TV Draft Round 10 – Pick 8 – Dave Selects – Storm Chasers

Welcome to the Hanspostcard TV Draft. I hope you will enjoy it! Today’s post was written by Dave at https://soundday.wordpress.com/

First, I’d like to thank Hans for coming up with the idea for this event, way back when, and especially Max for inviting me in and keeping it going when circumstances prevented it from continuing on the original website.

So many shows, so little time… the fellow participants have described quite a few shows that are new to me but sound interesting and I hope to watch some of them in time. I had lots of options for my final pick. I thought of Frasier, but I believe someone else might still give it a look before the end. Likewise, I was tempted to do another ’90s fixture…one which keeps going more reliably than the Energizer Bunny, The Simpsons. It gave me many, many laughs through the years and while it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a new episode (if keeping track, there are now 728 to choose from) in its prime, the first nine or ten seasons, it was one of the most consistently intelligent, witty and influential shows of its time. But there’s so much there, it seemed an overwhelming topic to dig into!  And I had planned to review the British series Cracker, a psychological drama about a deeply-troubled, drinking, gambling, womanizing psychiatrist (played by the great Robbie Coltrane, pre-Harry Potter fame) who gets called on by Scotland Yard to help the police to come up with psychological profiles of notorious criminals to help them “crack” tough cases. It was gritty, realistic (for one thing, sometimes the “bad guy” somehow won ) and suspenseful. But it’s been so long since I watched it, I’ve forgotten a lot about it. So instead I’ll opt for a guilty pleasure, and dip my toe into the “reality TV” sector, look at the radar and go for Storm Chasers.

Ordinarily, I have no time for the concept of “realityTV”, especially since I tend to think of most of it as the most un-real TV out there. I have zero interest  in keeping up with any Kardashians, don’t feel like being a peeping tom on ten bitchy, beautful young things thrown into a big house together and am not sure if I could survive one episode of Survivor, let alone 30 seasons of it. But Storm Chasers happened to have some redeeming features and played on one of my personal fascinations – severe storms and especially tornadoes.

In a nutshell, Storm Chasers followed around real-life teams of, you guessed it, storm chasers, in a sort of reality version of the movie Twister. It ran on Discovery Channel for five years from 2007 through 2012, for a total of a mere 36 episodes. That movie, coupled with rapidly advancing technology both in radar (current dopplar radar can show not only type and intensity of precipitation falling but things like wind direction and any debris that may be flying around in the air) and portable electronics led to a boom in “chasing” as a hobby in the ’90s and early-2000s. You’ve probably noticed that every time there’s a severe weather outbreak, TV and internet news quickly have film footage of tornadoes touching down and with luck, ripping up only open countryside. While occasionally this comes from ordinary folks who look out their back door and say “holy crap! Tornado…”, the majority of the videos come from a relatively small number of professional chasers who spend their spring and summers traveling around the country, looking for severe storms to document.  Reed Timmer has become one of the most unlikely celebrities around merely by doing that for years and putting out books and videos on the storms. And he was one of the stars of Storm Chasers.

Although the lineups changed a little from year to year, most seasons had three “teams” of chasers, if you will, each with slightly different goals. Timmer set forth to capture great videos and still photos of storms for TV news and publishing his own books and calendars.  Somewhat similar, the cranky Sean Casey was commissioned to make an Imax film on tornadoes and was singularly focused on that, trying to meet deadlines and not go over-budget doing so. Then there was Tim Samaras and his team, something of a different breed. Serious meteorologists, Tim wanted to help science know more about severe storms and routinely tried to get just one step ahead of tornadoes, deploy portable probes full of instruments then scoot off, hoping the tornado would go right over top of the probe and document things like wind speed and air pressure inside one. This is especially useful as if we want to build storm-proof structures, it’s helpful to know what kind of conditions they really need to withstand. One relatively new finding for instance, is that though pressure is low inside a tornado, it’s not low enough to “explode” buildings from inside-out. Opening doors and windows in fact will add to your home’s damage in a storm, not prevent it.

