Cosmosphere hosts 'Storm Chaser' star

His tornado intercept vehicle is equipped with composite armor, steel and bullet-proof glass.

It weighs more than seven tons and in tests withstood winds of 250 mph.

Yet, during the worst tornado outbreak in decades last April 27, seasoned storm chaser and filmmaker Sean Casey found himself reluctant to place what is called the TIV2 directly in the path of the massive tornadoes that were devastating Alabama and Mississippi.

"We were being very cautious that day," Casey said. He was shooting for the long-running Discovery Channel series "Storm Chasers," which he appears in, and gathering footage for a movie.

"You don't really want to go into a tornado that's picking up a lot of debris," he said. "Even though we have armor, a tree trunk with a root ball going 150 miles an hour would do us real damage."

Casey will be in Hutchinson for a series of appearances today and Saturday with the TIV2 at the Kansas Cosmosphere, where his IMAX film "Tornado Alley" has been showing for several months.

He'll give rides in the TIV2, share stories about making the film and talk about memorable chases he's been on.

Each time he watches "Tornado Alley," a film that took him eight years to make, he notices different things. During his most recent viewing, he said, "I was just appreciating the beauty that's in the film.

"These images are incredible," he said. "There's always more to see with these tornadoes."

Casey is working on a sequel to "Tornado Alley," shooting footage with both IMAX and 3D cameras. At times during those long years of shooting footage for the IMAX film, Casey fretted about whether he would ever capture the kind of footage that would make the film a must-see.

But he has gotten much better in recent years, Casey said, and having a meteorologist in the TIV2 — Brandon Ivey of Valley Center — has made a big difference.

"Things are happening so quickly out there," he said. "When things get really hot and heavy, you have seconds to decide how to play the tornado."

With 548 confirmed tornado deaths so far this year, 2011 ranks among the deadliest for tornadoes in U.S. history.

The death and devastation prompted soul searching for Casey and the other chasers involved in the television show.

"You definitely have to reflect upon what you're doing," he said. "To be in it just for the chase, it became very hollow."

A siren was added to the TIV2 so the crew could warn people where they were of the approaching danger.

"Mentally, you had to adjust," Casey said. "We realized we needed to really be active as far as warning people... and when you witness destruction, to lend a hand.

"Once we got into that mode, we were reinvigorated by being out there."

The teams involved in "Storm Chasers" realized they were in a position to help, he said.

"I think the teams grew up a bit," Casey said.

In fact, he said, if there's one thing he'd like to add to his chase crew, it's a rescue vehicle — something stocked with supplies that can help victims in the immediate aftermath of a tornado strike.

Casey hasn't heard yet whether "Storm Chasers" will be picked up for another season. Even if it's not, he said, "We'll still be chasing."

There is the movie sequel to shoot — and there's the inescapable lure of Mother Nature's might.

"I'm always driven to do more," he said. "You want to do better... you want to keep chasing something that you feel passionate about."