Its the beginning of tornado season, that time of year where the transition from cooler temperatures to warmer weather creates the optimal unstable air conditions for tornadic activity throughout multiple areas of the United States and Canada. Areas like the Southern Plains (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) see more tornadoes from May to early June. On the Gulf Coast, tornadoes are more common during early spring. While the Northern States and areas of the upper Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) have peak tornado season in June or July.
For storm chasers, this is the busiest part of the year as they prep for the harsh weather conditions in the pipeline. These chasers require tough vehicles that can tackle harsh backroads, high winds, tons of non-stop mileage, and that can handle tons of different weather measuring and photo equipment. Each vehicle is usually outfitted to the chaser’s needs. But for one IMAX filmmaker, a normal vehicle wouldn’t cut it.
Director Sean Casey developed the Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) in 2002, a vehicle designed to be used as a shooting platform for his IMAX camera to get very close to or within a tornado. The first TIV was built from a 1997 Ford Super Duty Chassis Cab with a budget of about $81,000.
TIV was designed to handle EF0 (65 to 85 mph) to EF3 (136 to 165 mph) winds thanks to its 1/8 to 1/4-inch steel armor plating welded to a two-inch square steel tube frame. Even the windows were made from bullet-resistant polycarbonate. While the first TIV looked menacing, it suffered on midwest backroads due to it being two-wheel-drive (4×2) and having low ground clearance which caused it to get stuck easily on muddy surfaces. Also, the added weight from all the additional armor caused it to get poor fuel economy and a low top speed.
In 2007, Casey and his team built their second-generation TIV (now called TIV 2) to be featured in their next IMAX movie. With the help of 40 welding students at the Great Plains Technology Center in Lawton, Oklahoma, Casey set out to build a vehicle that would address all of the issues from the original TIV.
Based on a 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 1-ton pickup, the TIV 2 was modified to accommodate a third axle to allow for the capability of a six-wheel-drive (6×6). However, after its debut season, TIV 2 was converted to a four-wheel-drive now in a 6×4 configuration.
TIV 2 was fitted with a 1/8-inch steel skin welded over a 2-inch (51-mm) square tubing steel frame. All of the windows were made of bullet-resistant 1 5/8-inch interlayered polycarbonate sheets and tempered glass. Like the original TIV, TIV 2 also included a turret for Casey’s IMAX camera. But what set the TIV 2 apart from the original, was the fact it used 6 hydraulic skirts that dropped down to deflect wind over the TIV to stabilize it and protect the underside from debris.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 6.7-liter CUMMINS inline-six-diesel, modified with both propane and water injection to produce 625 horsepower (466kW). The modified CUMMINS powertrain allows TIV 2 to have a top speed of 100 mph (160 km/h). A larger 92-gallon fuel tank allowed TIV 2 to get around 750 miles (1,210 kilometers) of range or about 250 additional miles of range over the original TIV.
During its initial debut, TIV 2 was plagued with mechanical failures, which included a broken axle. The issues forced Casey and his team to return to the original TIV until the issues could be ironed out. Repair and modifications took longer than they hoped, so TIV 2 returned to chasing the following year with several updates.
The team started off by reducing TIV 2’s massive 17,000 lb. curb weight. To help achieve this, the team eliminated the heavy steel used in less crucial areas of the vehicle with aluminum. The more crucial areas were upgraded with stronger and lighter materials consisting of thin layers of steel, polycarbonate, rubber, and Kevlar. In total, the team eliminated about 3,000 lbs. of weight.
The safety systems were also improved, with the three front skirts being consolidated into one and new hydraulic stabilizing spikes to further increase stability in high winds. Other modifications included additional doors that provided every seat position with an exit (wind skirts up or down) and a redesigned IMAX turret with 50% more windows.
On Wednesday, April 27th, 2011, the TIV 2 team intercepted an EF4 (166 to 200 mph) tornado, that recorded 175 mph winds near Enterprise, Mississippi. The TIV 2 team was not directly in the path, but about 200 yards from it. Casey used his new stereoscopic IMAX 3D camera, to capture the tornado making it the first tornado ever to be recorded in 3D.
The TIV 2 team once again intercepted a large tornado near Smith Center, Kansas on Monday, May 27th, 2013. The TIV was stuck by numerous debris from a nearby farm. The vehicle suffered damage to the roof-mounted anemometer and at least two breaches of the crew compartment when the roof hatch and one of the doors were compromised. The TIV recorded wind speeds of 150 to 175 mph (EF3 to EF4) before the anemometer was ripped off the vehicle.
Fast forward to October 21st, 2019, Casey listed the TIV 2 on Craigslist for the price of $35,000. At the time, the ad said the vehicle had 130,000 miles on it. A fellow chaser and former TIV team member, Ryan Shepard purchased the vehicle and has had it restored. The TIV 2 chased successfully during the 2021 tornado season, making multiple close intercepts on June 10th in North Dakota.
Now Shepard and the TIV 2 are under sponsorship by “Storm of Passion” and “Live Storm Chasers”. Shepard released some new teaser videos yesterday of the TIV 2 getting ready for the new season. You can see those videos above. We can’t wait to see the TIV 2 in action once again this season.