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Series / Storm Chasers

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An American documentary Reality TV series on Discovery Channel that follows several teams of tornado chasers throughout the Midwestern United States.

Key figures:

  • Dr. Josh Wurman: A giant of tornado science, Josh was the first man ever to mount a Doppler radar on the back of a truck to study tornadoes. He's the chasing partner of Sean Casey in the first two seasons, but is Demoted to Extra in later seasons due to heading up the VORTEX2 project for the US government.
  • Sean Casey: A documentary filmmaker, Casey dreams of making an IMAX film titled Tornado Alley. He captains the Tornado Intercept Vehicle, a series of two armored trucks designed to drive his camera into the center of a tornado and back out.
  • Tornado Introduced in season 2, based in Norman, OK and led by Reed Timmer, a meteorology PhD candidate who studied under Dr. Wurman. They make their living filming tornadoes up close, which in turn funds scientific research. Starting in season 3, they ride to war in the TVN Dominator, an armored SUV—which Casey accuses of ripping off his TIV.
  • TWISTEX: Led by engineer Tim Samaras out of Denver, CO, TWISTEX chases the old-fashioned way using public weather information and dropping probes and driving unarmored cars with roof-mounted instruments into tornadoes.

The show debuted in October 2007 and was cancelled in January 2012. It is available to watch on Discovery+, and is in syndication throughout the United States on Quest TV.

Sean Casey ultimately succeeded in making his IMAX film, which premiered in 2011.

Sadly, TWISTEX team leader Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and fellow chaser Carl Young were killed by a 2.6-mile-wide EF3 tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31, 2013. A tribute episode was aired on June 5, 2013 in their honor documenting the 2.6-mile width tornado, acting as a touching finale to the series.

