The Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers show has been off the air for two years now, but its most flamboyant star, Reed Timmer, is still hard at work. Along with producer Ken Cole—director of the PBS documentary Tornado Glory—he’s launched his own independent web-based series called Tornado Chasers. “It’s being made on a very intimate level,” says Cole. “We want to put people in the passenger seat and make them feel like they’re part of the team.”
The show, now in its second season, was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that asked for $75,000 and ended up raising $135,000, in part by promising to put some of the backers in the passenger seat of Timmer’s Dominator tornado-chasing vehicles. I rode along with the show for a week last June while reporting a story on storm chasing.
About half of the second season’s episodes have been broadcast, but the most interesting ones will begin rolling out next week. These include the EF 5 tornado that flattened Moore, Oklahoma, the EF 4 monster that sat in a field near Bennington, Kansas, for an hour, and of course El Reno, the storm that killed chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young.
One of the most striking things about the series is that it reveals just how valuable tornado footage is for media outlets. During the most severely forecast storms leading up to the deadly May 20 Moore tornado, both ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee (Timmer’s ex) and Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel rode along with Timmer’s Tornado Chasers crew. The Weather Channel is partly owned by NBC, which means that these two network giants were able to overlook exclusivity to get a piece of the tornado action.
The episodes themselves are short, loose, and watchable, offering both harrowing disaster footage and also a look behind the scenes of the newsmaking process.
“In all honesty,” says Cole of the new show, “it’s a better series.”