When Subaru trended on Twitter recently, Reed Timmer saw it as an excuse to post a picture of his 2018 Subaru Forester. The sapphire wagon looked like it had been tied to a post and left outside as a dare to mother nature. If this were a matter of neglect, the neighbors might have placed a call to rescue the Forester from a bad situation (or tidy up the street).
But the Forester took its hits in the line of duty. Timmer, who lives in Golden, Colorado, is a storm chaser. “Saw my first tornado in October of ’98,” he said, “and been storm chasing nonstop ever since. I’ve seen over 700 tornadoes, dozens of hurricanes, about 40 tropical cyclones, flash floods, lake effect snow, blizzards. I just love to chase it all.”
It didn’t take long for Timmer’s work to leave its mark on the Forester’s sheetmetal. “A week after I got it, I took it into baseball- and softball-sized hail down in Colorado Springs. Blew the windows out, covered it in dents.” Then he drove it into Arizona’s monsoon and haboob season, the Subaru’s boxer-four engine forced to inhale copious detritus. “The dirt has little baby Scorpions and fungus [in it], so you get something called valley fever when you breathe it in.” It’s possible Timmer’s lungs look like his car.
Such storms are how the Subaru earned its name: Dominator Fore. The wagon is the fourth in a line of custom-built Dominator storm chasing vehicles, its golf ball dimples inspiring the second half of the name.
The Subaru is the only car among the Dominators, though; its precedents are heavy duty pickup-truck-based tanks covered in sheetmetal armor and double-pane Lexan windows, created to survive ground-zero encounters with tornadoes.
As opposed to being a specialist, Dominator Fore is a multi-tool for storm-chasing. Hurricanes, for example, need a small footprint and quick reflexes. “You can maneuver in there and stay clear of the debris paths, and use vehicles or big concrete structures to park downwind to protect yourself.”
Timmer’s put 120,000 miles on the Subie in two years. “My comfort zone is sleeping in my car, so when all that [Covid] uncertainty happened, I just hit the road.” He travels with his Yorkshire Terrier, Gizmo, and they chased just about every storm the rest of us are trying to forget happened this year.
Timmer said he’s had no mechanical issues with his ride. “It seems like any hailstone will leave a mark on a Subaru, but the engine is incredible.” He said he goes though “about four or five windshields per year,” and the only painful bills come from replacing headlights and taillights. “Those Subaru light fixtures are like the most expensive part of the entire vehicle.”
The reliability is a boon for his temperament; in the past, he didn’t pay much attention to maintenance. He started storm chasing in his first car, a 1985 Plymouth Reliant, followed by a 1991 Mercury Topaz, then “a 2002 Chevy Lumina that was held together by duct tape.” He didn’t change the Lumina’s oil “for like 25,000 miles, and I ended up leaving it on the side of the road near the Kansas-Oklahoma border in the middle of the night on the way back from a storm chase.”
Dominator Fore gets much better treatment. “I bring it to the Subaru dealership in Colorado quite a bit, and they’re just appalled.”
Timmer leaves the exterior au naturel on purpose. “Emotionally, I associate a storm chase with every dent or mark that’s on the vehicle.”
The only modifications made so far have turned the Forester into an Ecto-1 for hunting weather systems instead of ghosts. There’s an anemometer on the roof, and a couple of aluminum panels to replace a sunroof and a window blown out by giant hail. Inside, Reed stores ground-based and launchable probes, model rockets with sensors in their nose cones, and a model rocket launcher.
More upgrades are on the way, including Lexan windows, “a rocket launcher with pan-and-tilt capability on the roof, and I’d love to make it float, too.” Timmer’s two fabricator friends who keep him rolling, told him perhaps an already-waterproofed Watercar Panther might be a better idea. “But down the road I’d like to have a vehicle where, when you’re chasing a hurricane and storm surge flooding comes in, you could just drive into the flood and it would behave like a boat and you could go rescue people that need to be rescued and we could continue to measure our data.”
Asked what he might replace the Subaru with, “at some point storm chasing is going to have to go electric,” he said, and when it does, “one of those Cybertrucks looks pretty awesome.”
Until that Tesla is ready, Timmer expects to drive his current rig until it dies. “I want to modify the Dominator Fore into an all-purpose all storm vehicle. If it survives another storm season, that is.”
He recently finished shooting a new show for National Geographic called “Category 6,” and based on Timmer’s plans for 2021, Vegas might put long odds on the Subaru’s survival.
“The most fun,” Timmer said, “is when it’s just you in the middle of the night with an F4 tornado coming at you that you can’t see, and then all the lights go out and [an exploding] transformer illuminates the whole thing, and it’s just you out there with that tornado and you know if it hits you and throws the Dominator Fore into a field, no one will probably know for a couple of weeks.”
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