Local News Spotlight

Dominator 3 visits KC for extra coating before heading back into storms

Updated: 2013-05-31T02:37:10Z

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON

The Kansas City Star

Kevin Barton means no disrespect to the Kansas City area when he says he’d rather not be here.

Barton is a fabricator and storm chaser for TVNweather.com and owner of Extreme Tornado Tours, so he would prefer to be out chasing storms.

“We hate missing tornadoes,” said Barton, who was in North Kansas City on Thursday while TVNweather.com’s newest research/storm-chasing vehicle, the Dominator 3, was getting a protective coating of Line-X.

In the past few weeks, the Dominators have been seen in YouTube videos intercepting tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas.

“We teamed up with Line-X and use their protective coating on our outer shell of our vehicle to help protect us from flying debris,” said Barton. “It’s a coating, for us, that is extremely tough and adds a lot of protection, and it looks good.”

Your average person might use the coating to protect the bed of a pickup truck. But for the Dominator 3, it’s replacing paint.

“They wouldn’t make it through two tornadoes without being stripped of their paint,” Barton said.

The coating also adds one more layer of protection.

The Dominator 3 was built on a Ford F-350 crew cab pickup truck in Barton’s shop in Freeport, Mich. Construction on the vehicle began Dec. 22, and it was put into service May 1 in Oklahoma.

“It was kind of a rush job, and we really didn’t know we would be building it for sure until really late,” Barton said. “So we really did cram to get it finished.”

The vehicle is the largest of the three Dominators, weighing just shy of five tons. The two earlier models are still in use.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the only Ford F-350 with gull-wing doors,” Barton said.

When they are open, they offer protection from rain and hail to allow filming and for firing weather probes into tornadoes.

“It really does give the vehicle a unique look,” Barton said.

The Dominator 3 hardly looks like a pickup. It has a complete exoskeleton on the outside, and the pickup box has been removed.

“We basically turned the pickup into a giant SUV,” Barton said. “We added a fifth seat so that it would hold five people.”

Unlike the previous two vehicles, there’s also room for rescue gear, including a large first-aid kit and hydraulic rescue tools. The driver is a trained first responder and volunteer fireman.

“So many times when we are chasing tornadoes, we see the tornadoes come down, and if they do hit a neighborhood, town or any structure, a lot of times we are first on the scene,” Barton said. “We need to be prepared.”

The vehicle is also designed to be driven into a tornado.

The truck has an air bag suspension system that allows it to be lowered to the ground. That feature and a rubber skirting at the base seals against the ground and prevents wind from getting underneath.

“If the wind can’t get underneath, it can’t lift it,” Barton said.

The truck also has a pair of spikes behind the front wheels that can be driven about 8 inches into the ground, keeping winds from pushing the vehicle.

The vehicle weighs 9,500 pounds and gets about 18 miles per gallon.

The Dominator 3 has already intercepted two tornadoes. Its first was the Edmond, Okla., tornado on May 19. The second one was also that day.

With the addition of the Dominator 3, TVNweather.com’s science mission has grown.

Initially, the organization was going to retire the original Dominator, but it decided to use all three vehicles to surround a storm.

“Having three Dominators increases the odds of getting in and getting the data,” Barton said.

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.

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