Storm Chasers provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alleged Car:
    • Both TIVs have a lot of technical difficulties. TIV1 is built on a used Ford F-450 dualie and, in addition to being a two-wheel-drive vehicle that can easily lose traction on muddy roads, is old and worn-out: by the beginning of season 3 it's a rustbucket. TIV2 is new and custom-built, and has a bunch of teething problems that lead to it spending a whole extra year in the shop after breaking an axle and then losing two wheels off the rear axle in separate incidents, then it busts a sway-bar almost immediately after he gets it back. Sean counts himself lucky the sway-bar didn't take out the brake line in the process. Then a wheel bearing wears out near the end of season 4, but fortunately the truck stop they pull into has the part in stock and is able to replace it quickly.
    • Josh's original Doppler on Wheels (DOW) is also a bit of a mess. The truck is completely missing its right headlight throughout season 1, and suffers an incident where the power goes out, and then comes back on with the radar offset causing the display to read backwards, causing them to miss an intercept. Josh replaces the DOW with a newer model before season 2, but then is put out of action for a full episode by a faulty monitor cable from his instruments.
    • In the season 3 finale, TVN intercepts a brewing tornado, only for the bulletproof glass window on the driver's side to get stuck. This lets a piece of debris smash the window, spraying Reed and Chris with broken glass. Reed's lucky he didn't lose an eye. In the next season premiere, Reed passes Sean's TIV2 on the road to show off how much faster he is, only for the Rhino Lining panel on the roof to detach, much to Sean's amusement.
  • The Bus Came Back: Joel quits TVN partway through season 3 after one too many arguments with Reed, but he rejoins the team for season 4 after running into them when all the teams up to and including VORTEX2 somehow end up chasing the same tornado in 3x7.
  • Cool Car: The Tornado Intercept Vehicles (TIV and TIV2), the Dominator, and the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) trucks are all heavily reinforced and packed with computers, camera equipment, and radar, with the DOW trucks packing massive Doppler antennas. The Dominator can lower itself down to place its shell directly on the ground, while TIV2 has deployable flaps to keep wind out of its underbelly, and both TIVs have spikes they can deploy to grab onto the ground.
  • Crossover: The TIV2 and Dominator were featured on an episode of Mythbusters, testing the vehicles' ability to withstand tornado-level wind speeds.
  • Death from Above: Along with the danger from the tornadoes themselves, the lightning and hail produced by supercell storms, as well as flying debris and downed power lines, are just as dangerous. The various chase teams' vehicles are shown being damaged multiple times by various airborne hazards.
  • Demoted to Extra: Josh Wurman is a main cast member in the first two seasons, but starting in season 3 he's running a major tornado research project for the US government, VORTEX2, and only makes brief appearances. In season 4 he's not even allowed to convoy or give guidance to Sean anymore.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud:
    • This is true for most of the teams, especially TWISTEX: getting caught by a tornado in the open means probable death, though TWISTEX has skirted tornadoes on occasion despite having no armored vehicles. Sean's TIVs and the TVN Dominator can withstand direct hits from weaker tornadoes, but Sean is still initially hesitant to chase without Josh's radar to tell him how strong a given tornado is (Josh joining VORTEX2 in season 3 forces him to go it alone regardless).
    • Double Subverted on a couple of occasions with the Dominator, as it's not intended to go into the strongest tornadoes. One time a window was blown out, and another time the vehicle was shifted sideways several feet.
    • Played tragically straight a year after the show's cancellation when TWISTEX team leader Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and fellow chaser Carl Young were killed by a tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31, 2013.
  • Don't Try This at Home:
    • Each episode starts with a disclaimer stating that the teams are all trained storm chasers and what they do shouldn't be attempted at home. Josh also once says it to the cameraman during a chase.
    • Played for laughs in the season 3 finale. After having a window on the Dominator blow in on him during a chase, Reed tells the cameraman, "Don't drive into tornadoes, you'd have to be an idiot to do that. Like me."
  • Dutch Angle: Some of the vehicle footage. One shot during the "behind the scenes" special shows a cameraman hanging out the back of a moving truck holding his camera inches off the pavement so he can get an angled face-on shot of the Dominator.
  • Emergency Broadcast: Several episodes feature the teams hearing emergency weather warnings over their radios.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The show is about people who chase after storms.
  • Eye Scream: In one of the earlier seasons, the Dominator's driver side window shattered during a tornado, spraying the occupants with broken glass. After the worst of the wind passes by, Reed says "My eyes are bleeding". Luckily it was just a cut next to his eye.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Sean Casey is very competitive with the TVN team: they frequently target the same storms and compete for footage (Reed actually gets the tornado impact shot Sean wants before Sean does, just not in IMAX resolution), and he accuses them of stealing his idea when they show up with the Dominator. That said, Reed also once invites Sean to come chase with him in season 2 (he tries, but the storm outruns the TIV), and he also showed up for Matt's funeral.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sean Casey was extremely rattled by the devastation he witnessed during season 5, to the point that he started to question his desire to continue chasing. A pep talk from his wife set him straight, however.
  • In Medias Res: The first episode of season 4 (the 2010 chase season) started off in the immediate aftermath of the tornado that destroyed Yazoo City, Mississippi, on April 24, 2010, before moving back to a few days earlier. The entire first episode of season 5 (the 2011 chase season) covered the devastating tornado outbreak that tore through Mississippi and Alabama on April 27, 2011, with the next couple of episodes showcasing events that took place before then.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Reed Timmer. The series frequently shows him to be overbearing, abrasive, and needlessly argumentative, with the crowning moment being when he kicked driver Joel Taylor out of the Dominator 2 on a Nebraska interstate and left him stranded after a serious disagreement over whether or not they should have chased a storm. That being said, he will drop everything to pitch in and help tornado victims when they come across devastated towns, and is genuinely sympathetic to the victims.
