Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message

MYTH: Tornadoes are the biggest danger when storm chasing.

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TRUTH: By far, car accidents have resulted in more deaths (14) and injuries to storm chasers than tornadoes (5 deaths). Being on the road is without question the biggest risk in storm chasing - the risk from tornadoes is a distant second! Other than those two, there has not yet been any another cause of a storm chaser fatality. Other hazards like lightning, flash floods and hail are all legitimate dangers that storm chasers face, but they have not yet been the cause of a chaser death (as of the time of this article's posting in 2023).

To be classified as a storm chasing-related death for this data set, the incident must have occurred during the act of storm chasing or when traveling to or from a storm chasing target. This chart plots the incidence of the two causes of chaser fatalities since the activity's inception:

Storm chaser causes of death per year

The only tornado responsible for chaser deaths was on May 31, 2013 when 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.

While chaser deaths from tornadoes remain very rare (the El Reno tornado so far is the only incident), chaser fatalities from car accidents have unfortunately been increasing. This table charts the cuases of fatal car accidents involving storm chasers:

Accident Cause Fatalities
Stop sign running
Animal in road
Hit by second vehicle after stopping
Drunk driver

Incident details

The first known "in the field" chaser death was in April of 1984 when a 21-year old OU meteorology student's car overturned after he swerved to avoid an animal in Logan County, OK. In July of 2005, a chaser was killed on Interstate 20 near Kilgore, TX after he hydroplaned in heavy rain and struck a flatbed truck head-on. In June of 2009, a chaser lost his life on Interstate 80 in Iowa when he swerved to avoid a deer, crossed the median and struck an oncoming tractor-trailer. In 2012, a chaser 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.

2017 marked the start of a dramatic increase in chaser deaths from car accidents. In March of 2017, three chasers died near Spur, Texas when their two vehicles collided broadside at an intersection after one of the vehicles ran a stop sign. In 2019, a chaser from Australia lost his life after being struck by another vehicle after his SUV was disabled from hitting a deer near Harper, Kansas.

The 2022 spring season was the worst for storm chaser fatalities from car accidents. On April 29, three chasers died on Interstate 35 after they hydroplaned and struck a tractor-trailer head-on near Tonkawa, Oklahoma. On May 11, a chaser from Mexico was killed on Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota after their stopped vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer where downed power lines had blocked the highway.

Non-storm chasers have also been killed in an accident involving a storm chaser. In July of 2015, two Pennock, Minnesota residents were killed when a chaser ran a stop sign and collided with their vehicle.

READ: More Weather Myths | Weather Library Home

Storm chaser and photographer Dan Robinson
About the Author: Dan Robinson has been a storm chaser, photographer and cameraman for 30 years. His career has involved traveling around the country covering the most extreme weather on the planet including tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, floods and winter storms. Dan has been extensively published in newspapers, magazines, web articles and more, and has both supplied footage for and appeared in numerous television productions and newscasts. He has also been involved in the research community, providing material for published scientific journal papers on tornadoes and lightning. Dan also holds an active Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA (Part 107) for commercial drone operation.

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