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Meteorologist Brandon Ivey, left, and TIV chief Sean Casey from the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" answer questions from Kelby Gingerich, 8, while waiting out nice weather in East Grand Forks in search of storms Tuesday evening. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.
Meteorologist Brandon Ivey, left, and TIV chief Sean Casey from the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" answer questions from Kelby Gingerich, 8, while waiting out nice weather in East Grand Forks in search of storms Tuesday evening. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Discovery Channel's 'Storm Chasers' makes local stop

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The nation's most famous tornado doggers were in the eye of a maelstrom of public interest Tuesday afternoon in downtown East Grand Forks.

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Jaxon Middleton had to know: "Have you been in a tornado? Is it awesome?"

Middleton, 14, and his friends -- brothers Kelby, 8, Kyler, 10, and Kiefer Gingerich, 12, swarmed around the "Tornado Interceptor Vehicle," parked on DeMers Avenue, popping questions at Brandon Ivey.

Ivey is navigator and meteorologist for this nine-member team of the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers who drive up and down and through the nation's "tornado alley" looking for weather in the worst way.

The Discovery Channel has several such teams, often criss-crossing each other, Ivey said. Last week, another team was seen in Grand Forks.

Tuesday, the hot-cold weather difference made the Red River Valley's north end look good, Ivey said.

"There's a chance of tornadoes around here tonight," he said. It was 102 degrees Tuesday in Minneapolis and 93 in Fargo, but only about 73 in East Grand Forks when they arrived, Ivey said. That temperature difference created conditions for storms. The National Weather Service said about 5 p.m. Tuesday that large hail and damaging winds might hit across the region.

The fact that the difference between the dew point and the temperature was narrower up here than in the Twin Cities meant this was better storm-brewing weather, Ivey said.

But by about 6 p.m., Ivey said a "cap" high in the atmosphere was probably thwarting the formation of any tornadoes. But that could change by later Tuesday night, he said.

"It's all a matter of timing," he said.

Meanwhile, he and other team members were deluged with passersbys attracted to the Mad-Max-military-looking Interceptor.

Sean Casey, the storm chaser team member many see on camera during the show, built it, Casey said. It started as a Dodge 3500 pickup truck, with steel plating, tandem duals and thick windows added, boosting the weight to seven tons. It gets about 10 miles per gallon and can't really go off-road because of its weight.

Four storm chasers ride inside, one sometimes standing in the turret to shoot video of a tornado through an open window "till the last minute," Ivey said.

Other team members ride in SUVs. There are eight other such teams crossing the Midwest during, the tornado season.

"I've been in three tornadoes," Ivey tells the four Grand Forks boys who stopped on their way to swim in the East Grand Forks pool. The Interceptor is safe in a "weak" tornado, up to EF-3, Ivey said, and has been inside five tornadoes. "Ones without too much debris."

Some stark humor is punched into the steel around the rear California license plate: "Do Not Follow During Adverse Weather," visible from about 20 feet.

The team spent the past several days in Omaha, and Monday night stayed in Watertown, S.D., before heading to East Grand Forks because that's where the forecast gave them the best chance of catching some really bad weather, Casey said.

Early Tuesday, the National Weather Service said low pressure near Crookston by about 7 p.m. would aid in severe thunderstorms developing "along and north of this low and warm front. The best chance of severe storms containing isolated tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds should occur to the east of Grand Forks from Crookston to Fosston to Bemidji and points north."

But by about 6 p.m., the forecast was milder, for not much more than scattered thunderstorms across the region, some perhaps severe.

The team was philosophical about it all.

"Just hanging out, waiting for the weather," Casey said.

About 9 p.m., the weather service issued a tornado warning for northeast LaMoure County southwest of Valley City, N.D., until about 9:15 p.m., saying radar showed a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado moving from southeast of Marion, N.D., to the east at 50 mph. Or about 150 miles southwest of Grand Forks, where the storm chasers were parked downtown outside a restaurant about 9 p.m.

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