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Tornado chaser takes direct hit from 175-mph tornado, keeps cameras rolling


Tornado chaser takes direct hit from 175-mph tornado, keeps cameras rollingDirector Sean Casey has spent the past decade driving straight for tornadoes in vehicles built to withstand the most violent forces nature can unleash. This weekend, his vehicle took a direct hit from a Kansas tornado spinning 175-mph winds — and survived to share its video.

As made popular on the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" series, Casey's Tornado Intercept Vehicle 2 is essentially a meteorological tank. Built on the frame of a Cummins-powered Dodge commercial truck, the three-axle, four-wheel-drive hauler is enclosed in two-inch-thick armor, made of layers of aluminum, steel and Kevlar, with windows of inch-thick polycarbonate. The bottom skirts raise and lower to prevent storm winds from tipping the truck like a terrapin; the hydraulic stakes on either side stab the ground for additional bracing.

All of those technologies were needed to survive the twister Casey and Brandon Ivey ran into late Sunday night in northeastern Kansas. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes in that area, which flattened businesses and cut power lines but led to no fatalities or injuries. It wasn't for a lack of power; according to the chase team, the winds from the tornado that swept over the TIV2 hit 175 mph before breaking off the exterior instruments, and at one point something hits the windshield with enough power to throw sparks.

After the hit, Casey told his Twitter followers that the twister had been strong enough to wrench open a door on the TIV and fling debris and an exterior camera inside, but that the truck itself didn't move. In addition to the video shot by Ivey, Casey says he kept his IMAX camera rolling throughout; both called it the strongest storm they had ever encountered. Given how many strong tornadoes have already hit the Midwest this year, the TIV2 may not have to wait long for another test.

Top photo: Jon Winters via Flickr