Reed Timmer, a prolific storm chaser and extreme meteorologist, has dedicated his life to studying and documenting the awe-inspiring phenomena of nature. His meteoric rise to fame can be attributed to his fearless and relentless pursuit of tornadoes, which was showcased in the Discovery Channel’s hit reality television series, “Storm Chasers.” As the leader of “Team Dominator,” he became an iconic figure in the world of storm chasing, capturing the hearts of viewers with his passion, expertise, and daring escapades.
- 1 Get to know Reed Timmer
- 2 Background on “Storm Chasers”
- 3 SRV Dominators
- 4 Most memorable hurricane interceptions
- 5 What was it like to intercept a tornado?
- 6 Update on Reed Timmer
Get to know Reed Timmer
Reed Timmer was born on 17 March 1980, in Ada Township of Kent County, Michigan, USA, the middle child of Dan Timmer and Susan Tolbert, between his younger sister Dayna and older sister Cortney. His parents divorced when he was around 10; no information was disclosed to the public about his father, but his mother taught at Forest Hills Central Middle School.
A science nerd to the core
During his childhood, his fascination for science knew no bounds. In an interview back in 2010, his mother fondly recalled that the young Reed immersed himself in learning everything he could about insects. He had a collection of insects, mostly moths, as he admitted to being obsessed with them, kept in a glass case with each one meticulously mounted and labeled. He was quite proud to show them off to anyone who asked about them or expressed even a bit of interest. Reed also once kept praying mantises as pets, and he was so dedicated to caring for them that it resulted in something he really didn’t expect – a total of 250 mantis eggs that eventually hatched.
Obsession with the weather
As early as five years old, Reed remembered getting all fired up when warnings were issued for a severe thunderstorm or lake-effect snow, which was prevalent in Michigan. Around the age of nine or ten, he became completely enthralled by the weather, especially the extremes. His mother shared how he was fixated on the screen, engrossed in watching the Weather Channel non-stop, to the extent that they had to purchase a separate TV for him, as the rest of the family couldn’t watch anything else. She believed that his fascination with the weather was partly due to its unpredictable nature, remaining in a perpetual state of change, which intrigued him. “Obsessed” is a term that Reed frequently used to describe himself, and his friend and colleague, Chris Chittick could attest to that, as he said that Reed was someone who became fully infatuated with anything that interested him.
His passion for tornadoes and hurricanes led Reed to go after them. He began storm chasing when he acquired his driver’s license at 16 in Michiga: ‘I realized that I didn’t have to wait for storms to come to me, but I could go after them, and see a lot more that way.’ Reed and his friend worked together at the Watermark Country Club in Grand Rapids every summer. However, whenever they heard about a storm looming on the horizon, they would take off in his ‘85 Plymouth Reliant on a storm-chasing adventure.
In 1998, he moved to Oklahoma to study meteorology, and that was where he encountered his first tornado, as an outbreak hit the state in October. By 2015, he’d received his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma, after which Reed drove around 50,000 miles a year, every year, to chase hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards. For someone who was afraid of lightning and thunder when he was a kid, it was quite surprising that he ended up as a storm chaser. Reed said that there’s a fine line between curiosity and fear, and it was just that he developed a deep and lifelong passion for storms.
A young storm chaser in “Tornado Glory”
Many documentaries on storm chasing were focused solely on the scientific aspects, and the destructive power of tornadoes, but the documentary film entitled “Tornado Glory” took a different approach. It explored the determination, excitement, and challenges of storm chasing through the personal stories of two University of Oklahoma meteorology students, Joel Taylor and Reed Timmer, released by PBS in 2006.
Background on “Storm Chasers”
The reality TV series, “Storm Chasers,” followed teams comprised of meteorologists, scientists, and adrenaline junkies as they embarked on dangerous expeditions to chase and document severe weather phenomena, particularly tornadoes, in various regions of the United States prone to frequent tornado activity. The teams were equipped with advanced technology and vehicles, allowing them to get as close as possible to tornadoes, and capture stunning footage and data. The show aimed to provide a unique and immersive perspective on the dangerous pursuit of severe storms, as well as the scientific research conducted by some of the teams. It sought to highlight the risks, challenges, and rewards faced by storm chasers in their quest to better understand and predict tornadoes.
The high-stress situations, equipment failures, and interpersonal conflicts that often arose during expeditions made the show compelling to watch. It was produced by Original Media for the Discovery Channel, and premiered in 2007, quickly gaining a large following and becoming a hit among audiences intrigued by the raw power and beauty of nature’s most powerful forces.