As you can imagine, the three teams knew each other and often crossed paths… they all had the same information and typically were able to interpret the weather much the same as one another. They’d study the weather maps and radars the night before, and set out early aiming to where they figured the best chance of severe storms were going to be on a given day. Mostly they filmed in the traditional “tornado alley” of the Great Plains states (Texas and Kansas more than any others) but at times they’d venture out east of the Mississippi as far afield as Alabama… something they don’t like doing so much, as they point out, because the hilly, forested terrain makes it more difficult to see storms a ways away compared to the open Plains.  Much of the time, they were trying to get to the same storm as the others, a few minutes ahead, to get the ultimate photos.

stchasers tiv

Among the show’s stars were the vehicles. Both Casey and Timmer drove heavily-modified trucks full of instruments, radars, screens and more and turned into virtual tanks outside to withstand storm damage. Casey’s “TIV” – Tornado Intercept Vehicle – was a heavily modified Ford F-series diesel truck , fortified with steel plates upto 1/4” thick, bullet-proof, inch-plus thick plexiglass windows and four hydraulic legs which could come out and anchor the vehicle. It had sirens and a loudspeaker, to help alert people to oncoming storms, often before police were aware of the building storm. It weighed 14 000 pounds, and a replacement one he had built successfully withstood 175 MPH winds in one Kansas storm.  Timmer had something similar, but for all that, he still got bloodied one time when hail smashed his windshield. Bullet-proof doesn’t always equal Kansas hailstone-proof it seemed!  Surprisingly, Samaras the scientist and his team drove more ordinary pickups with their probes in the back and relied on getting out of the twisters’ way just in time.

I loved the action of the show, because I love storms. They’ve excited me since I was little. And each episode showcased some incredible storms. Even the ones in which they didn’t get to see a tornado were often spectacular, lightning shows with hail, pounding rain, howling winds. And I learned a bit about the actual science of the thunderstorms. Educational “reality TV”…go figure.

The chasers showed several things. Storm-chasing is largely a young mans field. Although Timmer’s girlfriend tagged along with him from time to time, they were mostly young guys, fueled by energy drinks and junk food who one imagines might have been skateboarding or jumping off cliffs if not following thunderstorms. And it showed it was a dangerous pursuit. Even forgetting about the tornadoes themselves, they came perilously close to being hit by lightning more than a few times while standing out in a field filming. Hail smashed through the thickest of windows and could make roads impassably slippery. In one episode two of their vehicles got stuck in the same country road, made into a muddy quagmire by the downpour. And even with good eyes and  the best radars, a tornado can touch down unexpectedly or do a sudden 180-turn and take them by surprise.

Casey eventually got his film made. The show was canceled after season 5, and Samaras was said to have been pleased as while he liked the show’s potential, he felt it spent far too much time on the inter-personal drama between the crews and not enough on the actual science, something I concur with. He successfully planted a few probes in the path of tornadoes and added to the knowledge of the field, but sadly demonstrated that the hobby is anything but play. He, his grown son and another team member died in a massive Oklahoma tornado a year after the show ended. It seemed their un-reinforced car made a wrong turn and got overtaken by an unexpectedly huge and violent funnel. It put any ideas for a future series aside…but amazingly, seems to have done nothing to quell interest in storm-chasing among amateur meteorologists and videographers across the nation.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

24 thoughts on “TV Draft Round 10 – Pick 8 – Dave Selects – Storm Chasers”

  1. This looks great Dave. Thank you for the kind words and for your participation… and while I’m at it… thanks to everyone!
    Storms have always intrigued me and I’ve been in quite a few but… knock on wood… never saw a tornado and I would like to keep it that way.
    I admire these people who risk their life so we can find out more about how to predict them and storms. I have seen a few episodes and loved it. I’ll seek them out now.

    I have a checklist of shows now to check out when winter comes! Great way to close it out Dave!

    I’m sitting in a plane on a tarmac in Houston… looks clear thank goodness!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. bon voyage! thanks for inviting me to this happening.
      I’ve actually seen a few tornadoes, but luckily never TOO close, though one tiny, like EF0 did go down a street over from me back in Ontario… I actually stood outside the apartment watching it, but the rain was so heavy it was hard to really discern that it was a twister until after when I walked around there was a very clear, straight path where branches had been ripped down everywhere, shingles off roofs, garbage cans strewn about, etc, but five yards either side of the path, no damage at all. Got a nice look at a postcard-like one in upstate NY maybe 20 years back, it was a few miles off in a valley while I was driving through the Appalachians. then here in Texas, first year here we had one, NWS still say it was just a severe t’storm, but since I saw stuff getting pulled up into the air and swirling, and entire roofs got pulled off stores and so on, very few believe it wasn’t a tornado. Curiously, one thing I’ve never seen is big hail…pea-sized hail often, but never like, softball sized. Hope I don’t either!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dave, I’ve seen the funnels quite a bit, from a distance only. Out on the lake, they seem harmless enough. I’ve never gotten caught in a tornado — knock on wood! — but have definitely seen their aftermath. What’s really sad is to see old trees knocked over. Those hailstones really dinged up that vehicle!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Dave, thanks for sharing the # of Simpsons episodes. I never would have guessed that many. Mind boggling! I also loved the show, Matt Groening especially. I have his comic books “Love is Hell” and “Life in Hell” and more. I also love the show, “Futurama.”

