Saturday, 16 November 2013

Tornadoes in His Genes

     I've just been reading this month's (November 2013) edition of the National Geographic. As usual, it continues its quirk of not duplicating the article title. Thus, Robert Draper's article is called, "The Monster Storm" on the front page, "The Last Storm" on the index page, and "The Last Chase" on the first page of the article itself. In any case, it is a minute by minute account of the death of three storm chasers: Tim Samaras, his son, Paul Samaras, and their colleague, Carl Young. For years - nay, decades - their life had consisted on chasing storms in America's "tornado alley" in order to gain scientific knowledge on the causes and development of these destructive storms. It was a dangerous occupation, and this time their number came up.
     But the really unusual twist in the tale came with the appearance of 35-year-old Matt Winter at the funeral. Without any encouragement from his parents, he had always shown an odd fascination with severe weather. During his 11th birthday party at Des Moines, he had insisted on watching a tornado blowing through town while the other guests clambered into the basement. At age 26 he followed on TV Tim Samaras' dropping of probes into the path of a tornado. Three years later, he went to hear Samaras give a talk at a tornado conference.
     At that point, his mother told him the secret: he was really Tim Samaras' illegitimate son. She phoned his father, and a DNA test confirmed his paternity. Samaras, to his credit, treated him like the long lost son he was.
     As a zoology graduate who once gained a high distinction in genetics, I know that things as specific as a fascination with tornadoes are not supposed to be written in your genes, but just the same . . .

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