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University of Oklahoma graduate chases storms in web series

Reed Timmer, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, starred on Discovery Channel's ‘Storm Chasers' from 2007-2012
BY SANDI DAVIS Modified: February 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm •  Published: February 26, 2013
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— Reed Timmer has a big office with amazing views.

He's a modern day adventurer, a scientist with a love for severe weather and a deep hunger to discover what causes weather systems to churn out tornadoes.

He has turned his love of it into a career, spinning the scientific study into a series, “Storm Chasers” on the Discovery Channel from 2007-2012, a chance to go storm chasing with him through “Extreme Tornado Tours,” and now a Web series of his escapades, “Tornado Chasers,” on his site www.tvnweather.com.

“I'm on the road 90 percent of the time,” Timmer said in a phone interview from his Norman home. “I drive from the Mexican border to Canada. I spent Christmas chasing storms in Mississippi and Alabama.”

His mother, in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., has gotten used to her son missing holiday gatherings.

Timmer moved to Oklahoma in 1998 to study meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. Fifteen years later, he's putting the finishing touches on his dissertation for his doctorate. It's taken him so long because he has made chasing storms his livelihood.

His research is about seasonal climate predictions, using the temperatures and sea levels of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans to give a more accurate forecasts.

Timmer cheerfully admits he was a science geek from childhood, especially what was going on outside and why. He gives his mother credit for his love of science. She teaches that subject to seventh- and eighth-graders in a Grand Rapids area middle school.

He did well in Grand Rapids, becoming an Eagle Scout while there.

For a few years after he started at OU, he returned home in the summers and mowed grass to make money. That lasted until people started buying his film of tornadoes. He turned that into his multifaceted company of today.

“I like all forms of weather, especially tornadoes and hurricanes,” he said. “My mom got me started.”

He arrived in Oklahoma when he was 18 and learned about tornado chasing the wrong way on Oct. 4, 1998.

He was among five meteorology students who went out to chase their first storm. It wasn't until they saw a radio tower fly through the air that they realized they had no escape route.

“I didn't feel like it could kill me, but I was mesmerized,” he recalled. “The first time I saw the damage a tornado could do, I became motivated to study what goes on inside a tornado.”

That thirst for knowledge has resulted in the creation of “The Dominator,” his storm research vehicle. It's basically an armored car full of scientific gear, equipped with spikes that drive down into the ground to keep it earthbound in a close call with a twister.

There are two research vehicles now, with a third in production.

Timmer can rattle off the dates of the storms he has documented. He got caught by the May 3, 1999, tornado. His team got caught too close to the storm and wound up taking shelter in a highway underpass.

“This was before we knew how dangerous underpasses were,” he said. “That was one of the things we learned from the 1999 tornado.”

He lost a car while chasing Hurricane Katrina.

“We were chasing it in a Honda Accord and it got swept away. We took shelter on the second floor of a building and finally hitched a ride on a fishing boat who took us to an elevated railroad line. We walked out of there and finally got a ride to Hammond, Louisiana.

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