The Tornado Chasing ‘Dominator 3’ Started Life As a 2013 Ford F-350 Super Duty
It weighs 11,000 pounds and can withstand winds of up to 200 mph.
Wet weather meeting dry air across the Midwest this spring has the unfortunate consequence of creating surging storms and, in some cases, tornados. Across the plains of Eastern Colorado, near where I live, that means storm chasers are hunting storms like Reed Timmer’s Dominator 3, which was spotted near Denver this week. If you’ve never seen the storm-chasing ‘ute before, it’s equal parts impressive, intimidating, and kinda cool.
According to Timmer, the Dominator 3 started life as a 2013 Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup heavily modified with armor tough enough to withstand EF5 tornado winds of up to 200 mph. Under the hood is a relatively stock 6.7-liter turbodiesel that makes 400 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic. The suspension was upgraded to an airbag setup that can drop the vehicle and its armor down to the ground to hunker down in a tornado, while spikes can deploy and grip the ground. Wind speed sensors — including small rockets that also carry sensors — are fitted to the top of the truck. Gullwing doors made from 16-gauge steel reinforced with Kevlar and Lexan double-pane windows presumably keep projectiles on the outside. That means the truck weighs 11,000 pounds, and fuel economy is predictably lousy.
The bulky mass is designed to deflect wind around the truck better, although it’s still susceptible to tipping over when extreme winds batter the side of the truck instead of head-on. The seats inside have four-point harnesses for driver and passengers, including helmets.
Timmer told Jay Leno in 2021 that he estimates the rig costs roughly $750,000 all-in. Dominator 3’s predecessors — named Dominator 1 and 2, naturally — were similar rigs built on a 2007 Chevy Tahoe and 2011 GMC Yukon XL, respectively. Both were disabled during storms or suffered various mechanical failures over the past few years. Timmer is crisscrossing the Midwest, including Texas and Oklahoma, chasing tornados this spring, although the Dominator has also been used to drive into blizzards.
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