"Storm Chasers" star Tim Samaras, 55, his 24-year-old son, Paul, and a 45-year-old colleague were among those killed when powerful storms, including several tornadoes, tore through Oklahoma on Friday.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Tim Samaras, his son Paul and their colleague Carl Young," the Discovery Channel said in a statement released Sunday. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families."
The men died while chasing an F-3 tornado in El Reno, Okla., near Oklahoma City. At least nine people, including a mother and her baby were killed during Friday's storms, officials said.
"Thank you to everyone for the condolences," Tim Samaras' brother, Jim, wrote on Tim's Facebook wall. "It truly is sad that we lost my great brother Tim and his great son, Paul. Our hearts also go out to the Carl Young family as well as they are feeling the same feelings we are today. They all unfortunately passed away but doing what they loved.
"I look at it that he is in the 'big tornado in the sky,'" Jim added.
The "Storm Chasers" series ended in November after five seasons on the Discovery Channel. The network said it would dedicate Sunday's "Mile Wide Tornado: Oklahoma Disaster"—a primetime special on the deadly tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20—to their memory.
“This has really shaken up everyone in the storm chasing community," Doug Kiesling, a storm photographer, told CNN. "We knew this day would happen someday, but nobody would imagine that it would happen to Tim. Tim was one of the safest people to go out there."
Samaras' last tweet, published Friday, read: "Dangerous day ahead for OK--stay weather savvy!"
Storms now initiating south of Watonga along triple point.Dangerous day ahead for OK--stay weather savvy! twitter.com/Tim_Samaras/st…
— Tim Samaras (@Tim_Samaras) May 31, 2013
"Tim was not a cowboy," Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist for Denver's ABC affiliate, said. "He was as cautious as possible about his approach to studying these dangerous storms."
It's unclear exactly how the men were killed, but a fellow storm chaser told ABC that their equipment is missing. "The family and overall scientific community would like it recovered to see what happened and what went wrong," the storm chaser said.
Friday's storm "ended up putting many storm chasing lives in danger," Connor Simpson wrote on the Atlantic Wire, "and caused a few chasers to question the practice amid so many disasters and close calls." The Weather Channel's tornado-chasing mobile was picked up and tossed 200 yards during one. Miraculously, all three passengers survived:
Last month, Samaras gave an interview to National Geographic about his 30-year storm chasing career.
"I've always had a fascination with weather," Samaras said. "I watched 'The Wizard of Oz' when I was a kid and vowed to myself, 'I'm going to see that tornado one day.' Tornadoes have pretty much become a focus of my life."
He continued: "Being close to a tornado is one of those incredible, fleeting moments that sometimes you have to take a couple of seconds to take in."
Samaras also recalled a close call he had with a tornado South Dakota in 2003 when an F-4 "dropped from the sky on a sleepy road" and he deployed three probes in the tornado's path, placing the last one from his car 100 yards ahead of the tornado itself.
"That's the closest I've been to a violent tornado," he said, "and I have no desire to ever be that close again."