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'Extreme meteorologist' Reed Timmer gets paid to drive into tornadoes

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, most people hunker down and pray. But not professional storm chaser Reed Timmer.

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The self-described "extreme meteorologist" actually goes out in search of tornadoes before they form. And when the moment is right, he'll drive his customized SUV — which can withstand crushing 200 mile-per-hour winds — straight into the twister's vortex.

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Once inside, the vehicle's air-cannon system deploys, launching tiny probes that measure critical data, from temperature and moisture to pressure.

"Tornadoes can obviously be very deadly and very dangerous. You have to respect their power," Timmer tells CNBC. "When I see a tornado out in the field, it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. It almost looks like it's not from [this] planet when you see one up close."

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But Timmer isn't risking his life just for the thrill of it — he does it to save lives.

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"Storm chasers are out in the field, underneath these storms, reporting to National Weather Service forecasters and the news media," explains Timmer. "They help notify people in the path of the storms to take shelter and hopefully save their lives."

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, atmospheric scientists (which include meteorologists) earn $92,070 per year. Many of them are storm chasers, like Timmer, who make a living by licensing the jaw-dropping video footage they capture on the ground to media outlets.

Timmer earns a little more than the average meteorologist thanks to a gig on the Discovery Channel series "Storm Chasers." Still, he says he's definitely not saving up for retirement, and that suits him just fine.

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"Everything that I've ever made goes back into storm chasing – from the gas to the equipment," Timmer explains. "But I do it because I love science, I love storms, I love storm chasing. Not only are you doing what you love – but you're also helping to save lives at the same time. So that makes it a great thing."

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