Bill Paxton, right, helped launch the modern storm chaser movement with ‘Twister.’

Image: Amblin/Universal/Warners/REX/Shutterstock

Hundreds of storm chasers and weather geeks mourned the death of U.S. actor Bill Paxton this weekend.

Paxton, who was 61, starred alongside Helen Hunt in Twister, the 1996 film that helped inspire a new generation of storm chasers — those thrill-seekers who track down dangerous weather events for the sake of scientific data, a rush of adrenaline, or both. 

In the movie, Paxton and Hunt play a struggling couple that teams up to create an advance weather alert system, putting them square in the path of violent tornadoes. 

Paxton was so beloved in the weather community that his unexpected death on Saturday sparked a rare tribute tweet from the National Weather Service’s official Twitter account. 

The actor also inspired nearly 200 storm chasers to spell out the initials “BP” using GPS coordinates on a map showing the heart of Tornado Alley, the Associated Press counted.

“There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of meteorologists today — myself included — who were impacted by the movie Twister and the role Bill played in that,” John Wetter, president of the nonprofit that tracks the positions of tornado chasers, told the AP. 

“Twister was kind of the first time in a mass media place the meteorologist became cool, if only for a little while,” he said.

Weather experts still cling to Twister memorabilia. Dorothy, the tornado-chasing contraption from the film, now sits in the lobby of the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, a major center of atmospheric research into tornadoes and the home of the Storm Prediction Center.

Even before Twister, Paxton said he was fascinated by tornadoes, which strike fairly often in his home state of Texas. Shortly after the film’s debut, he reached out to the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Kentucky, to ask about a twister in the region.

Paxton remained in touch with the weather community throughout his career. In 2011, he followed up on Twister by narrating an IMAX documentary Tornado Alley, also about storm chasers.

Along with GPS maps, meteorologists also shared more personal messages reflecting on the actor’s impact on their own lives. Some people revived the nickname for Paxton’s character in Twister: “The Extreme.”

Paxton died unexpectedly on Saturday following complications from heart surgery. 

Besides Twister, he also starred in many Hollywood blockbusters throughout the 1980s and ’90s, including Titanic, The Terminator, Apollo 13, Aliens, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and most recently the TV adaptation of Training Day.

Additional reporting by Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman. 



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