    Now on to your review of the Storm Chasers. Had heard of it but had never seen it. Reading about it and seeing the vehicles they use make it sound worth a watch. So sad to hear of Sean, his son, and another team member being killed by a storm. That had to affect you, after watching the show for so long. About storms, I love them also, as it always gives me a feeling of safety to be snug inside my home. Driving through/ahead of/behind storms is not anything I would choose to do willingly. I remember having to take a probationer down to Ohio to his dad’s house, to do a home study and decide whether to recommend he be released to his dad at his next court hearing. On the way back we got caught in a hell of a storm, on that was rolling vehicles into the median of the highway. Nothing I’d care to repeat. I commend those brave souls who are willing to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh ya, I used to love ‘Life in Hell’ too before The Simpsons! Akbar & Jeff, Binky the rabbit..that was funny stuff. Had a couple of books in the series.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. People doing it for FUN? Young mad impetuous fools! I saw a few of these shows and one or two they showed were truly terrifying. Also, when one of the ‘faces’ his son and another died pursuing their dream (Twisted dream?) the TV networks aren’t going to renew or revisit that territory again. Great write-up as usual Dave, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Obverse! I do find storms exciting but you have to be young & a bit of an adrenaline junkie to pursue them day in, day out. Haven’t seen any middle aged ladies nor silver haired retirees out there in those TIVs yet.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The weather fascinates me, but not so much that I’m willing to risk life and limb to learn more about it. I admire the people who do put themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can understand what happens in them. This looks like a fascinating series and the kind I might like to watch if it were to come to aa streaming service. Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks John. I found it is still on Discovery streaming if you have that (I have their bundle with HGTV, Food network etc). Interesting to see, and definitely ones like Samaras added to our knowledge of the storms & what they really throw at

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I just got back from going through Kansas…John I’ve never been there…now I see why they go there…you could see one coming from miles!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have them in middle TN…but it’s not like you can see them coming as much here…although…I have to say I never have been in the presence of one.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yea…our house…you have to go outside to get to our half basement…I thought about installing a pole lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. interesting point, experts are suggesting that the ‘tornado alley’ that gets the most, and most severe storms is shifting east towards Alabama-Mississippi from the centraol Plains, perhaps because of the ongoing drought in much of west and warming Gulf of Mexico…less water in air in places like Texas and Oklahoma to fuel storms but more of it surging north out of the Gulf.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve never seen this show, but have watched a lot of storm chaser videos on The Weather Channel. Some of that footage may well have been filmed by some of the people and teams you mention. I love thunderstorms too, and experienced quite a few whoppers during my 17 years living in St. Louis, some of which caused quite a lot of damage. Never actually saw a tornado, though I did see the aftermath of a few small ones that hit the St. Louis region while I lived there. The historic neighborhood I lived in was nearly destroyed by a massive tornado in 1896 that traveled over 20 miles from south St. Louis across the Mississippi River into Illinois, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake. Great write-up Dave.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thank you! I’ve never been to St Louis, but from what I’ve seen and read, it’s probably behind only OKC and maybe Wichita and Birmingham when it comes to the frequency of, and severity of storms it gets. I knew an old guy up north in Canada, who lived for a year in Indianapolis, and he swears he never saw thunderstorms anywhere else in all his travels like they used to get there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m a weather geek, so I really should watch ‘Storm Chasers’. At any time of year, but mainly in Spring, strong frontal systems marking the collision of colder, dry Canadian air masses and hot, humid Gulf air, extending from Chicago to Dallas, pass through St. Louis as they move eastward. Sometimes in winter, the temperatures would warm into the 60s in advance of these fronts, then plummet to the 20s within two hours after the front has passed. Unbelievable!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jeff I’m going to butt in for a second… I just traveled through Kansas into St Louis and now I see how people see those storms from miles away! I’ve never been to a place where you can see for miles and miles like that…except for a mountain top but never on flat land. I see why they chase storms in that area.

        Liked by 1 person

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