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|2004 Chase Vehicle|
|Friday, 10 April 2009 23:26|
For 2004 I no longer had the 1995 Ford Windstar that had served me well and chase season was fast approaching and I was having trouble locating a suitable vehicle for conversion. I ended up settling on this 1994 Plymouth Voyager. Not my first choice, but the price was right and I had not owned one before. It appeared to have been maintained well, the only real issues with it was the paint peeling on the hood and roof, a common thing with these vans I learned. My first task was to take care of that, and I decided to coat both with truck bed liner. I wanted to see how it performed in the hail primarily, and it was actually cheaper than repainting.
That accomplished and the van looking much better, it was time to go to work on getting it converted. For some reason, I don't know if we managed to not take any good pictures of it all decked out, or I lost them, but I don't seem to have them available to me as of this writing. It was equipped almost identical to the previous chase vehicle, the 1995 Ford Windstar. In fact, I used the same overhead console, however I had to build a center console to fit this van. Here it was on it's very first chase day.
We caught a number of tornadoes that day! As I said, it was equipped very similar to the previous chase vehicle with two Uniden/Bearcat radio scanners with 800 MHz capability. These were built into the custom overhead console. This console also contains light switches that control all the external accessory lights on the truck. The scanners are great for monitoring NOAA WX radio, ham radio stations, fire departments and law enforcement. The van is also equipped with an ICOM 2720H dual band amateur radio for staying in contact with other hams, SKYWARN severe weather nets and for making reports to those nets, and other amateur radio licensed storm chasers/spotters.
I didn't seem to get a good close up of the roof to show you all the equipment, so the pic above was from the previous chase van and it was laid out exactly the same way on this van as well. Across the roof you can see the various sensors for the weather station, as well as the various antennas used for the radio equipment, cell phone, tv and CB. The amber warning lights are for safety when pulled over along roads, or in bad visibility conditions. The primary change I made this year was to also coat the "snorkel", as everyone calls it, with the truck bed liner as well. The idea was to protect it more, but the black material ended up gathering too much heat and giving higher than actual readings on the temps. I should have known it would do that. Just goes to show something you can make a critical mistake on when building a chase vehicle in a hurry.
In the inside, I didn't have time this year to build in a PC into the bottom console, so I ended up using two laptops, one that sat on top of the console, and the other one that was mounted to the dash with a RAM mount. This setup actually worked quite well. The one on the console ended up being primarily to run the Delorme GPS and mapping software, while the other laptop, and HP Pavilion, ended up taking the bulk of the rest of the work running various radar software, getting data, and for video editing on the road. The image above is the overhead console which features the light switch panel and the two scanners. This image is from when this console was actually in the other vehicle, but I didn't seem to get a picture of it in this vehicle, so I used that one to show it to you. This season I was primarily using cell phone tethering for data acquisition and open wifi networks where available. This was the first season they really started to become widespread enough to make them a feasible resource.
A Uniden/Bearcat 40 channel CB radio (mounted in the front of center console), This is primarily for communication short range with other chasers who are not amateur radio operators. A RAM mount is used with the quick release head of a tripod mounted on the dash to allow my Digital8 Sony camera to quickly go from dashboard to tripod and back.
Also on the center console is the Radio Shack WX200 weather computer (manufactured by Oregon Scientific), which was generously donated by my good chaser friend in Ohio, Scott Clark. This computer allows me to get real-time readings on wind, air temps, dewpoints, pressure. This has already proven very valuable in finding the dry line. As well as the location of a warm front. All of the sensors are mounted on the roof.
Additional equipment would be a Sony Digital 8 Camcorder, along with a tripod for this. I have 4 detailed map books, and several notebooks with information, such as ham radio SKYWARN net frequencies throughout tornado alley, TV station listings, all sorts of weather analysis information. And I never go anywhere without my First Responder trauma kit. We also recently added two FRS handheld 10 channel radios, which come in handy for car to car communication when teaming up with other chasers that are not ham licensed. These work much better than CB for short distances.
Overall I can't really recommend this van to anyone, and I would never use another pre-96 Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge minivan. (They revamped the whole van in 96). I had trouble on and off from day one, and while it did manage to survive a swipe by a tornado, in the end, it just wasn't reliable enough for a chase vehicle, and was only used during the 2004 season.
I'll leave you with a couple of images of the chase van in action.
That last picture tells the real story of that chase vehicle!
Some images courtesy of Graham Butler.