Could Giant Walls Prevent Tornadoes?

The idea is to build three walls, 1,000 feet high and 150 feet wide, running east to west across the country’s middle

Tornado Justin Hobson

What if there was a way to keep tornadoes from forming? Physicist Ronjia Tao of Temple University thinks that there might be. At a meeting of the American Physical Society, Tao suggested that giant walls built across Tornado Alley could potentially disrupt weather patterns enough that they would reduce the threat of tornadoes in the area.

Tao's idea is this: Change weather patterns by building three walls, 1,000 feet high and 150 feet wide, running east to west in North Dakota, along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, and through an area of Texas and Louisiana. 

If this sounds like a wacky idea, well, it just might be. Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research told the BBC that in addition to being “a poorly conceived idea,” the proposed walls would be too small to actually disrupt weather patterns. He also worried that walls that were large enough to change weather patterns could have unforseen consequences.  

NOAA’s National Severe Storm Laboratory answers the question ‘Can tornadoes be stopped?” in this FAQ:

You have to consider that the tornado is part of something bigger: the supercell thunderstorm. Unless you disrupt the supercell thunderstorm itself, you would likely have another tornado, even if you were able to destroy the first. The thunderstorm's energy is much greater than the tornado. No one has tried to disrupt the tornado because the methods to do so could likely cause even more damage than the tornado. Detonating a hydrogen bomb, for example, to disrupt a tornado would be even more deadly and destructive than the tornado itself. Lesser things (like huge piles of dry ice or smaller conventional weaponry) would be too hard to deploy in the right place fast enough, and would likely not have enough impact to affect the tornado much anyway.

Of course, that doesn’t stop people from trying. In addition to giant walls and the strangely persistent idea of nuclear bombs, other methods have been suggested over the years, including microwaving storms using solar powered satellites, a vaguely defined airborne device that would disrupt wind patterns and cloud seeding.

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