The extreme weather aficionado has rolled out a web series called "Tornado Chasers," where viewers can watch as Timmer and his team venture into the heart of dangerous storms in their impressive armored vehicles, Dominator 1 and Dominator 2.
HuffPost TV Canada caught up with Timmer to find out more about his unwavering passion for extreme weather, why thrill-seeking tourists are paying to tag along into the belly of the beast-like storms, and whether anything still scares the seemingly fearless storm chaser.
What sparked your initial fascination with severe weather?
I've loved extreme weather ever since I was five years old. When I was really little I was actually scared to death of thunder and lightning, so it's possible it has something to do with that. I was a science nerd growing up. I was really into insect collecting [Laughs] for like 10 years and weather was always my passion. I'd watch the weather on TV multiple hours a day. I'd get fired up whenever severe thunderstorm warnings would get issued. Once, I grabbed the family video camera and ran in the backyard and was shooting this storm, I was like 13 or 14, and destroyed the family video camera. [Laughs] I went to Oklahoma in 1998 to study meteorology, and I've been going to school for it ever since.
Do you think that severe weather has become more common over the past several years?
It does seem like the extremes are becoming more extreme. I know 2011 was unprecedented in terms of the number of tornadoes and loss of life or property from tornadoes. It also seems like it's shifting locations. Northern places are getting a lot more tornadoes, like Minnesota in 2010 had over 80 tornadoes, which is what we normally average here in Oklahoma. Who knows if it's related to long-term climate change or if it's just seasonal or an annual climate oscillation. I think time will tell.
What are the practical implications of your research?
If you know how strong the wind speeds get inside the tornado, you can take that data and supply it to structural engineers, and then they could build models based on this data and hopefully design homes that can better withstand those winds.
After all these years, do you ever get frightened in storms?
Every time! Definitely when we intercept tornadoes, when we're inside. We've had a window blow out, your ears are popping from the intense pressure fall. The car is shaking back and forth violently inside the 150 mile per hour wind. It does feel like at any second it can lift off the ground. You just have to trust in the engineering and design of the vehicle. We have these hydraulic spikes that go into the ground four or five inches that keep us anchored down. It's definitely scary every time. [Laughs]
What was it like the first time you were in a storm in the Dominator?
It was really intense. The first tornado we intercepted was in Wyoming. We measured 155 m.p.h. wind inside. When it first hit the vehicle, it was like being hit by a freight train. It vibrated a lot. The wind changed direction really fast. The ears popping is definitely something that I remember. That whole weight of the atmosphere falling instantaneously causes your ears to freak out.
How long before your ears are back to normal?
I don't know if they ever totally get back to normal. [Laughs] It feels kind of like a caterpillar is crawling in there a little bit. It can take a few months for that to get better sometimes. One of the engineers in the back seat actually had a ruptured eardrum from one of our intercepts in 2009. His sinuses were clogged from his allergies, and then the pressure fall happened and he had a stream of blood coming out. He went to the doctor and they said it's something they see a lot of times in pilots that fly high elevation.
Are there more storm chasers out there now than when you first started out?
When we first started out there weren't nearly as many people. The technology wasn't what it is now. Back then I had a $500 vehicle and paper maps. If it got windy, the pages would blow out the window. A lot of times you had to use pay phones to find out where the storms were. I had a library card in every single small town library in case I wanted to use the internet to find the storms. [Laughs] And now with just a laptop and a mobile internet card it's a lot easier to find the storms. I think with social media and YouTube and storm videos getting out there, a lot more people are interested in severe weather and want to do storm chasing for a living or a hobby. I think it's blown up in the last five or 10 years.
What's your biggest advice to an aspiring storm chaser?
I think if they want to get into storm chasing, there are SkyWarn training courses offered by the National Weather Service. They could also take a tour offered by storm chasing companies. They can go out with us and learn from our experience and learn how to storm chase. If you don't know what you're doing it can be very dangerous and you can get yourself killed. If you know what you're doing, then storm chasing overall is really safe. You've got to be willing to eat gas station food three times a day for a lot of the year. [Laughs]
Are you finding that the people who are doing your tours are aspiring storm chasers, or mostly thrill-seekers or a mix of both?
It's definitely a mixture of both. There are a lot of people interested in meteorology and pursue it and become storm chasers and storm spotters. There are a lot of people from different countries, like Australia and Europe, who come out. It's a safe way for people to experience severe weather.
You can watch episodes of Tornado Chasers online.