OKLAHOMA CITY —
"Storm chasing isn't about what you see on TV. It's about forecasting and safety preparation," said Ben McMillan, a storm chaser from Des Moines, Iowa, who teamed up in 2011 with Samaras and Ed Grubb of Thornton, Colo., for the Discovery Channel show "Storm Chasers"
Samaras also usually drove a three-quarter ton truck with a reinforced lining, Grubb said, but had a smaller truck last week because he was on a three-week research trip focused mostly on lightning.
Many amateur storm chasers are looking to capture heart-pounding video of a massive, dangerous twister and cash in by selling the footage to television stations or documentary filmmakers. TV stations and other news outlets generally pay up to $500 to use certain video, and storm chasers will reach out to several different ones. Sometimes they're not even after money, but hearing their name read aloud on the air.
Lanny Dean, a 23-year veteran storm chaser from Tulsa, Okla., charges up to $3,500 to give tourists a 10-day tour during the March through June storm season. He said he's seen the industry change dramatically with the rise of TV programs documenting deadly storms.
"There are more and more people out there on the road. Many of them should not be," he said. "We're talking about individuals who are not experienced and who have no clue what they're doing. Friday's event was certainly no exception."
Dean and seven of his tourists found themselves near El Reno last week on the jam-packed roads when the deadly twisters began to drop from the sky.
"I saw a kid standing in the back of a Chevy pickup truck filming this thing as they're driving toward the tornado," Dean said. "I thought, my God, how stupid are these people?"