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CHS grad dies chasing Oklahoma tornadoes


Published: June 7, 2013

'IF YOU had told me that I was going to risk my life chasing tornadoes, I never would have believed you!” Carl Young, 1986 Carmel High School graduate, told his friend and former classmate, Pacific Grove Police Sgt. Jeff Fenton, during a conversation on Facebook several months ago. “In true honesty, it is about the science, some degree of public service, the challenge, and a flurry of excitement when we intercept one of these forces of nature! Witnessing a tornado is downright AWESOME!”

Young, along with colleagues Tim and Paul Samaras, died while pursuing tornadoes during the May 31 outbreak in Oklahoma that killed more than a dozen people and injured more than 100. Young and Tim Samaras — who created TWISTEX, the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling of Tornadoes Experiment, and invented the cutting-edge technology that allowed him to gather unprecedented data about the storms — had starred together on Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers.” Paul Samaras, a photographer and videographer, was Tim’s son.

Fenton and Young were among a handful of friends at Carmel High who had eaten lunch together almost daily, some of them since junior high, he said.

“That group was some of the more intelligent people in the school. We weren’t all brains,” he said, exempting himself from the title, “but a lot of us had been friends all the way through elementary school and middle school.”

Like many of that group of friends, which also included motorcycle mechanic Jeff Collard, they lost touch after graduation. But the two reconnected at their 20th CHS reunion and through Facebook.

“And then next thing you know, there he is on the TV, and you’re going, ‘Hey, I know that guy!’” Fenton said. “And I had just watched that show a couple of times before he was on one of the featured teams, so I was just getting into it as he started.”

During those interim years, Young had gone to college and worked in Hollywood. His first tornado encounter occurred in 2000, when he headed to the East Coast, according to the Discovery Channel.

“He decided to take off on a two-month storm chasing adventure in the Great Plains hoping to catch a glimpse of a few tornadoes but ending up with over a dozen twister encounters. Experiencing the raw force of nature in Nebraska was unlike any pyrotechnic display on a high-tech Hollywood set.”

The experiences drove his desire to earn a master’s degree in atmospheric science from the University of Nevada Reno, and at a meteorological conference, he met Samaras, who “encouraged him to collect meteorological data from inside tornadoes as the principal focus of his thesis research.”

Beginning in 2003, up until last week, the two chased tornadoes each spring, “and together, their TWISTEX team has tracked down over 125 tornadoes,” according to the Discovery Channel.

Collard remembered Young as being “extremely smart” and said, “It’s just mind-blowing that he’s gone.”
He recalled Young as being fairly conservative in high school, friendly to many and straight laced.

“He drove a black Dodge Dart when the rest of us had ’68 Camaros,” he said. “He was very funny, very kind. He was one of those people who just didn’t have a bad word for anybody.”

After high school, Young headed to Berkeley, and he and Collard lost touch until the late 1990s, when they happened to run into each other at a Depeche Mode concert in Oakland.

The last time Collard heard from Young — whose mother and stepfather live in Carmel Valley, and whose younger brother is also local — about nine months ago, Collard learned about his friend’s latest ambitions.

“I didn’t realize he was into meteorology. He said he was storm chasing and following his dream, and how excited he was for the whole project,” he said. “He was catching me up on his life.”

“He truly enjoyed what he was doing,” Fenton said. “Obviously, he didn’t go into it blindly. You get your master’s in meteorology, you know what you’re doing.”