Discovery Channel "Storm Chasers" star Reed Timmer shows a video of himself filming a tornado, during a presentation Friday at Bartlett High School. | Romi Herron~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 26, 2013 6:06AM
BARTLETT — Long before Reed Timmer became known as Discovery Channel’s risk-taking storm chaser — calling the directorial shots in an armored vehicle with bullet-proof windows — the 32-year-old says he drove beater cars to get a closer look at tornadoes.
Timmer visited Bartlett High School on Friday, sharing those and other stories and video clips with more than 500 science students in the school’s auditorium.
“When I first started storm chasing, I chased unofficially for a couple years without my parents knowing,” said Timmer, who studied meteorology at University of Oklahoma and is currently working on his dissertation. “I’m still in school 15 years later, so take your time. Never stop learning.”
Fascinated by storms and putting himself in the wake of their destruction, Timmer drove cars that cost as little as $400 because he went through so many of them, he said, adding, “One of them was duct-taped together.”
These days, his show, “Storm Chasers,” features 16-gauge steel armored vehicles like the “Dominator,” more aptly suited to protect Timmer and crew from harm.
“I’ve seen 1,300-pound hay bales fly straight up in the air,” he said, describing the destructive power of tornadoes, including one a mile wide in South Dakota. “We saw large farm equipment get thrown through the air ... and we did have a Dominator get hit by a horse once as it was thrown through the eye of the storm.”
Sharing a 2007 video in which he is passionately shouting his reactions to a tornado in his path, Timmer said he started out behind the camera, co-piloting for his driver so he could get the camera angles he wanted.
“That was before we had the armor. This was before we started before the Discovery Channel,” he said, laughing. “A friend shot it, directed it, and edited it from the back seat of the car ... . From a distance (the storm) looked really weak, but up close it sounded like a jet engine.”
Timmer’s show is filmed during the heart of tornado season, April to June, he explained. Aside from satisfying his fascination with storms — which he described as “chaotic,” “violent” and “beautiful” at different parts of his presentation — Timmer’s storm chasing goals include storm reporting, disaster response and tornado research.
The reporting element includes communicating tornado and severe-weather information to the National Weather Service, emergency managers and local media, said Timmer, who actually drove nine hours in icy conditions to the Bartlett High School speaking engagement after inclement weather delayed his flight to Chicago.
A co-sponsor of Bartlett High’s Environmental Science Club, science instructor Rene McGuigan initiated the visit from Timmer when she responded to the Discovery Channel’s project idea.
“I offered my students some extra credit,” McGuigan said. “They had to write a letter why it would be cool for him to come, and we won.”