Most people try to get out of the way of tornadoes, which kill close to 80 Americans each year. Some storm-chasers go toward the storms to follow them. But IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey made it his goal to drive into the tornado's eye.
Casey created what he calls a "TIV," a tornado interception vehicle, out of a Ford truck. He welded 8,000 pounds of steel protection onto the truck and replaced the windows with bulletproof glass. The IMAX camera sits on a turret that can rotate 360 degrees, which is important because the tornadoes are so quick, Casey said.
"We're OK with a light tornado, winds up to 150 miles per hour," Casey said. "If you get a violent turn, this thing will be picked up and deposited somewhere else."
More than 1,800 tornadoes hit the U.S. last year with wind speeds up to 250 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To prevent wind from getting under the truck and lifting it off the ground, the vehicle can be lowered so it's flush with the road. Even when the vehicle remains on the ground, it's no easy ride.
"We're safe inside, but we're getting slammed by a whole bunch of debris," Casey said. "It's like sticking your head inside a 55-gallon barrel and having people hit [it] with a hammer."
Some of the most dangerous tornadoes are invisible, hidden behind heavy rains. For a storm featured in "Twisted" on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Casey teamed up with meteorologist Josh Wurman and his high-tech team of storm-chasers to locate the tornado's eye. In its support vehicle, Wurman's group used radar to lead the TIV into the eye.
The TIV has attracted a lot of attention from the storm-chaser community and from cops, Casey said.
"Over the past three years, we have been stopped 34 times by police officers," Casey said.