Storm Chaser Killed in Okla. Tornadoes

"Nightline" went out with storm chaser Tim Samaras in 2012 as he studied the mystery of how lightning forms
3:00 | 08/10/12

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Transcript for Storm Chaser Killed in Okla. Tornadoes
But we turn now to the summer of wild weather. The hottest july on record, crippling drought in half of the country and now tropical storms bringing epic rains to the east coast. Ji ginger zee has been out storm chasing. Reporter: We're chasing one of nature's most destructive and unpredictable forces. Oh, look at that. That was beautiful. Reporter: Tim samaras is a seasoned storm chaser and no stranger to wild weather. Most of the core I believe is right here. Reporter: But today he's focused on another nearly impossible mission. He's attempting to document the birth of a lightning strike. Tim wants a glimpse behind that blazing flash he believe this is moment holds the clues that will help us better understand the mystery of this lethal Armed with an ultra high speed camera. A shot we just got. Reporter: Cool. Oh, my gosh. He will try to capture this elusive moment as it's never been seen fore. And return strobe. Reporter: Oh, my gosh. This is it? That's it. Reporter: Each lightning bolt is five times hotter than the sun and lightning kills an average of 54 people a year in the u.S. Alone. And even though every thunderstorm is pregnant with that brilliant but deadly force we know surprisingly little about where, when or why it strikes. Why does it choose a target like a tree instead of a building or building instead of a tree? Perhaps some of the imagery we collect in the field may help answer some of those questions. This one's dead. This is developing. Reporter: Tim's been looking for the answers since 2006 when he first started chasing lightning. His results so far have been impressive. These shots came from a high-speed camera called the phantom. It can record dramatic slow motion at 10,000 frames per second. But in order to capture that fleeting moment when the lightning bolt is actually born, samaras will need something much faster. The problem is, people say it's easy, get in your car, hear a rumble of thunder, park next to it, you're in. It's not that easy. Sometimes it's almost as difficult chasing a tornado as it is a good lightning storm. Reporter: To get a sense of how difficult an endeavor this really is you have to know a little bit more about the way lightning strikes the ground. First, a negative charged bolt takes off and branches out from the base of a cloud, then an upward positive bolt shoots up from the ground to meet it, return stroke of electricity rockets back to the cloud and all we see is a flash of light. There is no camera in the world fast enough to pull back that curtain. We'll see the kahuna. Except maybe this one. There is actually 82 cameras on this instrument here taking one picture of the lightning and one micro second steps of time. Reporter: He is trying toal us high-speed, high-resolution camera in the world. This camera was built in the '60s. It's probably pushing 45, 50 years old. Reporter: During the cold war, it was used to record NUCLEAR TESTING AND IN THE '80s, Time was actually one of the operators. He's since retro fitted the camera for the digital age. This is a shaky image of what the kahuna is seeing right fou. Reporter: But after many attempts in field tim has president successfully shot a lightning strike with the unwieldy camera. At least not yet. I won't give up until this is done. The naysayers it can't be done it drives me harder. Reporter: Today, he and his son, paul, are at it again and get to tag along for the ride. Let's go. Reporter: Tim and I have looked at the forecast, looks like northern new mexico between 7:00 and 10:00 p.M. On this latest computer model pops up a few thunderstorms and that is going to be our target. It's an arduous trip, four states, 800 miles and plenty of pop and drop disappointing storms. This storm kicked out several lightning strikes. They were probably five minutes apart. Hardly worth firing the equipment over but it's pretty. Reporter: Rainbow chasing the goal, we did it. We did it. We scored the f-5 in rainbows. Reporter: We did. When all options were exhausted a bright beacon of hope started gleaming on theradar. This has to be the storm because this is about all that is out here, last line of storms and the most promising we've seen the entire trip. Problem is, it's 85 miles this opposite direction and we only have an hour to get into position. Any false move, wrong turn or even a balthroom and we could miss the magic moment but thankfully as dusk settled in -- oh my god! There it was due north a classic thunderstorm bursting with lightning. All right. It's happening. It's going to come right now. 12:00. Reporter: And then we snagged one. A beautiful cloud to ground strike or c.G. Pay dirt for tim. So numerous branches and first one hits the ground. Reporter: It's a beautiful image but it wasn't taken about the kahuna. See the bright flash, that means the camera wasn't fast enough to capture the exact moment when the bolt was born. Maybe next time. This condition here is very difficult on the kahuna. It's not good enough. Reporter: Kahuna or not, for those of us who live for storms, sometimes the chase alone is reason enough to sit back and just enjoy the I don't know how many storms I've seen in my lifetime but every single one of them I still get pretty excited. The little boy in me wants to come out here and watch and stare. Reporter: For "nightline," ginger zee in colorado. Tim samaras' hunt for lightning is featured in the august issue of "national geographic" magazine.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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