  • Jolly Roger: After his falling-out with Josh Wurman in season 4, Sean removes Josh's instruments from the TIV2's mast (they had all broken during tornado intercepts anyway) and replaces them with a skull-and-crossbones flag he made out of a spare pillowcase.
  • Kill Tally: The first TIV is plastered with silhouettes of tornadoes, representing sightings and successful intercepts.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • Several chases, especially early in the series, involve tornadoes that are either hidden in the night, or wrapped in rain and invisible to everything. At one point Josh's truck-mounted Doppler radar goes out, and he fixes it just in time to warn his team of a giant tornado bearing down on them. The TIV is actually hit by it but fortunately it has armor.
    • 4x2 features the Dominator chasing a reported tornado through the woods of Mississippi, completely blinded by the terrain and a server crash at the National Weather Service (which TVN normally uses to track weather). They only get a good look at it once, and it is enormous. Minutes later, they arrive in Yazoo City right after the EF4 monster demolished half the town.
    • In 4x7, the TWISTEX team follows a supercell onto an Indian reservation in South Dakota, where there's no cell service to follow the National Weather Service's radar, compounded by dense fog. Suddenly the fog clears to reveal two tornadoes on either end of their convoy.
  • Older Is Better: Of a sort. TIV 2's frequent breakdowns and failures forced Sean's team to use the original, less advanced TIV for a season and a half.
  • Ominous Fog: One episode of season 4 had Team TWISTEX chasing a tornadic storm in South Dakota that was shrouded in a dense fog bank. Several members commented on how the low visibility may be hiding a tornado such that they might not see it until it was too late. When the fog cleared, however, they were in for a nasty surprise: the storm had produced two tornadoes, one directly ahead of them and one right behind them.
  • Oh, Crap!: The teams are frequently shown being frightened by storms and what they encounter while chasing, especially when surprises like the double tornadoes TWISTEX encountered pop up.
  • Product Placement: Reed Timmer appeared in several Bosch windshield wiper blade commercials.
  • Put on a Bus: At the start of season 3, Sean decides to move his longtime navigator Byron into the Scout and have his meteorologist Matt replace him in the front seat of the TIV, in order to improve communication. Byron takes this as a demotion and quits the team altogether a couple episodes in.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: It need hardly be said that Mother Nature isn't exactly interested in helping film a documentary reality show: large parts of the series, especially season 1, consist of the various teams aimlessly driving back and forth across the plains, failing to intercept tornadoes that do something unexpected, or worse, looking on in horror as they wipe entire towns off the map. On the other hand this sometimes leads to awesome moments that in any other show would seem like a Contrived Coincidence, like when every main cast team plus Joel and VORTEX2 wound up chasing and getting probe, vehicle, or radar intercepts on the same tornado in 3x7. Josh declares it "the most-studied tornado in history".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Reed Timmer and Joel Taylor, respectively. They're best friends (usually), but half of Joel's job on the TVN team is holding the ever-excitable Reed back from going too hard after a tornado and disregarding safety.
  • Scenery Gorn: The aftermath of the tornadoes the teams chase, particularly the stronger ones like Yazoo City. Season 5 was replete with this, with the teams witnessing multiple powerful tornadoes striking populated urban areas.
  • Self-Deprecation: Reed Timmer after having a window on the Dominator blow in on him during a chase:
  • Series Goal: IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey commissioned the TIVs in order to get inside a tornado for the purposes of capturing footage for his Magnum Opus that will also provide financial security for his family. For season 5, he filmed in 3D for a new movie. Accomplished in the IMAX documentary Tornado Alley which is essentially The Movie.
  • Sleeps in the Nude: Played for Laughs. Byron has to share a hotel room with Sean at one point due to lack of funds, and is deeply reluctant because There Is Only One Bed. After Sean is out of earshot, he explains to the cameraman, "Sean sleeps naked." Thankfully Sean puts a division pillow between them on the bed.
  • Smug Snake: Josh Wurman when imposing the 'restraining order' on the TIV 2 team in season 4.
  • Spanner in the Works: Aside from the various vehicle breakdowns suffered by Josh and Sean, and situations where various teams misjudge storms or drop probes only for the tornado to change directions on them, Reed struggles with his idea to launch parachute probes into a tornado. His first attempt has the probes get swatted into the ground by downdrafts, then when he finally does get a couple of them into the tornado, they can't recover the probes because they're taken out of transmitter range so they have no idea where they went. The third time, Reed gets probes with more powerful transmitters and has Joel drive right into an oncoming tornado to get them inside.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Some of the civilians the teams encounter, standing around outside during severe weather or driving right towards a clearly-visible oncoming tornado even with the teams screaming at them to get to shelter.
  • Wham Episode:
    • 4x2. The TVN team chases a reported tornado through the woods of northern Mississippi, finally finding it in a farming area. They continue chasing into Yazoo City and initially the damage seems minor... and then they see their first destroyed house, and realize they're the first rescuers to get to the damage path. In all, that EF4 tornado traversed 145 miles from eastern Louisiana in two hours, causing an ungodly amount of damage and killing ten people.
    • Matt Hughes, a member of the TIV 2 team, finally achieved his goal of getting inside a tornado, only for the viewers to find out that, according to the show, he was fatally injured in an "accident unrelated to chasing" a few days after the episode was filmed. He actually committed suicide.
    • Mile Wide Tornado: Storm Chasers Tribute plays this horribly straight—three Storm Chasers died shortly after the tornado hit when their Chevrolet Cobalt was shredded by another tornado. Though the series was cancelled, this could be considered its Grand Finale.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Josh chews out Sean in 4x6 after Sean's driver tries to get past a traffic jam of amateur chasers by driving in the oncoming traffic lane and gets filmed doing it on somebody's dash cam. This results in him being ordered to stay 75 miles away from Josh's project VORTEX2 for the last two episodes of the season or else lose his grant funding—and that was the compromise: Josh's first offer was for Sean to send the TIV home altogether. Justified because, even though they aren't chasing partners anymore and the TIV2 team aren't part of VORTEX2, lots of people know they used to work together and the safety violation could make VORTEX2 look bad by proxy.