It's been a quiet tornado year in Minnesota, but the Science Museum of Minnesota is hoping to change all that.
Eight years in the making, the film "Tornado Alley," will begin its run at the St. Paul museum's Omnitheater on Sept. 28.
The documentary will include an appearance by a larger-than-life, Minnesota-born-and-bred villain -- the June 17, 2010, Wadena tornado, an EF4 that destroyed 100 homes and 20 businesses, damaged 400 homes and took out the city's high school.
Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden is planning to see the film but will approach it with mixed emotions. A new $38 million high school opened last week, but many residents continue to struggle financially and emotionally, he said.
"I believe the intent [of the film] is to show the force and the power of a tornado, and if it shows the miracles we experienced, then it will have done its job," he said.
Mike Day, executive producer of "Tornado Alley" and senior vice president of the Science Museum, is touring Minnesota and Wisconsin this week with one of the film's stars: the 14,000-pound armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV). He said the film promises to blend science, education and terror in equal measures.
"Tornado Alley" focuses on Sean Casey, star of the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" series, and an Imax filmmaker who designed and built the TIV. It took eight years to make because that's how long it took for Casey to get into a tornado.
Much of the footage was shot in 2009 and 2010 in collaboration with Vortex 2, a research project that sent hundreds of researchers across the Great Plains in May and June of 2009 and 2010 with instructions to get in the path of tornadoes with barometers, wind speed and temperature detectors and, of course, cameras. Day said the film will leave out the tedium many of them experienced, particularly in 2009, when their only intercept came on the final day of the project.
"It condenses everything," he said of the film. "... But it doesn't miss the point of how dangerous it is."
If the TIV's visit Monday to Rochester is any indication, the film is at least likely to connect with Minnesotans' fascination with severe weather and the ways that people document it. A stream of visitors, many of them parents with children, and some of them trained storm spotters and fans of "Storm Chasers," peeked through the open windows at the no-nonsense interior with its swivel seats, glass dome and mount for a 70-millimeter Imax camera.
Ten-year-old Caleb Timmerman couldn't seem to say enough about the vehicle that has withstood 150-mile-per-hour winds and looks like part bomber, part tank, part insect and part alien cruise ship.
"It's very cool. It has heavy-duty armor. It can't be punctured!" he said. "I like the color. It looks evil!"
The TIV is scheduled to visit St. Cloud on Wednesday and Duluth on Thursday.
Despite the high-profile attention tornadoes have received in recent years, much about them remains mysterious. Researchers would like to find out why some storms produce tornadoes but most don't, and what generates tornados of various strengths.
Brandon Ivey, meteorologist and navigator on the TIV, said he isn't disappointed that this year brought roughly one-third fewer tornadoes than normal (in an age when tornado counts generally have been up).
"After chasing so many in 2011, and seeing so many communities destroyed, it's about time Mother Nature took a break," he said.
"You never want to see that," he added, describing the experience of seeing the EF4 tornado chew up Wadena. "It takes a toll on you. Hopefully people will be fascinated and intrigued by the movie. But hopefully they'll also learn some respect for tornadoes and the power behind the weather."
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646