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|2005-2006 Chase Vehicle|
|Friday, 10 April 2009 23:18|
After all the troubles with the Plymouth Voyager previous to this chase vehicle, I decided to go back to my old favorite, the Ford Windstar. This 2000 Ford Windstar Cargo van started life as a DHL delivery van and was rescued by me to start a new life as a storm chase vehicle. This vehicle would end up serving as our primary chase vehicle for 2005 and 2006. It had a rough life and was nearly totaled out by a young gal barely old enough to drive not paying attention barely two months after I acquired it before I was able to convert it over. Thanks to the good work at the body shop, it was brought back good as new! Later in life it ended up having back door crushed in not once, but TWICE!
This one was equipped very similar to the previous 1995 Windstar van. Some changes were made however as I always tend to upgrade and modify based on things I learned from the previous build. I actually did a "build up" thread over on the StormTrack forum, outlining step by step as I build this vehicle. That thread managed to get lost in the archives, however I preserved a backup of it and will probably add it to the site at a later date.
As in previous vehicles, I built an overhead console that I custom made, specifically for the this vehicle. This console contained a custom made switch panel that controls all of the extra external lights. This panel was brought over from the previous chase vehicle. This console also included the Federal Signal controller for the rear window mounted halogen arrowstick, and two external speakers attached to the scanners.
The custom built center console was again constructed with a primary built in PC with a LCD screen mounted center. This configuration required complete relocation of the A/C controls as well as the radio. These were relocated into the new center console. Two scanners, a Radio Shack and a Uniden/Bearcat 800 mhz scanner were also mounted in the center console. The Radio Shack one was an upgrade to a previous Bearcat scanner. These are great for monitoring NOAA WX radio, ham radio stations, fire departments and law enforcement. Additionally, a Cobra 29LTDWX 40 channel CB radio was mounted in the center console as well. This was also an upgrade for the previous Uniden CB. 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. 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. The main radio was mounted in the centralized electrical center behind the driver seat, while the control head was mounted up front on top of the new console.
This year we also continued with using a laptop computer, which is quickly becoming the primary chase computer. The more modern laptops are getting fast enough and cheap enough, with the features we need, to get the jobs done we need them to do. We use Delorme Earthmate GPS which has a GPS antenna that plugs into the USB port and used in conjunction with programs like Street Alas and Delorme Topo serves 90% of our mapping needs. Paper maps are still kept for backups. This vehicle brought more of a reliance on cellular data as we began using a Sprint data card. With this we can get any data we need via Internet. We also began using WXWORX, which is a radar program that downloads some limited data, including some crude radar from the XM satellite. The primary advantage to this is that it works EVERYWHERE, even when you can't get a cell signal. It certainly has it's limitations, most notably lower resolution radar, however it is a functional tool.
Across the roof again was mounted various sensors for the weather station, as well as the various antennas used for the radio equipment, cell phone, tv and CB. This year an upgrade to the weather instruments to Davis Instruments was done courtesy of my chase partner Graham Butler. For this vehicle I engineered a new collapsible mounting system for the anemometer. There have been times in the past when the overhead clearance was an issue, plus the desire to take it down when not chasing, that prompted me to come up with this idea.
Most of the equipment is run from 12V DC and is connected by a secondary wiring harness I built from scratch and it all comes together in an electrical center behind the driver's seat. I also equipped this with a 700 watt power converter, which allows the laptop and our various camera battery chargers, and whatever else we need, to receive AC 110V power courtesy of power outlets mounted on the rear console as well as an additional two 12v accessory outlets.
The lightbar is a Code 3 MX7000 which was chosen for it's dual deck capability. The upper deck contains 5 amber rotators, switchable in a 2 and 3 or all combination. The lower deck is designed solely to provide bright white light when we may need it at night, whether out on dark country roads or if we find ourselves in an area without power. They also provide decent short range light for video shooting. There are two "alley" lights that are on each end of the lightbar giving 110 watts of light on either side. On the front of the lightbar there are a total of 6 lights the provide front and 45 degree lightning for a total of 330 watts of light!
Due to the season already upon us, we actually had to take it out before it was even completely finished. Here it was on it's very first chase!
These images were later in the year after all the final touches had been added.
This vehicle was retired at the beginning of 2007.
Some images here courtesy Graham Butler.