Giant walls could stop tornadoes

This photo, captured by Elizabeth Quillman, shows an apparent tornado on the ground in Central Illinois. (CNN)

This photo, captured by Elizabeth Quillman, shows an apparent tornado on the ground in Central Illinois. (CNN)

In a recent article in “Time”, Professor Rongjia Tao of Temple University claims that building large tornado walls could save lives and property by stopping twisters before they begin. Could a “Great Wall of America” really stop tornadoes?

Professor Tao’s proposal calls for the construction of three walls,  1,000 feet tall and up to 100 miles long. These walls (with a $16.9 billion price tag) would be built in North Dakota, along the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and in Texas and Louisiana. Tao claims these walls would act like mountain ranges and soften the streams of hot southern and cold northern air before tornadoes could form.

So would these walls actually work? In theory, yes. In actuality, no. Tao’s plan is based on the concept that mountains or changes in elevation disrupt thunderstorm development. We see this phenomenon all the time in Virginia and North Carolina.

A line of thunderstorms develops along the Mississippi River and moves east. Storms gain strength and tornadoes start to form on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. As the storms go over the mountains the column of air under and inside the storm is compressed or “squished”. This disrupts the storm and it tends to weaken or fall apart. As a result we see weaker storms in areas near Charlottesville. Once over the flat land again the storms often “re-fire up” near Richmond.

Would the “tornado walls” have this same effect in the Mid-West? Sure, they would help to disrupt thunderstorms.  Would they work every time or stop all storms? Absolutely not. Every part of VA and NC sees tornadoes, coastal, piedmont, and mountains.

A second issue (and much more serious in my opinion) is what would happen within the atmosphere IF the tornado walls actually worked. To construct a man made wall that “stops tornadoes” from forming would upset the balance of the atmosphere.

The global weather patterns all work in a cycle, one storm moves downstream and impacts other parts of the world, like a wave. Everything staying in balance… one area sees “bad weather” another areas sees “good weather”… things move and change over time. If we were to manually force change within the atmosphere the downstream impact is unknown and could cause all sorts of unknown and unwanted reactions. Tao’s proposal could be creating a 1,000 foot tall “butterfly effect” within the atmosphere.

Check out the entire “Time” article here: http://time.com/17021/physicist-claims-giant-walls-could-stop-tornadoes-in-midwest/

-Meteorologist Myles Henderson

1 Comment

  • Jean SmilingCoyote

    I’m one of the people who reject this idea for all the reasons everyone else has said. I even emailed Dr. Tao directly with my opinion. He thought the news reports based on the abstract were misleading, and the criticisms misguided. He stood his ground on his opinion. I can look at the entire TIME article after posting this. The best way to minimize tornado damage is to build with reinforced concrete walls and roofs in all regions where FEMA 320 maps them as a “high risk” or “moderate risk” zone of extreme winds, and recommends a “safe room” in every home and small business. It’s not being done enough. After every EF3+ tornado, we read stories about homes being replaced by the status quo ante construction. Habitat for Humanity did this in Granbury, TX. A mobile home was replaced by another in Harrisburg, IL. The same is probably being done in Washington, IL too. FEMA 320 has no teeth, and the education’s not getting to the people who need it before they make rebuilding choices. Severe weather is part of the Hadley Cell circulation. I have referrals to FEMA 320 and reinforced concrete construction options on my website to make searching more efficient. Free to all.

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