The Story Behind Into the Storm’s Amazing Storm Chasing Vehicle
With the Earth experiencing ever-increasing ferocities of drought and storms, I decided to delve in to the realm of the disaster move, wondering if anything could equal 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow (Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal) – surely the daddy of them all and the best-known film that plays on our fears about global warming. If you’re a little tired of having this as your go-to climate change disaster movie, then I can recommend Into the Storm (2014, starring Richard Armitage).
There is a tendency to watch such films and have a tiny little voice in your head constantly reassuring you and telling you that ‘this can’t really happen, it’s just a film’ – the idea of a twister more than 2 miles wide had me sitting comfortably knowing that this was just fantasy. Yet Into the Storm has a few interesting extras on the blu-ray disc that make sobering viewing, and I soon learned that I was wrong – the largest tornado ever recorded had actually occurred during the time the film was being made. On May 31 in El Reno, Oklahoma, a 2.6-mile wide tornado was recorded. It now now even has its own Wikipedia page and has the dubious honour of being the first tornado to kill 4 real storm chasers. In the aftermath, a ‘ground scar’ could be seen from space via satellite imagery.
Clearly Into the Storm was factually as real as Director Steven Quale had intended. Quale was also fascinated with the hotchpotch adapted and customised vehicles that storm chasers use to travel into the centre of the danger in, and Into the Storm features a fine looking armoured car called Titus.
Titus is armed with 24 cameras to allow the storm chasers to capture the storm from the (supposed) safety of the interior, and the vehicle is built to withstand 170mph winds (incidentally, the El Reno twister was recorded as having wind speeds of up to 301mph…) thanks to being able to spike itself to the ground.
Titus was designed by Production Designer, David Sandefur and is based on a modified Dodge pickup, though you’d be hard pressed to recognise it as such. Detroit based Custom Creations built the vehicle in 12 weeks, but in reality it wasn’t capable of withstanding any storm. Titus leaked and was so heavy that it managed to destroy its own shocks within a week. Clearly Dodge pickups have their limits. Titus looks near perfect on film though.
So is the idea of a Titus far fetched? Not at all, though the safety of such vehicles is not scientifically proven, Titus was actually based on a real storm chasing vehicle known as Dominator 3, one of a series of vehicles used in the Storm Chasers series on Discovery. This is based on the original Dominator SRV (Storm Research Vehicle). While Titus clearly doesn’t look anything like the less-than-glamorous Dominator SRV (Titus looks far more Hollywood), there are many similarities…
The Dominator was originally a customised and modified Chevrolet Tahoe with bulletproof glass and Lexan (polycarbonate) armour plating along with more traditional steel. The original Dominator, the brainchild of Reed Timmer, Kevin Barton and Terry Rosema, was not actually intended to enter the heart of a tornado or storm, but simply to get as close as reasonably possible. Vertically scanning radar allowed the brave souls inside to attempt to record the wind speeds within the tornado at various heights.
Dominator 2 was based on a GMC Yukon XL SUV and was the first to feature ground anchoring spikes as a direct result of a scary moment in the life of the original Dominator where storm force winds managed to make Dominator 1 look like it was sliding on ice. A hardwearing, abrasion, rust and corrosion resistant protective military grade coating, LINE-X, surrounds the new storm-chasing vehicle. This Dominator was designed to be capable of entering into the heart of the storm, yet despite the upgrades, the vehicle was outwitted by the infamous El Reno storm where it had parts ripped clean off by the powerful winds.
The gull-wing door wielding Dominator 3 arrived in 2013, more or less as filming of Into the Storm began and was subsequently high on the radar of both Steven Quale and David Sandefur. The vehicle was based on a Ford Super Duty truck – a vehicle that is already built from extra strength military grade aluminium alloy along with high strength steel. The Super Duty can tow more than any other vehicle in its class – and all this before it had even been modified…
Anchoring to the ground is completed with hydraulic spikes and has a powerful electric winch, just like the Titus (the winch is used to great effect in the latter part of the movie). Each Dominator has the wheels completely covered for protection and to minimise the chance of strong winds being able to get under the vehicle and lift it. Power for the original Dominator came courtesy of a V8 engine to get that hefty 3,600kg moving. Dominator 3 dropped the petrol V8 in favour of a turbocharged diesel V8.
If you want to see Titus for yourself, Into the Storm can currently be found in the UK on Amazon Prime (streaming free to subscribers) and for rental on YouTube, Apple, Sky and Google Play among others.
Images/video: twitter.com, tvnweather.com, variety.com, exogear.com, jalopnik.com, justacarguy.blogspot.com