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One-Of-A-Kind Storm Chasing Vehicle Built For Tagging Along With Twisters

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – A storm chaser who has spent more than a decade following severe weather has brought a unique tool to Colorado so he can travel toward tornadoes. The Tornado Intercept Vehicle was first used in an IMAX film on the topic and will be used once again this spring for the same purpose.

Tornado Intercept Vehicle (1)
(credit: CBS)

"I got pulled over quite a few times, probably in every state along the way," said Ryan Shepard, describing his road trip back home to Greeley after recently making the purchase. "They're just mostly curious what it's used for."

Shepard purchased the TIV from filmmaker Sean Casey, who used the vehicle more than a decade ago. It was built in 2007 for the film Tornado Alley and Shepard first saw the TIV while working as a production assistant on the project. Casey listed the vehicle for sale and Shepard purchased it an hour later. He moved it from Illinois to Colorado in two days.

"A lot of people say it looks like a Mad Max type of vehicle, it's just something crazy," he said.

Tornado Intercept Vehicle (2)
(credit: CBS)

This is the second model of the vehicle. The version Shepard now owns is built out of the frame of a Dodge Ram 3500 truck. It is a 14,000 pound armored vehicle that has a 90 gallon tank and can travel 800 miles without a refill. It is designed to go through tornadoes -- it was tested in 25 mph winds from a jet engine as well as 175 mph winds from an actual tornado, according to Shepard.

"I've been storm chasing for 14 years, I started in college with friends of mine who were meteorologists," Shepard said. "They took me along with them storm chasing and I got hooked."

He was studying to be a pilot at the time but found his passion for the weather thanks to the experience he had while on the road. It is still a love of his all these years later, and he's made it a profession. He offers tours for people who want to get close to storms each year.

"It just blew my mind that the atmosphere could do something like that," Shepard said. "Every storm is a new discovery, it's something that nobody has seen before."

He was not the only one vying for the vehicle. Shepard says there was interest from Hollywood to use it for filmmaking but Casey preferred seeing it sold to a storm chaser.

Shepard had only used his personal vehicles to get close to tornadoes before this purchase and had never actually traveled inside the TIV until making the big purchase. There are some mechanical issues that need to be addressed before he can take it out into the elements, but Shepard is excited to get closer to a storm than he ever has before.

"There are a lot of fans behind this type of concept of being able to drive close to tornadoes," Shepard said. "I was very lucky to get my hands on this vehicle."

The vehicle not only features eight layers in the walls that are two inches thick, the windows use bulletproof glass, and there are 10 special tires that the body sits on. Spikes can be pushed into the ground to help the TIV stay planted in one location and the armor around the vehicle can be moved with hydraulics to cover the bottom completely. (This keeps the wind from coming under and pushing the TIV upwards.)

"They all behave differently, they're almost like a living thing," he said. "It's an adventure."

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