Great Wall of Kansas? Professor proposes tornado walls

WICHITA, Kansas – Could three walls built 1,000 feet high and 150 feet thick potentially limit the number of tornadoes in Tornado Alley? One professor seems to think so, but many meteorologists and other people are skeptical.

Dr. Rongjia Tao, a physicist and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, is set to release research next week that suggests building three walls in Tornado Alley would diminish the threat of tornadoes in the area, according to an abstract posted for the American Physical Society conference.

The walls would run east to west. One would be built along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, one in North Dakota, and one in south Texas and Louisiana. It would be three times as tall as the Epic Center in downtown Wichita, the tallest building in Kansas.

But aside from the expected astronomical cost to build these walls, meteorologists say the walls would likely have unintended consequences.

“It’s not only not practical, but it really does have the possibility of creating many more problems than it would supposedly solve,” KSN chief meteorologist Dave Freeman said.

The wall would cast an almost permanent shadow over southern Kansas, and effectively create a dam effect, keeping colder air in Kansas and warmer air in Oklahoma. The remaining warm air that drifts over the wall would combine with the cold air to cover Kansas in a perpetual state of freezing drizzle, Freeman said.

Residents KSN spoke to were thought the idea was misguided at best.

“I think a tornado wall is the most foolish thing I have ever heard of,” Erin Harris said. “You’re not going to stop a tornado, and the expense of building a wall is just money down the drain.”

“How do you know where a tornado will touch down?” Clark Myers asked. “It’s going to touch down where it’s going to touch down. It goes over walls.”

Others questioned the rationale of the study.

“I just don’t see a wall cutting it,” Hillary Holeman said. “[The scientists] should be spending their time on other things, it seems.”

A representative with the National Academy of Sciences told KSN the research was still under review, and as a result, would not make Dr. Tao available for comment. His findings are set to be unveiled in a presentation next Wednesday at the American Physical Society conference in Denver.

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