2009-2011 Storm Chase Vehicle  E-mail
Sunday, 18 March 2012 01:06

 

This was my chase vehicle from mid 2009 until the end of 2011. I obtained this vehicle in May 2009 after the previous vehicle was heavily damaged from the explosion I witnessed in Lamesa, TX. Because of that I had to shut down my regular storm season early in 2009. 2010 will be the first year chasing in this new vehicle!

With this new vehicle, KCBD really went more out on the their graphics, as they are much larger than on previous chase vehicles. While this is a Dryline Media LLC vehicle, we have an ongoing contract with NewsChannel 11.

This is a 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Touring Edition loaded down with many of the Chrysler luxury options. It's quite the pleasure to drive and ride in, and will make those longer trips a lot more comfortable. In keeping with my thoughts that minivans make a good chase platform, due to the size, capacity and gas mileage balance, this van is no different. I've had a few months to drive this around and I love this vehicle!

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I took the opportunity while outfitting this new chase vehicle to upgrade some equipment. In fact, 90% of the equipment in it was upgraded. All the warning lights on this vehicle are low LED. Not only are these more durable in the tough weather situations we endure, they also last nearly forever, and use very little power. It just so happens Chrysler also put LEDs in all the interior lights as well. I kept the same type of side flood lights, but I did replace them with new ones. I also kept the old omnidirectional TV antenna, and all the other old antennas except the CB antenna, which is new.

This vehicle has a factory in-dash stereo unit that also has Sirius satellite radio, and navigation as well. This is a great little system that even has a built in hard drive you can load mp3's on! I put in a new scanner as well, and dropped one scanner because this new one has much more memory banks than the older ones. I also kept the Icom 2720h ham radio as well. I upgraded my ham license to General class, so I am hoping to add another radio with HF capability in the near future.

I went with a much lower profile Davis Weather Station mount. Since I use this only for my own purposes and reporting and not scientific information gathering, having it closer to the roof isn't as much of a concern. Not to mention the wind envelope around this more modern vehicle is much closer to the body than previous vehicles.

As usual I build a custom center console to hold the radio equipment, as well as some of the necessary relays and wiring. This vehicle had a factory overhead console in the front that I was able to modify to contain some of the switches and controls for the exterior lights.

 

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Inside the cockpit is where everything comes together, and essentially focuses as a mobile office for storm chasing. A variety of electronic gadgets are used to enhance the accuracy and safety of our storm chasing activities, as well as to enable us to edit video and send it to clients from anywhere we might be. We are also now able to stream LIVE video from the chase. The current laptop being used in this vehicle is an HP Pavilion DV9610, featuring a dual core AMD processor, 4 gigs of ram, 200 gig hard drive as well as a card reader that is very handy for the various digital cameras we have, as well as the all important USB 2.0 and Firewire ports for video capture. The laptop is mounted on a custom made articulating arm assembly I purchased from a seller on eBay. It was a fraction of the cost of the more popular Jotto desk, with most of the functionality.

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While the laptop serves as the hub of activity, providing data, GPS mapping as well as video editing abilities, we also have a variety of other useful equipment.  We have a dedicated Sony MiniDV camera  on the dash, as well as a Microsoft Lifestream Cinema used for streaming LIVE, and another webcam for interior PIP views. This is mounted to the dash with a  dual ball RAM mount, which has proven itself very useful over the years! Also on the dash is where the laptop GPS receiver sits, as well as speaker monitors for the various radios, 2 speaker on either side.

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The custom built center console ties everything together allowing for a convenient mounting point for a scanner, as well as a Cobra CB radio built into the lower dash, and the brain of the Davis Instruments weather station mounted on top.  Inside the console houses all of the relays (over 15 of them) and power blocks for the secondary electrical system which powers everything. Most of the radios are powered by 12V DC, however the laptop and most of our camera chargers are powered by 110V AC power. This requires a 500watt DC to AC power inverter which is direct wired to the battery and located under the passenger seat. A surge protective power strip is then mounted under the right passenger seat which makes a convenient place to plug in to 110V AC power at any time. I also added two extra 12v accessory outlets on the passenger side of the front of the console. All of the added items to this vehicle are tied in electrically inside the front of this console where an array of fuses, buss blocks and relays keeps things functional and organized.  This vehicle also has its own factory power inverter that provides an additonal AC outlet to the rear seat area.

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This van is equipped to seat 7 passengers, with the bucket seats across the middle. In between the center seats to place the all important ice cooler! We carry along plenty of drinks for the trip, and snacks as well. This cuts down our eating expenses on the road, and allows us to offer a cold drink to other chasers or any storm victims we happen to come across. There is  also the all important map book bag.  With the use of GPS mapping we don't use these as much as we used to, but they are still carried and do serve on occasion.  In a pinch we can lay down both the rear and middle seats and inflate a queen sized camping mattress on top of them and take a good rest on particularly long trips if we aren't inclined to get a motel room, or just want to cut back on expenses.

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We often lay out camera tripods in the back seat, as the van is wide enough we can lay them there with the legs extended during the chase for quick retrieval. Behind the back seat is a container that contains various things like a set of tools, tire repair stuff, glass cleaning supplies, jumper cables, fire extinguisher and things like that for emergencies.  This vehicle is very well-modified and suits it's purpose well.

As a final note, just for any less than honest people that may be getting any ideas, most of the electronics that aren't permanently mounted are removed after the chase. The radios that are permanently mounted would take a great deal of time to remove, and the entire vehicle is protected by a state of the art VIPER alarm system. If that isn't enough to deter you I can call on my friends Smith & Wesson for help if needed. Respect other's property! :)

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 01:23
 
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