We've featured some hard-working vehicles before, but nothing gets put through the wringer like Brutus. This '22 Ford F250 has been built into the official stormchasing truck of Tornado Watch. We featured Brutus in our booth at Overland Expo PNW and got together with storm chaser Ricky Forbes to learn more about this extreme line of work and its demands.
First of all, does Brutus get used for work, play, or both?
Everything. From chasing the wildest storms on the planet, to getting the kids to basketball practice.
Spring/summer: chasing tornadoes, off-roading, overlanding, camping, towing ATVs, roadtripping Canada & the United States.
Fall/winter: towing snowmobiles to backcountry spots in the mountains, snowboarding, touring the Canadian Rockies, tackling blizzards with 2-3 feet of snow on the roads.
How does it do in terms of highway travel?
It's awesome. There's a bit of road noise from the tires, but you only hear that if the windows are open. Otherwise it rides pretty much like when it was stock, it's great for highway travel.
Do you travel with a co-pilot?
Yeah, absolutely. We always work as a team, sometimes with two people, ideally 3 or 4 in the truck. We need a dedicated driver. When shit hits the fan, roads can be washed out, we have to deal with flash flooding, or the road that we were meant to take got blocked off because of downed power lines or other types of debris. The driver has to be hyper focused on that. There's other traffic out there, whether it's other storm chasers, or locals that need to get to safety, so that driver needs to be absolutely focused on what they're doing.
What do the other team members do?
We also need somebody who is handling the weather. Keeping an eye on the sky and seeing what's happening, and also reading the radar. We can see where the storm has come from, where it's projected to go. We can read how big the hail might be inside the storm, which can speak to storm strength. We can see the kind of lightning that's happening inside the storm from the radar. That gives an indication of where a safe route might be.
The whole reason why we're there: of course it's to report to the public, but also to capture photos and videos. If we don't get that, well, we won't be storm chasing very long. It takes a minimum of two people to make that happen. Even with two people, that's a lot to accomplish, so ideally we're working with three or four.
How do you make that happen in the truck?
It's straight from what you might see in a police vehicle, a RAM computer mount. We throw a laptop into it, hook up additional screens as well. We're on our phones for the weather and also to run our livestream, that's part of our model. We get these live warnings out to the public through livestreaming. Weather, roadmaps, livestreaming.
We look at multiple weather models to lay out certain indicators of where the severe storms might show up. As the day approaches, it gets down to just 2 or 3 forecasting models that we'll use. One is actual radar of what's happening, we'll look at cloud cover and a few other things that give indications of what's happening with the storm.
It's typically one vehicle at a time, not a caravan?
The most you ever see is 2 or maybe 3 vehicles. You want to run with one vehicle because sometimes inside these storms we can't quite see what's around us. If we have to back up or make a split-second decision, that can be a dangerous moment having a second vehicle, we've learned.
We're making a choice to get beside these tornados, and as much as we can predict it, there's still a lot that's unpredictable. There is danger, we do our best to mitigate it, but there is risk.
There's lots of of rain, lots of hail. Once we get into high winds, if you open your door -- I've had it happen -- it gets ripped right off. So once those winds start to pick up, you can't get out and talk to that other vehicle. Lots of times, cell phone towers get knocked down. If cell phones aren't working, we will have radios. The truth is, once the adrenaline starts going, messages can get missed or miscommunicated.
A lot of times, if you do see a second vehicle, that's another set of storm chasers who know what they're doing. Many times we'll split up because we have different goals, different objectives.
Have you had major equipment failures?
Just with our software itself. The software will stop communicating. Sometimes the radar systems we use will go offline, but that will be really scary, particularly if it's dark.
We've had past trucks that had external roll cages, but they added so much wind noise...We used to have satellite feeds for weather radar, but we don't need it anymore because all that technology is integrated into phone apps now.
What specific modifications have been made for storm chasing?
The protective coating. Our truck is completely covered in Line-X. The reason we have that is we'll get hit by really big hail. We'll get hit by debris from the tornado. Pretty quickly, your car can get dented or ripped up. Before we ran Line-X, we had steel stuck into the side of our truck. We run a clear 3M exoshield on our windows, it's not foolproof but it's a bit stronger than just the window.
We could run this on a half-ton like an F150, but have it on a three-quarter ton F250. In a half-ton, in these really high winds, we'd get tossed around. In the three-quarter ton, it feels like a train, you barely feel it. Especially when we get onto washed out roads, which does happen often. Oftentimes in the south, the mud and clay get slick. In the past, a half-ton would lose control pretty quickly, in this heavier truck we stick to one line and it keeps us safe and moving forward.
When you're on the ground, how intense are the winds?
Typically we're experiencing 60-80mph winds, anything more than that and you're getting too close and it's pretty dangerous.
What do you keep in your Drawer System?
Our camera equipment, that's the nuts and bolts of what we do. GoPros, GoPro 360s, Sony DSLRs, and all the mounting systems and grip gear. We have the DECKED x Uncharted D-Bag Emergency Kit . Beyond that, it's holding our clothing. I know that sounds silly but that's what our gear consists of: camera gear, first aid equipment, computer gear. We trust those compartments the most for keeping it waterproof and keeping it safe.
Do you have any wishlist mods in mind for Brutus or a different vehicle you'd like to try out?
That's a good question! I see those trophy trucks that can take anything, but I don't think it'd be quite practical for carrying a team and gear and everything else. The inner child in me would love that for 15 minutes of storm chasing. The truth is, as much as we need a truck that is geared up to perform when shit hits the fan, 95% of the miles on this truck are highway miles.
(Fellow storm chaser) Reed Timmer runs this tank called the Dominator , they've driven it into two tornadoes. It's steel-plated, they can lower it to the ground, they've got spikes that can come out of it. Really cool looking vehicle, but as soon as it gets off pavement and gets onto washed out dirt roads and mud, if they hit the ditch, they're stuck. That's where our truck performs, not only can we hit any ditch but if anybody else gets stuck, we can pull them out too.
Back home in Canada, some mornings there's 2 or 3 feet of fresh snow on the roads. I know my truck will get me wherever I need to go. There's many reasons why our truck is built the way it is, I've been doing this for 11 years. I know what I want to accomplish, and that's what this truck is built for.
2022 Ford F250 Super Duty Lariat, from Valley Ford
Front Runner roof rack
Line-X protective coating across entire vehicle
Fabtech bumpers and fenders
Anthem Rogue 20" wheels
General Tire 37" Grabber X3s
Rough Country 1.5" leveling lift kit
Warn Evo 12 winch
KC HiLites lighting
Rig'D UltraSwing spare tire mount
RAM Mounts laptop mount
WeBoost overland cell signal booster