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

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