WITH THE CUSTOM-MADE Tornado Intercept Vehicle 2, you don't have to outrun the storm. In fact, Imax filmmaker Sean Casey designed and built the ten-wheeled, 17,000-pound TIV to drive directly into the path of a funnel cloud. So far, the roughly $250,000 vehicle and its predecessor have survived nine pass-overs during shoots for the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers series whose second season starts October 19 the scariest being a whopper that overtook him and his team one night in Arkansas last spring. "All we could do was stop," says Casey. "We had no idea how big or fast the tornado was. There was just the howling wind and dirt being sandblasted against the TIV."
To determine whether Casey can plant the TIV in the path of a twister, he relies on data from the team's radar truck to estimate the tornado's wind speed. Anything under 170 miles an hour is fair game. Much more than that and he'd go airborne, armor plating and all. "I asked an engineer to figure out what kind of vehicle could survive 300 miles per hour," says Casey. "The answer was a car three feet high that weighed 40 tons. That wasn't going to work." Above, we take a look under the hood.
1. A ROOF-MOUNTED CAMERA AND RADAR capture wind-speed information and dramatic wide-angle views of storms.
2. Inch-and-a-half-thick BULLETPROOF GLASS gives Casey a clear view from all sides of the vehicle. The glass is made up of three layers of polycarbonate sandwiched by layers of tempered glass for improved optics. Amazingly, the glass is stronger than the steel armor.
3. The TIV 2 started as a Dodge 3500 pickup with a 6.7-liter Cummins DIESEL ENGINE, which was souped up to produce more than 600 hp and 1,200 lb-ft of torque enough to catch or avoid a tornado while moving at up to 120 mph. Fuel use: 12 mpg.
4. The 1/8-inch steel ARMOR PLATES are welded to an angled roll cage. Like a spoiler, they deflect the tornado over the vehicle and use the wind to push the TIV into the ground.
5. The TIV is STREET LEGAL, but that didn't stop cops from pulling Casey over 17 times during the show's first season.