We caught up with iMax filmmaker Sean Casey last month. You might recognize him from the popular Discovery Channel TV show Storm Chasers, where he drives his personally built Tornado Intercept Vehicle(TIV), into these violent storms.Casey joined the cable program in the 2008 fall season, just as he was in the midst of filming his own iMax movie, Tornado Alley. Both Casey and the TIV 2 will be onhand at the Pink Palace Museum for the opening of Casey’s film on Saturday, March 3rd.
I spoke with Casey last month at his home in northern California. He had justreturned from Denver where he was the keynote speaker at ChaserCon, the National Storm Chaser Convention. The annual conference brings together 350 weather and tornado enthusiasts from across the nation to talk turkey about stormy weather. Theyear 2011 made it into the record books as one of the most active tornado seasons in history. A staggering 758 twisters were recorded in April alone.
Casey originally started out making iMax nature films, traveling the world tracking everything extreme, from grizzly bears and great white sharks to active volcanos. Then he became interested in extreme weather and sought to learn all he could about tornadoes. Casey says he chased storms across the Midwest for three years before building the TIV vehicle. Atmospheric scientist Joshua Wurman (who also appears with Casey on Storm Chasers) thought it would be a viable idea “because he’s chasing alongside storms with radar trucks to get maximum speeds, so we knew it wouldn’t kill you,” says Casey. “Josh liked the idea because he could make the vehicle a moveable weather station, sampling the winds we encountered.”
He describes the original TIV as an ugly cross between “a bad beer promotion truck and a 70s sci-fi movie where people cross zombie-infested deserts to reach paradise.” Not a chick magnet perhaps, but this mini-tank enabled him to get incredible footage of powerful storms by driving into the heart of a twister. Kids will like it’s rustic, armadillo-like appearance and be impressed by all the cool scientific gear housed within.
Since tornados are often a reality here in the Mid-South, this won’t be a movie for the faint of heart, or youngsters prone to nightmares. But if you’ve got a weather buff in your household, they will likely find this film a thriller.
When at home with his own family, Casey likes to involve his two young children in tamer pursuits, like raising chickens (their newest pets), and picking wild mushrooms. “Chasing tornadoes has taught me patience,” he says. “But the hardest part about filming is being away from the kids. My 6-year-old wants me to get a job closer to home.”
Tornado Alley opens Saturday, March 3rd, at the Pink Palace CTI IMAX Theater. Sean Casey Will greet filmgoers and answer questions about the TIV 2 on opening day. The film runs through November 16th. Admission: $8.25 adults, $6.50 children, ages 3-12. memphismuseums.org