So Many Questions: TC storm-chaser Reed Timmer loves the thrill of the hunt
Reed Timmer isn't hard-wired to sit behind a desk for eight hours a day. While most people are driving into work, you'll find him driving his armored research vehicle, the Dominator, head-on into the eye of a hurricane or tornado.
Adrenaline rush? Sure. But as the star of Discovery's “Storm Chasers,” and now the web-based series “Tornado Chasers,” this self-professed “science nerd,” has always had a thing for Mother Nature and her unpredictable mood swings. His obsession with extreme storm-chasing began as a young kid in Michigan when he was barely old enough to drive, which eventually led to the pursuit of a degree in meteorology.
But the extreme side of his passion really started to emerge from a dogged determination to peel away the mysteries surrounding violent storms. For him, the ultimate goal is to collect the data necessary to ensure that lives are no longer needlessly lost. And while there's no doubting the jaw-dropping value to the videos he posts online, the greater good he hopes to achieve involves getting people better prepared in case of emergency: Always heeding tornado warnings and having action plans in place are paramount.
In other words, let him do the dirty work. The rest of us are better off taking cover.
Episodes of Tornado Chasers can be seen on www.tvnweather.com.
Question: You guys almost seem giddy when you're chasing these tornados.
Answer: It's a weird kind of double-edged sword; you're inside the tornado and it's the most beautiful thing (you've) ever seen, but there's a dark side to them, too, because they leave damage like I've never seen before.
Q: At what point in your life did you stop driving from storms and start driving into them?
A: As soon as I got my drivers license. My mom didn't know about it, but I chased for a couple years unofficially. I started chasing lake-effect snow squalls in Michigan.
Q: When you're chasing, is there absolutely no turning back?
A: Well, there's always that voice in the back of your head that says, “What are you doing?” But I've never really thought twice about (it). I'm probably more afraid of people than I am of storms. The worst thing that can happen is when you don't go and you're sitting at home watching it unfold on radar. If there's a storm happening somewhere in the country, I'm obsessed with watching it on the Internet. But it kills me not to be there.
Q: Take me to that moment when you're actually inside of a tornado. What does the scene look and sound like?
A: The first strong one was on June 5, 2009, near La Grange, Wyo., which is in the middle of nowhere. It didn't have any flying debris in it like huge trees. It was kind of a skinny rope tornado. We pulled in front of it, and I remember just watching it approach, and it was so beautiful and mesmerizing. I never thought, “Oh this thing could kill us.” When the first wind hit, the whole vehicle was rocking back and forth – your ears pop in the middle, and it's so loud it's almost deafening. And we watched this beautiful rope tornado go off to the east in the plains. We were probably inside for 15 or 20 seconds. When your adrenaline is going, it seems like a lifetime.
Q: How many tornados and hurricanes have you chased over the past 15 years?
A: More than 400 tornados. Actually, probably close to 500 tornados now, and more than a dozen hurricanes including Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Isaac.
Q: Is there any kind of storm that can intimidate even you?
A: The storm surges of hurricanes — I'm definitely afraid of the water. I always make sure we have a plan in place. When that flood water comes in, that's definitely dangerous. Water has a thousand times the density of air. Everybody should be afraid of the storm surge of hurricanes.
Kate Benz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8515.