Note: This story has been updated to clarify the circumstances when the vehicle was found.
WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Living on the Great Plains, Kansans are no strangers to severe weather and the threat of tornadoes.
Meteorologists and scientists continue to study and observe the atmospheric phenomena to understand better what causes some thunderstorms to produce tornadoes.
In 2007, a national television show opened the door to showcase the fury storms can unleash. It was a window into how scientists and weather enthusiasts tracked powerful storms and showed the instruments they used. Some wanted to take these observations a step further.
Filmmaker Sean Casey took the observations further. He designed vehicles that could safely capture the experience of intercepting a tornado. It was called the TIV or tornado intercept vehicle.
When the show concluded in 2011, Casey no longer needed to keep his two armored vehicles. One of the vehicles was sold, and the other was a scavenger hunt for TIV1 that took KSN Storm Tracker Robert Clayton to the heart of Kansas.
“We started going on Google Earth, and we found it on Google Earth in some dude’s yard,” Clayton recalled.
The clues left online brought him to Liebenthal, where TIV had been parked for a decade. The landowner knew the vehicle was parked on the property, but did not know it was the prize of a scavenger hunt.
Clayton explained the situation to the landowner, that the first one to find it was the proud new owner of the vehicle.
“Per his rules, I own TIV now,” said Clayton.
TIV1, which is essentially a 1997 Ford pickup truck, is the first of the two tornado intercept vehicles. However, it will need some T-L-C before it jumps back into use.
Cole Pfiefer, Augie’s Towing and Repair in Hays, will work closely with Clayton to restore the TIV to working condition. It is not the TIV’s first visit to his specific shop.
“This thing has been in our shop before with the old owners,” bringing the project full circle back to where it all began.
Some of the first improvements will include getting the motor running smoothly, upgrading the windows, adding a special lining to the sheet metal that encases the truck.
Newer technology, like hydraulic anchors, will replace the claws on the side of the vehicle, dropping it to the ground when encountering severe winds so it will not tip over. While his team will work on updating the look of the TIV, Clayton admits that as long as it runs well, is safe, can stop and turn, those are the most important things.
Robert Clayton would also like to add scientific instruments as he believes there is still a science that can be done at ground level making these vehicles useful for not only storm spotting but also collecting scientific data.
“I’m not a scientist, don’t want to be a scientist, but I want to help those affected by tornadoes.”
He remembers what it was like during the May 3, 1999 tornadoes that impacted Kansas and Oklahoma and how powerless you feel when life-threatening storms narrowly miss you.
As for TIV1, Robert hopes it can be a tool to help someone else when severe weather strikes.
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