Reed Timmer on “Storm Chasers”
Reed joined “Storm Chasers” during its second season in 2008, bringing along his TornadoVideos.net (TVN) team, a website he co-founded in 2003, dedicated to showcasing his storm-chasing videos and live streams. In the early days of storm chasing, an idea struck him – if he could sell wild storm footage, then he could turn that hobby into a source of income and make a living from it. After that, he began receiving calls from people who wanted to experience the thrill of chasing after tornadoes. He hooked up with Chris Chittick and set up the company, Extreme Tornado Tours, taking people along on storm chasing trips, note ‘chasing’ not facing!
According to Reed, he was contacted by the producers of the show after they saw his footage of the Greensburg EF5 tornado in 2007. An EF5 tornado is the most severe category on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which is used to rate the intensity of tornadoes based on the damage they cause. He and his team agreed to participate in the show, as they saw it as an opportunity to showcase their passion and expertise in storm chasing, as well as to raise awareness and provide assistance to the communities affected by the severe weather. He quickly became a fan favorite on the show, thanks to his charismatic personality, fearless attitude, and innovative chase vehicles, the Dominators.
The show was canceled by Discovery Channel in January 2012, reportedly due to budget cuts and low ratings. He appeared on the show until its final season in 2011, which featured their chase of the record-breaking El Reno EF5 tornado in Oklahoma.
ON THIS DAY, 12 years ago, the infamous Bowdle, SD wedge tornado happened (May 22, 2010). This tornado was rated an EF4 and lofted massive high-tension power lines at peak intensity. This is one of the strongest tornadoes I have ever intercepted. We were chasing for Storm Chasers pic.twitter.com/QHi1qDGBht
— Reed Timmer, PhD (@ReedTimmerAccu) May 22, 2022
In order to gain a deeper understanding of tornadoes by approaching them closely, Reed required a vehicle outfitted for this purpose. SRV Dominator, which stands for Storm Research Vehicle, was an armored vehicle specifically designed to endure the powerful gusts and forces of wind associated with severe weather conditions, such as storms, tornadoes, or hurricanes, without being negatively affected or compromised. This resilience is essential to ensure the safety of both the vehicle’s occupants and the equipment or instruments they might be carrying. The Dominator was a modified version of a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe used by Reed’s team during the storm-chasing season in 2008, making its debut in the following season. Since it wasn’t designed to intercept tornadoes but just get close to one, his team had a harrowing experience on 17 June 2009, when a tornado in Aurora, Nebraska intensified with a wind gust of 138.8 mph right on top of their vehicle, causing the window on the driver’s side to blow in; Reed and one other suffered lacerations on their faces due to the shards of glass that flew all over.
The team bought a 2011 GMC Yukon XL that they used for Dominator 2 in early 2011 and they modified it so that it could intercept storms stronger than the original vehicle. Both were used to collect data, one from inside the tornado and the other one from outside. The Dominator 2’s first encounter with a tornado was in central Oklahoma, in May of that year, during one of the largest outbreaks on record.
Most memorable hurricane interceptions
Reed Timmer’s storm-chasing experiences over the past three decades have been nothing short of extraordinary. Here are some of the unforgettable encounters that he’s had with nature’s fury:
Hurricane Michael (October 10, 2018)
Hurricane Michael struck Mexico Beach, Florida, as a monstrous Category 5, one of the most powerful and destructive storms in recorded history. As Michael’s howling winds reached 160 mph, Reed found himself in the middle of the tempest, riding it out in his Subaru. Braving winds that threatened to lift his vehicle, he described the experience as the most powerful hurricane he’s ever encountered.
Hurricane Laura (August 22, 2020)
Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a ferocious Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 150 mph. The storm’s eye passed directly over the Lake Charles area, where Reed stood witness to the most intense part of the hurricane. His footage captured the destructive winds gutting buildings in downtown Lake Charles, leaving the radar servicing the region temporarily disabled.
Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017)
Hurricane Harvey’s slow crawl over the Texas coast unleashed record-breaking rainfall, inundating the region with more than 40 inches of rain. Reed found himself trapped in downtown Houston, witnessing the devastating ‘megaflood disaster’ that submerged entire stretches of highways. The catastrophic rainfall made Hurricane Harvey the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in recorded US history.
Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005)
At just 25 years old, Reed intercepted Hurricane Katrina as it churned toward the Louisiana coastline. Making multiple landfalls, Katrina caused extensive flooding after breaching the levees surrounding New Orleans. The storm surge and floodwaters that ensued were both intimidating and intense, with nearly 80% of the city inundated after the storm’s passage.
