Tim Samaras's Inspiration to Become a Storm Chaser: The Wizard of Oz

06/03/2013 at 09:15 AM EDT

Tim Samaras: Wizard of Oz Made Me Want to Chase Storms
Carl Young (left) and Tim Samaras
Discovery Channel
The deadly tornado that swept through Oklahoma Friday night – the second such disaster to strike the state in two weeks – claimed among its 13 victims three veteran storm chasers: Storm Chasers star Tim Samaras, 54, his son Paul Samaras, 24, and their colleague, Carl Young, 45.

The elder Samaras was found inside his car, and he was still wearing his seatbelt. His son and colleague had been pulled from a car by the winds – which carried one of them for a half a mile.

Samaras's recent research was often funded by the National Geographic Society, which on Sunday released a statement, saying: "We are shocked and deeply saddened ... [Samaras] was a courageous and brilliant scientist who fearlessly pursued tornadoes and lightning ... in an effort to better understand these phenomena."

Only last month, the elder Samaras spoke to the society's namesake publication about his work, telling National Geographic that his interest in twisters began as a child, while watching the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, with its dramatic storm sequence.

At the time, he said, "[I] vowed to myself, 'I'm going to see that tornado one day.' "

Describing the thrill in pursuing his work, the scientist, whose background was in engineering, said, "Being close to a tornado is one of those incredible, fleeting moments that sometimes you have to take a couple of seconds to take in."

Samaras said he still marveled at the sound of a tornado. "And the sounds are different. If [the tornado is] in an open field, it sounds like a waterfall. If it's in a populated area, it becomes more of a thundering sound."

He also described "the smell of tornadoes – if you're in the right place, you get a strong odor of fresh-cut grass, or occasionally, if it's destroyed a house, natural gas. Sometimes you get that raw earth smell, similar to if you run a bulldozer over open land."

His closing words in the interview were to warn others about being weather-aware, especially in the springtime.

"Know that it can happen," he said. "Before you start your day, take a quick look at the forecast and know if you're going to have severe weather during the day. Just be weather smart."

GlobalGiving is raising funds for emergency supplies for victims, as well as longer-term relief and rebuilding efforts. Donate online or text GIVE OK to 80088 to donate $10 to GlobalGiving's Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund. Message and data rates may apply. Terms: mgive.org/t

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