Tornado Intercept Vehicle: How Does It Work?

Tornado Intercept Vehicle: How Does It Work? (Image 1)

Most people never want to experience a tornado.  We are taught to hide or run away from them. 

But some people just can't follow this advice.  They are storm chasers, and they go looking for twisters.

Even so, most storm chasers know to generally stay about a mile away from a tornado.  This way they are close enough to see, but relatively out of danger.

Then there are those that want an even closer look.  They want to see inside a tornado.  This is Brandon Ivey and Sean Casey.

On Monday, the two got to see inside a “wedge” tornado in Smith County, Kansas.  The winds were blowing between 150 and 175mph, which is an EF4.

They were only able to do this because they were inside a heavy, armored vehicle that could withstand intense winds, debris and hail.  It's called a Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV).  It's big.  It's heavy, and it's armor plated.

The TIV is essentially an armored tripod for an IMAX camera.  Its purpose is to get footage from very close – or even inside – a tornado.

The TIV starts with an original Ford F450 pickup truck.  The transformation then takes about three months.  The creators strip down the truck and create a new frame and body out of steel, which uses… 1/4″ steel plate floors, a skeleton of 1/4″ steel tubing and I-beams and 1/8″ steel plates welded to the skeleton. 

The tires are protected from debris by a hinged 1/8″ steel flap cover. 

Each door features a double layer of 1/8″ steel plate.  When the doors close, they lock into place with heavy steel bolts. 

The side windows are 1/2″ Lexan resin, which is a very strong plastic.  The windshield needs better visibility so it is a scratch-resistant tempered glass and Lexan laminate.

The TIV weighs about 14,000 pounds.  However, it's still able to reach up to 90mph.  The vehicle needs to go this fast because tornadoes can develop and fall apart within just a few minutes. 

As for the crew members, they have to take safety steps too.  They wear helmets and goggles.

And finally…even with all of this protection, a tornado could still theoretically lift or move the TIV or even pull it apart.




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