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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Storm chasers ride out EF-4 wedge tornado

It's not everyday you can tell your friends and family you rode out an EF-4 tornado and lived to tell about it. It's even rarer to do it in a vehicle.

But when that vehicle is specifically geared to intercept said tornadoes, it comes with the territory. But even this monster twister would make the bravest of chasers wonder what could possess someone to ride out this big of a tornado.

Sean Casey and TIV2 before (credit Herb Stein)
If you're a fan of the Discovery Channel show "Storm Chasers" you've no doubt heard about Sean Casey and his quest to film an IMAX movie from INSIDE a tornado. His now-infamous "Tornado Intercept Vehicle", or TIV for short, was designed for such a task. And last Monday, it was put to the ultimate test, as an EF-4 tornado came bearing down upon them and passed over their location in Smith County, KS. It was captured on video by his tag-team partner Brandon Ivey.

His 2nd generation vehicle, the 10-wheeled monolithic TIV2, was bigger, tougher, and heavier than its predecessor TIV1, and in my opinion had they been in TIV1, would not have fared as well. TIV2 is over 14,000 lbs, has bulletproof glass composed of polycarbonate sheets combined with tempered glass on the outside, and thick metal shielding around the entire frame that can withstand micro-sized missiles from penetrating the inside of the vehicle. It also has several rods that ram into the ground in order to anchor the TIV2 and prevent the high winds from moving the vehicle. The 1/8th inch-thick metal shielding extends to the ground, to allow air to pass over the TIV, preventing the wind from going underneath the TIV2 and sending it airborne.

The tornado that was captured provided some dramatic images, from a 1000-lb bale of hay passing from the rear, to metallic objects striking the windshield and creating sparks.

You can watch the video here (high-res version here), and note the sound is fluttery during the most intense part of the pass. If you look at the bottom of the polycarbonate windscreen, you'll note the vibrations are in sync with the fluttery sounds coming through the microphone, as the pressure around the vehicle is dropping and fluctuating as the twister passed over the TIV2.

It's currently unknown how fast the winds were, because their anemometer snapped off when sheet metal debris from a farm a half-mile away hit it, registering wind speeds of 150-174 MPH at the time. These winds speeds register as an EF3 to an EF-4 on NOAA's enhanced Fujita Scale.

Fortunately no deaths occurred with this tornado, but a couple of houses were damaged or destroyed and some cattle are reported missing. They didn't fly by the TIV2, however.

The TIV2 did its job but not without some mishaps. A couple of hatch doors blew open during the intercept and debris entered the TIV2 cabin. The IMAX mount also became dislodged and Sean had to take cover while filming. But, any intercept you can walk away from is a good intercept, no? Before and after pics of the TIV2 can be seen at Sean Casey's Facebook page.

You can track various stormchasers as they go after storms during severe weather season with the Discovery Channel's storm tracker page. Unfortunately Discovery Channel cancelled the show despite decent ratings and a lot of great drama footage of the tornadoes in action. I'm almost certain fellow tracker/TIV copycat Reed Timmer is screaming at the top of his lungs for not being the one to encounter the tornado congratulating Sean for his historic intercept. And somewhere in that TIV2, I'm sure Matt Hughes was along for the ride as well, RIP.

Stay safe everyone, and please, please please...DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, OR ANYWHERE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER!