If you've read my last blog, you know that I've been having issues with my back for roughly the past two years. Back in August 2016, I had a bilateral microdsicectomy on the L4-L5 disk that was supposed to fix my herniated disk. I started having issues with my back again, and from November-March I had multiple MRI's and appointments with my neurosurgeon who performed my surgery that previous August. After being told multiple times that nothing was wrong, I was faking it, and I was being ridiculous and needed to man up, I finally went to see a different doctor, who performed a simple bending X-ray to check on the stability of my disks. My L4 vertebrae was unstable and unaligned, and the disk was slightly re-herniated, and we decided that a second surgery was needed to correct the mistake from the first. May 10th, 2017, I had a spinal fusion of L4-L5 to permanently fix the instability and remove the possibility of having another problem with the disk. Today (June 22nd, 2017) I had my 6 week post op appointment, and everything looks great and I'm back on track to having full mobility and strength in no time. I no longer have to wear my back brace and have no limits on what I can do, and at this point, any physical activity will only strengthen the ligaments and muscles in my lower back. Because this was my second surgery on the area, not only did he have to perform the fusion, but he also had to remove a lot of scar tissue, especially from my left side, so my sciatic nerve on my left side is still very sensitive. I actually just regained the ability to put my sock on my left foot without much pain this week. I feel like I've wasted away a lot of the past year, but as I start PT soon it's only up from here, and I can start to put this whole debacle behind me. But enough about that, lets get on to the plans for StormCruzzer!
With most of the past year spent trying to get my back fixed, StormCruzzer is nowhere near where I had planned. But then again, when does anything ever go exactly as planned? Back in October 2016, we had a booth at the Poquoson Seafood Festival that was a huge success. At the time, we were in the planning stages of giving paid storm chasing tours to the public this past spring, but my back had other plans. Luckily, we had Alex Thornton (a fellow meteorologist and great friend), officially join the StormCruzzer business, and he was able to take the StormCruzzer out for 5 weeks this past spring to chase with other fellow Virginia Tech students and alum. Overall it has been extremely dull storm season, but they still managed to get some pretty awesome footage and bring the StormCruzzer back in one piece!
That brings us to now, and boy do we have some huge plans for the next year and a half! For starters, we're making four big changes/mods to the truck in the next two months.
1. We're replacing our current camper shell with a much tougher, better organized, and easily modifiable camper shell. (Pictures to come at the end)
2. We're fishing our bullet resistant debris guards for the cab windows. With the new camper shell having no windows, it's a lot less time work to worry about.
3. We're finally wiring up all off-road LED lights to a much better control panel. Eight LED pods mounted on the roof rack, 20" light bar and two fog lights mounted in and on the front bumper, and two reverse lights on the back bumper, wired into an easy to use touch screen control module.
4. We're adding a 60 (and maybe another 30) gallon gas tank to the truck to allow us to go longer between fill ups while chasing, which could be crucial in getting to a storm on time.
We're putting a bit of a rush on these mods to try to get them all ready before the peak of hurricane season, where the'll all be extremely handy. This hurricane season will be similar to the last, where we will chase any hurricane that makes landfall on either the East Coast or Gulf Coast, as long as the truck is ready. We were in consistent 75-80mph gusts and near 100mph consistent wind tunnel effect winds in Hurricane Matthew last fall, so we feel extremely comfortable getting up close and personal in the vehicle in anything under a Category 4. We'll still Chase Cat 4-5 storms, but we'll stay a little further from the eye than we would normally.
We have a booth again this year at the Poquoson Seafood Festival, and by that time we will be officially selling seats on our Spring 2018 Storm Chasing tours. As soon as the Seafood Fest is over, we're making the biggest modification of all to the StormCruzzer; we're stretching the cab of the truck to add a third row of seats! When we're out chasing, especially if we're giving tours, our number one concern is safety. In the words of Dave Carroll, one of my professors and storm chase leaders at Virginia Tech, "There's always another storm. You only have one life." We've struggled for a while deciding the best way for us to give storm chasing tours. Should we go with two armored vehicles? Or should we buy a van and armor it instead? Ultimately, we found a way to get the best of both worlds, and stretch the StormCruzzer. We'll have the ability to bring a larger group with us like we would with two vehicles, while having a much more comfortable and safe ride than we would in an armored van. It also brings down the overall price, allowing us to charge less per person for a week long tour. While the truck is being stretched and the entire interior is taken out, we're also getting a full interior roll cage installed. Will we ever need it? The chances are extremely low. But does it hurt anything? Nope! It's just an extra safety feature that we want to install that will hopefully never be used.
We aren't sure on the amount of storm chasing tours that we'll be giving in Spring 2018, but the number will be somewhere between 2-8. Two is worst case, eight is if everything goes well leading up to spring. Either way, we should still be out chasing for nearly two months, capturing and bringing you the most extreme weather footage we can encounter.
July-November are TBD.. We're working on something huge, and want to make sure it's official before we announce it, but it'll be a huge leap in exposure for StormCruzzer and the storm chasing community, that's for sure.
That's all I have for now, I'll post updates over the next few weeks as we make progress on making the StormCruzzer more hurricane proof. Hopefully we'll get a chance to test her out in one later this summer/fall!
Bed cover from ARE we're installing soon (Click to enlarge)