“Storm Chasers” is a documentary reality series that follows several groups of storms chasers as they try to intercept tornadoes in Tornado Alley in the US, the area frequently hit by tornadoes. Storm chasers are usually meteorologists and scientists who deliberately pursue severe weather phenomena for adventure, scientific investigation, and curiosity. Created by Magilla Entertainment, the show premiered in October 2007 on Discovery Channel and ran for five seasons. The series was initially filmed during late spring and early summer, and later Discovery shot it in the lesser-known Dixie Alley. The show was canceled in January 2012 by Discovery Communications.

Given that storm chasing is a dangerous business, some of the storm chasers often succumb to Mother Nature’s fury. One of the cast members of the show whose death shook the American community and the series fans was the passing of Matt Hughes.

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Who is the show’s cast?

The show follows several crews of storms chasers: Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV), Doppler on Wheels (DOW), TornadoesVideos.Net (TVN), and TWISTEX. Casey and Marcus Gutierrez led the TIV group, which also included Byron Turk, Brendan Ivy, Matt Hughes and Ronan. The crew was equipped with several weather instruments with which to collect data from 12 ft. above ground, and often collaborated with the DOW group, using their radar imagery and the probe data to establish more accurate and complete pictures of the tornado’s structure.

DOW crew was created and led by Dr. Joshua Wurman, a well-known atmospheric scientist, who teamed up with the filmmaker and storm chaser Sean Casey in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Dr. Joshua’s goal was to collect tornado data and upgrade warning systems, while Sean wanted to obtain film footage inside a tornado, from his armored vehicle. Casey’s team included the Doghouse, driven by meteorologists and storm chasers Matt Hughes and Brandon Ivy.

In 2008, the show began chronicling the adventures of the team TVN, led by the meteorologist Reed Timmer, plus Joel Taylor and Chris Chittick. They chased tornadoes intending to capture an extreme video as well as collect scientific data. Reed created several armored chase vehicles named Dominator, which explains why the group was often referred to as “Team Dominator.”

In the 2009 season, the TWISTEX team joined the chase, led by engineer and seasoned storm chaser Tim Samaras. Their goal was to deploy ‘turtle probes’ into the path of tornadoes, to measure its several variables, including wind speed, direction, and barometric pressure.

Tim’s team also consisted of his son Paul Samaras, and another storm-chaser, Carl Young, and they occasionally worked with the award-winning meteorologist Tony Laubach too.

Who is Matt Hughes?

Matt Hughes was a well-known cast member of “Storm Chasers” in the first two seasons of the series, who worked for ABC’s new affiliate KAKE-TV, which operated out of Wichita, Kansas. Reportedly, he became fascinated with tornadoes at a very young age, after witnessing a tornado rip through Haysville in south Wichita. Matt chased tornadoes for over 15 years and is estimated to have witnessed over 100 tornadoes. In addition, he’s credited for placing Sean Casey’s Tornado Intercept Vehicle close to tornadoes to capture IMAX footage of the storms. He was married to Kendra, with whom he welcomed two children, Colin and Hunter.

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What happened to Matt Hughes?

When hearing of a storm chaser’s death, many conclude that he might have been caught-up in a chase that he couldn’t handle. However, that’s not the case with Matt Hughes, who died on 26 May 2010 in Kansas from a non-chasing injury. Reportedly, Matt had battled depression for a long time, and eventually committed suicide by hanging himself, aged 30. According to the police’s report, before taking his own life, Matt had been drinking and was found passed out. He was taken to hospital, but succumbed to the injuries and died 13 days later. One of the meteorologists who worked with Matt, Aaron Blaser, disclosed that he had already tried to commit suicide on 14 May. In one of his blog posts, Aaron wrote: ‘While the professional side of Matt was going fine, his personal life was nothing but. I won’t go into specifics here, but there was never any illegal activity, just an accumulation of issues at home mounting, which he kept to himself until the end.’

Matt’s death was revealed in the fourth episode entitled “Dedication” of season four; this was Matt’s last feature on the show. The episode was dedicated to him, and his contribution to meteorology and storm chasing.

Who else died on the show?

As is well-known, storm chasing is a very dangerous profession, or a hobby, and often storm chasers, overwhelmed with the adrenaline, thrill of adventure, and possible scientific discovery go too far, risking their life, and end up losing it; these included Tim Samaras (55), his son Paul (24) and Carl Young (45). The popular cast members of the show and meteorologists, deeply involved in tornado research, were killed by a violent wedge tornado in El Rino, Oklahoma on 3 June 2013. According to reports, 13 people died in this Oklahoma twister, including the three storm chasers, who knew the risks. Tornadoes moved in quickly for the second time in two weeks, and were deadly.

The interstates were packed with people panicking and fleeing for their lives before the tornadoes hit, as the previous week the area had been hit by a tornado which killed a mother and her child.

The veteran trio rushed to the area to document the tornadoes, and their TWISTEX vehicle was struck by a vortex, generating some of the highest winds and moving at 175 mph (282 km/h). Tim was found seat-belted in his Chevrolet Cobalt, while Paul and Carl were pulled from the car by the tornado; one was found a half-mile away from the vehicle. Before they stalked the vortex which turned deadly, the cries of the three men were heard on the radio by a Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, Betsy, who disclosed: ‘They were screaming, ‘We’re going to die, we’re going to die.’ There was just no place to go, no place to hide.’ According to one of the witnesses, their car looked ‘like it had gone through a trash compactor’ when it was found.’

