Sean Casey's Tornado Intercept Vehicle
A Doppler on Wheels, on display Saturday at North Platte's Bill Summers auto dealership.
On a back country road, with blistering wind in their faces, an audience watched a tornado form right in front of them. The North Platte High School Performing Arts Center was home to a 20-minute screening Saturday of the 3D IMAX film Tornado Alley.
Watching the movie in 3D put you right in the action, standing along the road feeling the wind and rain and watching a tornado. Next, you were sitting in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle – an armored, specially-made ground-hugging truck. The audience was right beside tornado chaser Sean Casey watching the twister close in.
You could feel the TIV rock and hear the loud roar of the tornado as it passed over. Then -- silence.
It felt like the tornado lasted forever, but it was only a few minutes of intensity. Sitting in the theater seat, you actually felt a little relieved that it was all over, even though you weren't really there.
About 100 people watched the presentation. As they walked in, they were given a pair of 3D glasses.
Scott Fauteux from Giant Screen Films hosted the event with lively commentary.
Teresa Keck, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, with the National Weather Service in North Platte. Keck spoke about the weather service's upcoming experiment starting on April 1, called Impact Base Warning – an improved radar service.
Keck said the system will help the weather service detect the difference between birds and hail. It will also help detect tornadoes during the night as well as tornadoes in rain-wrapped storms.
Keck said the North Platte weather service radar is also updating to serve a much larger area.
Shelly Penner from the Red Cross said a new tornado application program is coming out for I-Pads and smart phones. The application will include maps, tornado shelter locations, tests, alerts and warnings. Penner said the siren on the phone will sound much like the tornado sirens that go off in town.
Ab Pfieffer from the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo. got to the point, talking about how a tornado forms and storm chasing. Pfieffer chases tornadoes in a DOW (Doppler on Wheels) technician. The group of chasers includes students, technicians, engineers, professors and researchers.
The Vortex 2 program, the largest tornado research project ever assembled, which went through the Midwest studying and research tornadoes until 2010.
Pfieffer’s job was to deploy pods and navigate the vehicle.
The Vortex 2 research group consisted of a crew of 120 people, 50 vehicles, 80 types of instruments, 22 tornado pods, also called RPWS (rapidly placed weather stations).
Weather balloons were released into the storm clouds from four vans that traveled with the group. The group also had two large DOW trucks with tall radar poles on the back.
The Vortex 2 program ended in 2010 and they have been studying the data they gathered. The group was funded by grants, several universities and the National Science Foundation.
This year, the chasers are concentrating on hurricanes. They will not be chasing tornadoes.
Pfieffer then talked about the film Tornado Alley and producer Sean Casey.
The film began with Casey building an armored TIV (tornado intercept vehicle). He has built two TIVs. The original model is retired and sitting in a field in Kansas and is for sale, Pfieffer said.
The TIV has the ability to secure itself with spikes that are hydraulically driven several feet into the ground. The side plates of the vehicle slide all the way to the ground to keep any wind from getting underneath the vehicle.
Layers of Kevlar steel comprise the body and Lexon is used in the windows.
The TIV has intercepted a tornado 11 times, although none of them were stronger than F2 rated twisters. Pfieffer said even a TIV might not survive an F1 tornado.
The screening was put on by the Tornado Alley education and outreach tour.