Hurricane Ian (September 28, 2022)
Hurricane Ian stands as the most extreme hurricane in Reed’s illustrious career. Positioned on Pine Island, off Florida’s west coast, he experienced the fury of a Category 4 to Category 5 eyewall as Ian made landfall. With wind gusts exceeding 100 mph and a deadly storm surge of up to 15 feet, the island’s bridge was knocked out, leaving him and the rest of the people on the island stranded for days during the storm. The National Hurricane Center’s post-storm analysis revealed that Hurricane Ian briefly achieved Category 5 status, before its devastating impact.
What was it like to intercept a tornado?
During Reed’s initial attempts to intercept tornadoes, he was focused solely on positioning the vehicle in the path of a tornado. As it slowly approached, he said that he really didn’t think that it could kill him, but was instead mesmerized by its ‘organization and scientific beauty.’ He said that it sounded like one was standing next to Niagara Falls, as the rushing water falling over the edge made a deafening roar; it was extremely loud and powerful. Once the wind gusts hit the vehicle, the force of the wind felt incredibly strong, as if a solid and heavy object was striking the vehicle, causing it to shake back and forth. When the vehicle was in the middle of a tornado, the change in air pressure caused his ears to pop. He realized that even weak tornadoes have that much power.
The flying debris during a tornado increases the level of danger, so he was vigilant about this. Debris could include objects such as tree branches, building materials, and other items that the tornado picked up on its path and hurled through the air. These could cause extensive damage, and pose a significant threat to people and vehicles. When he sees that there’s lots of debris, his team would hang back. Even his mom was more worried about the debris hitting Reed than a tornado, as she was confident about his skills and knew which direction it was going. She said that while he took chances, he knew where the line was and he never crossed it. Reed said that the perfect tornado for research was one that was in the middle of nowhere, with no debris and wasn’t hurting anybody.
He’s fearless in chasing storms and it didn’t seem as if he is going to stop doing it anytime soon. Many wondered if he’d ever been in a situation in which he actually felt that his life was in danger. He acknowledged that when driving towards a tornado, there was that voice at the back of his head telling him not to do it. Despite this internal voice that always cautioned him, he had full faith in the vehicle that he co-designed to keep him safe.
He explained that while adrenaline junkies would get a rush out of a strong wind gust, for him it wasn’t like that. His interest in storm chasing extended beyond just the thrill; he was deeply committed to conducting research and gathering valuable scientific data and insights from their experiences. He wanted to quantify what was happening to it and inside it, so that one day, the data would be of use to meteorologists in giving forecasts, and to structural engineers in constructing better, stronger, and resilient buildings.
Update on Reed Timmer
After “Storm Chasers” ended, Reed continued to pursue his passion for chasing severe weather and documenting it on various platforms. He posts regular updates on his Facebook page, amassing a following of almost 2 million followers. Additionally, he shares his forecasts, videos, and photos on Twitter, enjoying close to 700,000 followers, and on YouTube, where his subscriber count surpasses 800,000.
Reed has been featured in multiple television programs and documentary projects, one of which is the “Tornado Chasers,” which made its debut in 2012 on the website TVNWeather.com. Together with fellow storm-chasers Chris Chittick, Terry Rosema and Dick McGowan, they embarked on expeditions to intercept tornadoes during storm season in Tornado Alley. By season two, Reed joined the severe weather team as a field correspondent for KFOR-TV News Channel 4, based in Oklahoma City. It was during the 2013 season that Reed’s storm-chasing vehicle, the Dominator 2, sustained damage after his team successfully intercepted a multiple-vortex tornado near El Reno. This type of tornado has smaller whirls spinning within the larger spinning funnel, which can create intricate patterns of rotation, and add complexity to the tornado’s appearance and behavior, making it more unpredictable and potentially more dangerous.
“Storm Rising” was one of his most recent works on TV, showcasing extreme weather events including hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons around the world. The show featured Reed along with Mike Theiss, a photographer, and his canine sidekick Gizmo. It premiered in 2021 on the National Geographic Channel.
Reed Timmer’s relentless pursuit of nature’s wildest storms has not only captured awe-inspiring footage, but has also advanced the understanding of these powerful weather events. As one of the most influential figures in the storm-chasing community, his passion for meteorology and dedication to educating others continue to inspire future generations of storm-chasers and weather enthusiasts alike.