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After news of the storm chasers became public, one of Tim’s friends revealed: ‘I have known Tim for over 20 years; he was the most brilliant and most careful severe weather researcher of them all. Tim wasn’t a cowboy, he was as cautious as possible about his approach to studying these dangerous storms.’

Joel Taylor

The show has clocked a number of cast members’ death, including the driver and meteorologist Joel Taylor. Similar to Matt, Joel did not die while chasing weather phenomena or anything related to storm-casing. Hailing from Oklahoma, he was found dead in his cabin on board the Royal Caribbean cruise liner Harmony of the Seas at the age of 38. Joel’s death shocked all fans and viewers of the Discovery series, sparking theories and rumors. Initially, the cause of his death remained undisclosed, which contributed to the mystery.

However, four months later, the autopsy revealed that his death was caused by a fatal mix of drugs in his system, including MDMA, Ketamin, and MDA. At the time of his death, the cruise ship hosted the Atlantis Event’s all-gay Caribbean Cruise – Olivia Newton-John had headlined a concert on board with the electronic dance music duo Galantis.

Discovery Channel released an official statement following his funeral: ‘We are so saddened to hear about Joel’s passing. We will always remember him fondly as an incredible meteorologist and driver of ‘The Dominator.’ Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this difficult time.’

Andy Gabrielson

To everyone’s surprise, Andy was another respected chaser who lost his life in an injury not related to storm chasing. A passionate weather enthusiast, Andy was one of the most successful chasers, who had traveled over 180,000 miles in 24 states to intercept over 150 tornadoes.

Even though he wasn’t featured in the show, his contribution to storm chasing was undeniable, as he collected data for science, and risked his life in obtaining it. Unfortunately, in February 2012, while chasing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Andy was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. According to the trooper’s report, the other driver had been going in the wrong direction for a while, without signs of stopping or changing direction.

Besides Andy’s car, two other vehicles were involved in the collisions, whose owners sustained minor injuries. At the time of his death, Andy was two weeks away from his 25th birthday. Not much information was available about his personal life, but it was known that he had a daughter.

Following the news of his tragic death, dozens of chasers and spotters in Kansas formed the initials “A.G” on SpotterNetwork.Org’s map as a tribute to Andy. In addition, the chasing group Severe Studio launched a memorial fund to collect money for Andy’s daughter and parents.

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Herb Stein

Herb Stein had a long and stable career as a meteorologist and on TV; his first credited work was in the 1991 documentary “Casing the Wind.” Several years later, he appeared in “Storm Chasers,” a short movie in which he tried to recreate the meteorological conditions found in storms. Herb’s filmed adventures were featured in several TV productions, such as “Tornado” and “Naked Science.” A graduate of Oklahoma University, Herb actively worked with the National Geographic Channel and the Weather Channel and was a spokesperson for the Natural History Museum in Cleveland. Unfortunately, early in 2016, Herb was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease that rapidly ended his life that year at the age of 57, in Ohio.

Why was “Storm Chasers” cancelled?

After five seasons, Tim Samaras and Sean Casey confirmed that the show had been officially canceled. The news came as a surprise to “Storm Chasers” fans, who wondered why the show was discontinued.

Unfortunately, the network never disclosed the reason, or released an official statement regarding the cancelation. However, the show’s end was already rumored on several social platforms and forums dedicated to the show. Fans began questioning whether the show ended due to producing issues, the ratings, or personal problems among the cast members. Allegedly, Tim Samaras revealed that after the show was canceled, he was thrilled as it focused more on interpersonal drama and conflicts, rather than scientific discovery and the capture of extraordinary and rare footage of weather phenomena.

Spin-off Series

After the show concluded, Reed Timmer launched a funding campaign on Kickstarter, intending to start the “Storm Chasers” first spin-off series.

Following their success of achieving over 135,000 by the end of 2012, Reed and his team appeared in the “Tornado Chasers” premiere in September 2012, which provided a more accurate, detailed and personal approach to the chasing endeavors compared to the original series. The series ran for two seasons, with a special season entitled “Ultimate Tornadoes”. Regarding the cast, it included most of the original members, with a couple of new additions such as Jim Cantore, Ginger Zee and Mike Morgan. The show was concluded in May 2014.

Reed Timmer’s Near Death Experience

In May 2019, while performing his usual storm chasing, Reed Timmer got more than he bargained for, after getting trapped in the eye of a tornado formed on the Nebraska plains. On a Friday morning, Reed set out to do his usual business, pursuing a twister, finding himself in a tricky situation where he couldn’t escape the vortex.

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Talking to Accuweather, Reed disclosed: ‘I was unable to get back to the vehicle and couldn’t see it, so I just turned my back to the wind and hoped for the best until it passed.’ Reed is a passionate meteorologist and weather enthusiast, who had already encountered deadly vortexes, and managed to film them without sustaining severe injuries. In 2016, he captured footage of a massive EF2 tornado as it tore across Wray, Colorado. The video went viral, and Reed became known as a fearless and dedicated storm chaser. Even though his profession had already taken so many of his fellow meteorologists’ lives, and he’s well aware of the danger; Reed said: ‘Life is incredibly fragile, and I hope storm chasers continue to work hard to practice their job or hobby safely during this storm season and beyond.’

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