Viewers of the Discovery Channel's "Stormchasers" program may not give much thought to the truck equipment that helps these daring tornado researchers do their job, but something as seemingly simple as a liftgate can make a big difference.
Stormchaser Tim Samaras will be at this week's SEMA show.
Stormchaser Tim Samaras will be at this week's SEMA show.

A hydraulic liftgate is only one of the special specs on the A.R.E. Truck Caps' 2010 GMC Sierra "Twistex Probe" Vehicle, which enabled stormchaser Tim Samaras to record historic tornado measurements earlier this year. Samaras and the truck are scheduled to be at the SEMA show this week in Las Vegas.

Samaras has been fascinated by tornados since he saw "The Wizard of Oz" as a child. He's been chasing tornadoes for about 20 years, professionally for 10. He now spends every May and June putting 25,000 miles on his vehicle, chasing elusive tornadoes across the Plains.

Earlier this year, when he was hoping to build a new chase truck, Mastercraft Truck Equipment in Englewood, Colo., put together what Samaras refers to as the "ultimate tornado chase vehicle."

Because the special probes that he deploys into the path of the storm weigh more than 400 pounds each and measure about 3 feet high when stored, a traditional truck cap wouldn't work.

The truck is outfitted with a custom A.R.E. Deluxe Commercial Truck Cap and Tommy Gate G2-Series 1,500-pound-capacity hydraulic liftgate. To resist hail damage, the chase truck was spray-coated with Line-X Protective Coatings, more typically used as bedliner coatings. Other additions include an Eclipse navigation system with back-up camera, Jotto Desk mobile office laptop holders, Luverne hitch steps, mega steps, grille insert, Hellwig front and rear sway bars, a Warn XD 9000I Winch system, as well as numerous sensors covering the hood and cab.

This vehicle enabled Samaras and his crew to record some first-of-its-kind information about tornadoes.

Watch a local TV station's interview with Samaras about his job and the truck:

Samaras needed to deploy a 400-pound "probe" instrument, his own invention, in the path of a highly destructive tornado while at the peak of its powers. On June 22, in South Dakota, Tim did precisely that.

"The measurements we collected that day were historic, as we measured the wind speed of the passing tornado at two different heights. This confirmed that the boundary layer (the highest rate of change wind speed) is less than 2 feet high," Samaras explained. "This measurement would not have been possible without a way of quickly getting the instrument off the truck -- and the liftgate most certainly has risen to the challenge!"

The data collected is another step in further understanding tornadoes and will help engineers in how they design and build structures in the future. "This information, along with future deployments, will be very useful for engineers to construct buildings in the Midwest to help resist these types of wind," Samaras said. "If we can build better buildings, then we'd eventually save lives."