Could a Wall Stop a Tornado? Dr Tao thinks so.

Recently, well-respected physicist,Ronjia Tao of Temple University authored a controversial paper that proposes building a giant wall around some of the Great Plains states in order to stop a tornado. He is by no means some kook out in left-field, but truly believes that building a wall 1000 feet high and 150 feet thick will prevent loss of life and damage from a tornado. While his premise is based somewhat on hard science, there is an  incorrect assumption on his part, that reveal an unfamiliarity with meteorological principles and tornado behavior. After all, Dr. Tao is a physicist, NOT a meteorologist. Building a giant wall to stop tornadoes is not logistically possible, financially feasible, and an exercise in futility. (Insert cheesy “resistance is futile” pun here.)

Could a tornado wall protect tornado alley? Image from Fox News

Key point of Dr. Tao’s proposal:
1. An east-west wall 1000 feet high and 150 feet thick, would stop or otherwise interrupt north-south airflow patterns, thereby eliminating the root cause of tornadoes. This premise is based on an incorrect assumption about the role that similarly sized mountains play in China. Dr. Tao believes that these east-west mountain ranges in China prevent tornadoes from forming, and act as a deterrent.

WHY THIS IS INCORRECT: China does have tornadoes, so obviously the mountains there aren’t having the impact on weather he states they are. Additionally, there are already similarly sized mountain ranges in the Plains states, where tornadoes are plentiful every year. In physics theory, it makes sense, but in a meteorological reality, it’s not possible to affect air masses with man-made structures. Dr. Tao also doesn’t not take into consideration that tornadoes are not really that predictable. We still don’t know what the trigger that makes a tornado form in one spot over another. Tornadoes touch down wherever,can jump buildings, AND walls.

A slender white tornado churns across farmland near Stuart Nebraska on June 9th, 2003. This same storm produced a large long-track tornado north of ONeill that resulted in the destruction of several farmsteads Image from Huffington Post

Even if it was possible to affect the air masses with a giant wall, the cost alone would be prohibitive. The estimated cost to build such a wall is about $60 billion dollars PER 100 MILES. For that kind of money, storm shelters could be built for every family and school that needs one. And a storm shelter is a much better defense against a violent tornado than anything else.

So, to answer the question, “What can stop a tornado?”
Nothing that we know of at this point. And certainly not a giant wall that would cost more money than its worth to build.

Zach Roberts

Zach Roberts

Owner/Storm Chaser/Photographer at Mr Twister
Hello and welcome my fellow photography and weather enthusiasts! I hope you enjoy my website and my photography. Nothing else in the world compares to seeing the beauty of mother nature in person, and I truly enjoying sharing my passion with you.
Zach Roberts

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