(Photo: National Severe Storms Laboratory)
Rongjia Tao is a physicist at Temple University in Philadelphia. He has a radical idea about how to reduce the damage of tornadoes in Tornado Alley--the plains states in the central United States. He wants to build three walls across the United States, running east to west: one in North Dakota, one on the border of Kansas and Oklahoma and one in southern Texas and Louisiana. Each wall would be about 1,000 feet high and 150 feet thick. Tao estimates that the project would cost about $60 billion per 100 miles of wall.
These walls, Tao argues, would reduce air flow as mountains do:
He said that major tornadoes in Tornado Alley are created from the violent clashes between the northbound warm air flow and southbound cold air flow. He adds that because there are no west-to-east mountains in Tornado Alley to weaken the air flow, collisions between warm and cold air create turbulence and supercells that spawn tornadoes. [...]
The walls would stop the flow of air from north and south, thus preventing the tornadoes from forming, he said. As an example he cites China, where east-west mountain ranges help reduce tornadoes there.
Other scientists think that Tao is completely wrong. Harold Brooks, a tornado researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, says that Tao doesn’t understand how tornadoes work:
Brooks said that China has deadly tornadoes despite the east-west mountain ranges there. In addition, he said, tornadoes still occur in parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri despite the presence there of smaller east-west mountain ranges similar ni size to Tao's proposed walls.
"If his hypothesis was true, we'd already have the thing he wants to build naturally," Brooks said
"This is essentially a case of a physicist, who may be very good in his sub-discipline, talking about a subject about which he is abysmally ignorant," Brooks said.
-via Robb Allen