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Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.

Storm Rider

Mar 28, 2012

At first glance, it’s a little rough around the edges – literally. But there is something charming about the 14,000-pound tank as it sits along the downtown street in Harrisburg, PA.

Children clamor up the sides like it’s a jungle gym. “Can we get in,” one yells. Designer, film maker, and storm chaser Sean Casey smiles, a twinkle in his eye says yes, but an employee from the science center steps up and says “sorry, not unless you’re over eight (years old).”
 
The little boy’s smile deflates like a popped balloon, but his older brother says “I’m eleven!” The science center employee hands a parent a legal consent form to complete.
 
DSC03151
Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) 2 sits outside the Whitaker Science Center in Harrisburg, PA during a recent visit by film maker and storm chaser Sean Casey.  Photo by: Caroline Anschutz
 
Recently made famous as a central figure in Discovery Channel’s now-cancelled show “Storm Chasers”, film maker and storm chaser Sean Casey is in Harrisburg promoting his IMAX movie, “Tornado Alley 3D”. He brought along his custom made Tornado Intercept Vehicle – or TIV. Being the second incarnation, it’s affectionately called TIV 2.
 
TIV 2 is built on the chassis of a Dodge Ram 3500. The vehicle sports two-inch thick armor plating and bullet proof glass. Four “skirts” on each side drop down to block tornadic winds from getting under the vehicle and rolling it over. In fact, they allow the air to push over the roof of the vehicle creating extra down force. If the air-blocking skirts aren’t enough, two hydraulic spikes on each side of TIV 2 can extend up to 40 inches into the ground, anchoring TIV 2 in place.
 
After speaking about the spikes, Casey cracks a boyish grin and reaches into the back of TIV 2 and produces an elongated box. “My next set of spikes,” he says. 
 
TIV 2 runs on a 6.7-liter, 625-horsepower Cummins turbo diesel engine and Casey and Cummins just entered into a partnership to upgrade the TIV and launch a new media venture. While details of the partnership haven’t been released, Casey did acknowledge he is working with the diesel manufacturer on much-needed upgrades.
 
I was lucky enough to ride in TIV 2 with Casey at the wheel.  It's remarkably quiet, considering its construction and the shotgun seat is pretty comfortable.
 
With more than 100,000 miles on it, TIV 2 is showing some wear. “We average about 30,000 miles a season,” Casey remarked. “A (storm chasing) season runs about eight to ten weeks.”
 
casey drive
Sean Casey pilots the TIV 2 around the streets of Harrisburg, PA while speaking about his film and future.  Photo by: Caroline Anschutz
 
As a film maker, Casey has a number of IMAX movies under his belt. However, “Tornado Alley 3D” is his cinematic dream – now realized on the oversized IMAX screen.
 
Casey’s goal was to get an IMAX shot of a tornado coming right at the camera and then being inside that tornado. Fortunately, after eight long years, he finally got his shot.
 
Initially, the IMAX film was not released in 3D; however the conversion to 3D is stunning. Some shots work better than others in the film, but you really get a sense that you’re in some of the storms.
 
As for the actual intercept shots, they are breathtaking. The road of the tornado is overwhelming and you get a sense of why people say it sounds like a freight train. You also get a feel for the wind speeds as debris flies past the camera.
 
The film runs about 43 minutes in length and follows Casey, his TIV 2 crew, and participants in the VORTEX 2 research project as they pursue and study tornado producing storms. 
 
Casey is modest when I compliment him about the movie. A quiet “thank you” precedes another boyish grin. 
 
sean jon
From left: Jonathan Anschutz and Sean Casey pose for a picture in front of TIV 2.  Photo by Caroline Anschutz
 
When asked about a sequel, Casey says they’ll be out filming again later in the year. They just procured funding from the National Science Foundation. “It’s going to be a good year,” Casey remarked. “The moisture is there and the jet steam (is supportive).”
 
Casey added, “I’ve got the (storm chasing) bug.”
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