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Interview With Reed Timmer

Aired June 25, 2003 - 19:12   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We go now to the storm system that spawned dozens of tornadoes across the Midwest. Folks from Minnesota to South Dakota spent today picking through the shards of their homes, literally.
The population of tiny Buffalo Lake, Minnesota, has grown by 50 percent; hundreds of volunteers have poured in.

In Nebraska, winds topped 200 miles an hour. In one case cattle were actually carried a mile away. Miraculously no people were killed in last night's storms.

Folks in the eastern part of South Dakota in one night saw twice the number of tornadoes than they usually see in an entire season. That gives you an idea of just how intense the storms were.

All this is keeping Reed Timmer very busy. Timmer is literally the eye of the storm. He chases tornadoes down and takes pictures of them. He joins us from Omaha.

Reed, thanks for being with us. We're going to be showing some of these pictures you shot from South Dakota. Tell us what it's like being that close to such a major storm.

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: It's incredible. We knew which way the tornado is moving, so we never really felt in danger. But the storm actually started moving north-northwest, rather than north. We had to put it in reverse.

When we got out of the car, the roar from that tornado was just incredible. I mean, it sounded like a jet engine. I've been through a lot of major tornadoes, including May 3, 1999, and I'm never heard anything like this. The roar was incredible.

COOPER: What does it smell like? What does it feel like?

TIMMER: You can actually smell some of the broken trees, and you can smell that. And you can see the debris actually up close wrapping around the tornado. And we saw it actually destroy a house in Manchester, and when that happened, the rush was turned to pain when we saw the house get destroyed. And we just hoped that the people were under ground in that home, because we didn't really hear any tornado sirens going off in Manchester, so...

COOPER: I read one account that in Manchester two people were running for the basement, a woman who got into the basement and the man was actually sucked out, landed about a mile away, which was just remarkable. He was injured, but thankfully not killed.

How do you find out where these storms are going to go? I mean, I find it remarkable, you say you don't feel in danger being that close to the storm?

TIMMER: Yes. We actually saw this tornado develop, and we saw it from a wild cloud, and then it came down to a small cone and then expanded into a quarter mile wide wedge. We saw which way it was moving, and it seems today like most of the storms, the tornadoes would begin to the northeast. And as they would start to rope out, they started moving due north. And we actually expected that with to happen with this tornado, as well.

But initially our forecast was made -- we were in northeast Nebraska, and we were looking at computer models, and our target area was at southeast South Dakota, along a warm front, and so we just waited for the storms to develop and went up there.

COOPER: Why do you do this? I mean, I know you take these pictures, you sell them to television stations and the like but what is it that fascinates you?

TIMMER: I don't know. We learn about these in the classroom and we like to see the science in motion out there in the field and take what we learn in the classroom and apply it in the field.

But also we try to save lives through the spotter network. We report the tornado touchdowns, and when they touch down, we call them into the National Weather Service via ham radio, so that people can be warned.

When they know there's tornadoes in the southwest, then hopefully they'll take cover. And that's how storm chasers actually help the warning system.

COOPER: And this season, compared to other seasons you've seen. I mean, as you said, it's just been a remarkable in record numbers of tornadoes.

TIMMER: Yes, this season is unbelievable. I mean, May obviously we storm-chased almost the whole entire month of May, but unfortunately most of those fell through finals week, by I mean, May was unbelievable. And a ridge set up and there was a bit of a lull for three weeks and now things seem to be getting going again in the northern plains.

COOPER: Are you still going to be going after more?

TIMMER: Yes, yes. If there's ever a chance for tornadoes, we'll go after more. Definitely.

COOPER: Reed Timmer, I don't get it, but we appreciate the pictures you showed us. They're remarkable. Thank you very much.

TIMMER: Thank you.


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