field.
 
Mar 31, 2019
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Lansing, Michigan
Thank you, Dan, for putting this together. It is indeed very sad that there has been an increase in storm chasing related deaths. It is my hope that this serves as a great reminder to prioritize safety over the quality of any images/videos caught out in the field.
 
Jan 7, 2006
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Norman, OK
www.skyinmotion.com
Great information, Dan. And agree with your perspective, James.

Further points worth considering on how safe storm chasing has been to-date:
  • Of the 6 recorded fatal traffic accidents, at least 3 (7/11/2005, 6/6/2009, and 2/4/2012) didn't even occur on a chase day, let alone near a storm that was being chased. In fact, 3/28/2017 appears to be the only collision on the list where heat-of-the-moment chase distractions were clearly at play.

  • Even more amazing, in my mind: I don't even know of any serious or life-threatening injuries sustained during storm chasing during the modern era, aside from the worst-case scenario of 5/31/2013. If I'm forgetting some, feel free to correct me here. I know there have been several collisions between chasers, plus plenty of cases where hydroplaning or animals/debris/etc. led to significant accidents, but none that I've read about resulted in serious bodily harm.
Considering that crowds, drama, finger pointing, and calls for crackdowns have been ubiquitous for over a decade now, this must be considered fairly remarkable. Either we've gotten very lucky as a community over a long period, or some of the mitigating factors that have previously been discussed (e.g., the risk from the storm itself is fairly low, most of our driving is in rural areas with little traffic, etc.) cap the risks of chasing below what some perceive them to be. Caution is still warranted, of course; and there will no doubt be more tragedies as the years progress. But will the rate of tragedy per man-hour driven be any higher than it is for generic long-distance drivers in the U.S.? So far, it's hard to believe we're faring much worse.
 
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Nov 18, 2006
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Chicago, IL
Clearly a recent rise, the chart really puts it into perspective. IMO it is simple probability. More people are doing it and the more people you add to the equation the more risk there is. This goes for every facet of life beyond storm chasing.

We just have to keep making sure we do everything in our power not to contribute to these statistics.
 
While I mostly agree with what Brett says above, I would note that, IIRC, the July 12, 2015 Minnesota incident did occur in an active chase situation, where the chaser may have been paying more attention to the storm and/or data than to the road, contributing to his running a stop sign.
 
May 1, 2004
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Springfield, IL
www.skip.cc
There was a fifth chaser fatality on El Reno. It was not reported in the media as such and he was unknown among most chaser circles as far I can tell. But through our own work with the El Reno Survey, it became apparent he was indeed driving out to the storm with the intent of documenting/witnessing the tornado, and this was not his first chase either. Not sure what criteria we're using for the above list, or if there are privacy concerns, so I'll leave the name off for now. But happy to share what I know if you contact me, and maybe we can add that if there are no pending issues.

This makes me think that there are probably a number of additional fatalities, injuries, and incidents we don't know about because the chaser is not known to the community or it simply went unreported.
 
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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
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Skip, it sounds like that would indeed qualify, I will add that to the tally.

I suspect that the above list is not comprehensive, particularly during the era prior to social media and 24-7 news coverage. I am skeptical that there was only one fatal car accident involving a chaser prior to 2005. In my research with icy road fatal accident stats, I learned that the crashes reported in news media are only a fraction of those that actually occur. The state-level reports maintained by the state police departments and/or DOTs are the only authoritative sources. In the case of winter weather crashes, the actual numbers can be as much as 5 times higher than the ones reported in news media.

During the early Stormtrack and WX-CHASE era, we know that there were many chasers who did not participate in the online community. That being said, I can't think of any way to confirm additional incidents without a massive investigation of state-level accident reports on known chase days. It's possible some veteran chasers might know of additional incidents.
 

Jesse Risley

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Apr 12, 2006
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www.tornadoguys.com
Skip, it sounds like that would indeed qualify, I will add that to the tally.

I suspect that the above list is not comprehensive, particularly during the era prior to social media and 24-7 news coverage. I am skeptical that there was only one fatal car accident involving a chaser prior to 2005. In my research with icy road fatal accident stats, I learned that the crashes reported in news media are only a fraction of those that actually occur. The state-level reports maintained by the state police departments and/or DOTs are the only authoritative sources. In the case of winter weather crashes, the actual numbers can be as much as 5 times higher than the ones reported in news media.

During the early Stormtrack and WX-CHASE era, we know that there were many chasers who did not participate in the online community. That being said, I can't think of any way to confirm additional incidents without a massive investigation of state-level accident reports on known chase days. It's possible some veteran chasers might know of additional incidents.
I wouldn't fret over any situations or possible incidents that cannot be confirmed. This is a fairly thorough work given what you have to go on for statistical compilation purposes. I would imagine, as @Skip Talbot opined above, that there were others who were at least tangentially fitting the definition of chasing who were killed as a result of a rogue miscalculation or improper driving maneuver, but said death(s) never registered under a formal media radar coupled with the fact that the person(s) were not really a known name in this relatively small community.
 
Very sorry to hear this. This is not the first time that a chaser has died directly or indirectly as a result of a collision with a deer. It is a real danger of night driving in rural areas, and I would encourage all chasers to avoid long overnight drives as much as possible for this reason.
 
Dec 14, 2011
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0
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Springfield, Missouri
I put together this graphic showing all storm chasing fatalities (15) in the history of the activity:

View attachment 18817

These occurred in the following incidents:

April 26, 1984: In the first "in the field" chaser death, Christopher 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.

