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Twister Ready

By on March 2, 2010
RoadKing Mag

It began as a slightly tricked-out Chevy Tahoe. Now the 2008 vehicle has transformed into The Dominator, a red wannabe tank, fortified to run straight into the heart of terrifying tornados in the Midwest.

“Our whole point with The Dominator is to perform some really buff science out there,” says Reed Timmer, who began driving into extreme weather 11 years ago, eventually enlisting his pal Chris Chittick. Their adventures are part of the Discovery Channel’s reality show, Storm Chasers.

The 2008 Tahoe already weighed 8,500 pounds before they added twin cannons to the roof and made other modifications. “That’s only about 2,000 pounds over factory weight,” says Chittick. In addition to a 16-gauge steel coat of armor, “storm windows” — bulletproof Lexan plastic that can be raised to protect the glass windows and the occupants — were added for the second season. Shields that could be lowered from the cabin to the ground to keep the winds from sweeping beneath The Dominator and lifting it to the heavens also were added.

The passion to get as close as possible to the tornado forced those upgrades. “Our main enemy out there is flying debris,” says Timmer.

One unforgettable moment in the second season showed Timmer and Chittick unable to close the bulletproof windows in time to keep the glass ones from getting shattered by the high winds. “It blew the glass into our faces and severed my ear lobe a little bit,” says Chittick. “Fortunately, we have an EMT with the crew and he screwed my ear lobe back on OK.”

Now those protective windows are operated by a push-button inside the truck. Rhino coating was added for extra protection to get them ready for the April-June storm chasing that will be chronicled on the show later this year.

The rear end also was reshaped, “like Lance Armstrong’s bicycle helmet,” to improve aerodynamics in a vehicle that already could reach 110 mph, Timmer says.

Perhaps the most interesting changes are those compressed-air cannons on the roof.

“They shoot these little bomblets into the storm,” says Timmer. “They’re like small Nerf footballs,” adds Chittick of the projectiles that carry probes to measure temperature, air pressure and moisture inside the funnels. “They have little parachutes, so we can shoot them just outside the funnel and the chute will be deployed and they’ll be sucked in.”

Each bomblet is GPS-equipped for easy retrieval when the storm dies.

The Dominator is Timmer’s personal vehicle — the one he drives to the grocery store and uses for other errands. You have to wonder what the reaction might be when he shows up to pick up a date. But then Chittick notes, “It’s hard to find a date in our line of work.”

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