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Storm chasers' deaths heighten safety concerns

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Updated: 6/04/2013 1:51 am
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) -- How close is too close?

Many storm chasers may be asking themselves that question after the deaths of Tim Samaras, his son Paul and their teammate Carl Young by a EF3 tornado on Friday.

At the same time, north Mississippi residents have concerns, too.

"If it is just as a hobby or whatever, it's definitely too dangerous," New Albany resident Kristina McCurdy said. "Why risk your life for something that's not really worth it if you're not researching or trying to give us more information about what's going on?"

Lee County resident James Patterson doesn't think there's any reason to risk it.

"There is a limit to how close you can play with God's work," Patterson said. "You just don't tempt God."

Many on Facebook said that after footage was posted online of chasers near El Reno caught up in a debris field. Though pelted with siding from neighboring structures and a hay bale, they survived.

It's very different to chase storms in Oklahoma versus doing so in north Mississippi, where it's more difficult.

The reason for that: tree lines and hills make it harder to spot and follow a storm, but that's not all.

"Most of our storms are at night," storm chaser Brett Wicker said. "Our roads don't go north-south and east-west like they do out in the plains, so you have to really be aware of where you're at, and be very comfortable with the area you're in."

At the same time, North Mississippi Storm Chasers and Spotters founder Brett Wicker said he and others take something away from what happened to those three in Oklahoma.

"I may actually talk to our group and suggest that instead of say, one mile from a storm, stay three miles from a storm," Wicker said.

However, Wicker firmly believes that their group, like many who are volunteers, provide an essential service to the public.

Storm chasers and spotters in his group work closely with the National Weather Service to relay crucial information about constantly changing weather conditions.

Others agree about the importance of these efforts.

"The research should continue, because the more we know, the better off we are," McCurdy said.

Most residents who talked to WTVA News agreed with that sentiment, even if that research could come at an unfathomable cost.
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