July 11, 2005: Jeff Wear of Norman, OK was killed on Interstate 20 near Kilgore, TX after he hydroplaned in heavy rain and struck a flatbed truck head-on. He was returning from a chase to intercept Hurricane Dennis on the Gulf coast.

June 6, 2009: Fabian Guerra of Chicago was killed on Interstate 80 in Iowa when he swerved to avoid a deer, crossed the median and struck an oncoming tractor-trailer in the early morning hours of the 6th. He was on the way to Nebraska to meet up with two other chasers for a chase in that area later that day.

February 4, 2012: Andy Gabrielson was killed on the Turner Turnpike (I-44) near Sapulpa, Oklahoma in a head-on collision with a drunk driver going the wrong way on the highway. Gabrielson was on his way home from an earlier chase in Oklahoma. The wrong-way driver also died in the accident.

May 31, 2013: Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young, all experienced storm chasers, were killed when the El Reno tornado overtook their vehicle on Reuter Road. Richard Henderson, a lifelong Oklahoma resident, was killed by the tornado when he went out near his home to observe the storm and take pictures. A fifth fatality involving a likely chaser (unknown to the community at the time) was uncovered by researchers studying the tornado and its impacts.

July 12, 2015: David and Mildred Frank, residents of Pennock, Minnesota, were killed when a storm chaser, Matthew Gingery, ran a stop sign near the town and collided with their vehicle. The Franks were not chasers. Gingery survived with minor injuries and was later criminally charged, receiving a 90-day suspended jail sentence and 1 year probation. A subsequent civil suit by the family yielded a $100,000 judgement. Fatal accidents had occurred at the same intersection before, and residents had submitted previous complaints about it to authorities.

March 28, 2017: Corbin Jaeger, Kelley Williamson and Randall Yarnall died when the Yarnall/Williamson SUV ran a stop sign near Spur, Texas and collided with Jaeger's vehicle. Yarnall and Williamson were chasing and live streaming in an official capacity for The Weather Channel at the time of the crash. Jaeger's family has filed a civil lawsuit against TWC.

June 20, 2019: Dale Sharpe from Tugun, Australia, died after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 2 near Harper, Kansas. His car became disabled in the oncoming lane of the highway after striking a deer. When the car began billowing smoke from the engine compartment, he exited the vehicle and was struck by a second car that swerved to avoid the initial accident.

(Above info compiled by Tim Vasquez and Dan R., with some details provided by ST members)

FYI, we have another thread (here) that lists/memorializes all storm chasers who have passed on, regardless of the cause.
I feel the need to correct you regarding the inclusion of the tragic accident I was involved in back in July, 12 2015 in Minnesota. stating that I am a prominent chaser and meteorologist does not mean that I was engaged in these activities. With my case and part of the plea, anything associated with storm chasing was stricken from the record. This is all public information with the Minnesota court system. I was traveling back to my hotel room, and was in Minnesota working on a refinery. I would like to also inform you that including me in this list is slander. There wasn’t a storm within 70 miles of the accident. I spent years dealing with this difficult situation, and to have it brought back to the surface only services to bring all of that pain and mental anguish back to the surface. I accepted all responsibility for the accident, that occurred in a problematic intersection that has since been corrected. For my sake, and the sake of the Frank family, I would like to respectfully ask you to remove the post from this forum out of respect for the Frank family and myself. I am trying to approach this as objectively and respectfully as possible. If you feel the need to include me on your list, then it would only be fair to include everyone who is a storm chaser that was involved in a tragic accident outside of chasing. Thank you in advance for understanding. I had a good friend relay this post to me, and now coming up on the 4 year anniversary of the accident that I have tried hard to put behind me, is now back to the surface and has brought with it the pain, PTSD, and mental anguish. I get the purpose of the post from an information standpoint, My accident isn’t relevant to your list.

Kind Regards,

Matt Gingery
 
I feel the need to correct you regarding the inclusion of the tragic accident I was involved in back in July, 12 2015 in Minnesota. stating that I am a prominent chaser and meteorologist does not mean that I was engaged in these activities. With my case and part of the plea, anything associated with storm chasing was stricken from the record. This is all public information with the Minnesota court system. I was traveling back to my hotel room, and was in Minnesota working on a refinery. I would like to also inform you that including me in this list is slander. There wasn’t a storm within 70 miles of the accident. I spent years dealing with this difficult situation, and to have it brought back to the surface only services to bring all of that pain and mental anguish back to the surface. I accepted all responsibility for the accident, that occurred in a problematic intersection that has since been corrected. For my sake, and the sake of the Frank family, I would like to respectfully ask you to remove the post from this forum out of respect for the Frank family and myself. I am trying to approach this as objectively and respectfully as possible. If you feel the need to include me on your list, then it would only be fair to include everyone who is a storm chaser that was involved in a tragic accident outside of chasing. Thank you in advance for understanding. I had a good friend relay this post to me, and now coming up on the 4 year anniversary of the accident that I have tried hard to put behind me, is now back to the surface and has brought with it the pain, PTSD, and mental anguish. I get the purpose of the post from an information standpoint, My accident isn’t relevant to your list.

Kind Regards,

Matt Gingery
@Matt Gingery , welcome back to StormTrack. I remember following this tragic accident and the court case results closely. We were all wondering if you were actually chasing at the time. Understandably you did not comment on the thread in which we discussed this a few years back. I feel bad for you and the pain and mental anguish you have had to endure.