Nightly News   |  June 03, 2013

Rethinking the dangers of storm chasing

On Friday three storm chasers lost their lives after getting caught in a tornado that demolished their truck. Now, some pros who have dedicated their lives to gathering information about big storms are reconsidering their strategies. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> when we were last here on the air friday night storms were firinging from oklahoma city to st. louis. storm chasers descended on the storms. as always, we aired their video. we interviewed several of them about what they could see. a freeze frame of the radar over the region from friday night using pink dots to show where many of those chasers were based on their gps locators, many found themselves in the worst spot -- the hook of the approaching storm. while mike bettes of the weather channel and his crew had a very close call , others weren't so lucky. three veteran chasers died. and now the questions have started over this dangerous and crowded business. our report tonight from nbc's tom costello.

>> hold on, brother.

>> reporter: from inside their truck this is what a weather channel e crew faced as a tornado caught up with them.

>> everybody just go, go. keep going. everybody duck down.

>> guys, that's it.

>> reporter: just minutes earlier meteorologist mike bettes cut short his live report .

>> we have to go now in order to stay ahead of this and not get run over by it.

>> reporter: the tornado did run over them, tossing them 200 yards. the ejected camera caught their truck rolling over and over again. all survived. nearby, storm chaser meteorologist tim samaras was on the air with msnbc.

>> boy, the ingredients are coming together for a volatile day.

>> reporter: just hours later, samaras, his son paul and meteorologist carl young were killed when a tornado made a sudden turn, demolishing their car.

>> this tornado was no exception.

>> reporter: samaras dedicated his life to researching and understanding tornadoes, even designing probes to measure them.

>> tim has given us some of the only measurements of pressure and winds right inside tornadoes right down at the ground level.

>> reporter: the weather channel crew and samaras teams were two storm chase teams, some providing urgent updates to radio and tv audiences, others in it for the thrill.

>> there is serious inflow.

>> reporter: every year hundreds of chase rs converge on tornado alley .

>> the chaser convergence is crazy. we have a funnel.

>> reporter: many hope to capture dramatic video they can post online or sell to tv. some even offering tornado tourism.

>> got another lightning bolt .

>> i see more inexperienced chaser, people going on chase vacations for bachelor parties and birthdays. tornadoes are still dangerous storms.

>> we don't know if we have much hail in the storm.

>> reporter: tonight, many of the pros including mike bettes are rethinking the strategy.

>> i just saw my wife's face. i thought, you know -- that's, you know, that's my life. i don't want to give that up just yet. thankfully i don't have to.

>> reporter: how close is too close? tom costello, nbc news, washington.