Can a 'Great Wall' stop American tornadoes?
It sounds ridiculous. Not even the Wizard of Oz could stop the great power that is harnessed in a tornado. However, Prof Rongjia Tao, of Temple University, Philadelphia thinks it just might be possible.
Prof. Tao says to build a wall -- a Great Wall -- that would stand nearly 1,000 feet tall and be 150 feet wide.
It doesn't stop there. He wants to build not one but three of them. These walls would span 100 miles in an east and west direction to act as barriers to stop the warm influx of gulf moisture that fuel super cell thunderstorms; the catalyst to many tornadoes.
According to USA Today, each wall would cost around $60 billion per 100 miles and there is no guarantee of it's success. In fact, it would likely be the "Galloping Gertie" of atmospheric engineering; Galloping Gertie referring to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that fell apart in a spectacular collapse during gale force winds in 1940.
Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma (interviewed by the BBC and USA Today) says "it wouldn't work. If his hypothesis was true, we'd already have the thing he wants to build naturally," Brooks said.
If a tornado could express emotion, it would be bordering between a chuckle and a guffaw when approaching this wall. When faced with the hellacious fury of an EF-5 tornado, this wall would be reduced to nothing more than flying bricks and mortar at 300 mph.
The BBC interviewed another leading tornado expert, Prof Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research, who was equally dismissive of Prof Tao's proposal. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
"Everybody I know is of 100% agreement - this is a poorly conceived idea," he told BBC News.
"From what I can gather his concept of how tornadoes form is fundamentally flawed. Meteorologists cringe when they hear about 'clashing hot and cold air'. It's a lot more complicated than that."
Though much of the blame does lie with warm air rushing north from the Gulf of Mexico, stopping it would be nigh on impossible, Prof Wurman says.
"Perhaps if he built his barrier on the scale of the Alps - 2,000-3,000m (9,800ft) high, it would disrupt it," he says.
"But clearly that would also cause a drastic change in climate."
And there lies the real crux of the problem, says Prof Wurman. Any geoengineering scheme powerful enough to eliminate tornadoes would also by definition have catastrophic side effects.
"The cure could be worse than the disease," he told BBC News.
"So the solution to tornadoes is not trying to get rid of them.
"It's better predictions and warnings so people can get out of way. Better homes. Better shelters."
We have weather for a reason. Weather is what keeps the planet in check. Weather does the work to equalize temperature and pressures across the surface. While it's unfortunate that tornadoes and hurricanes disrupt and kill many lives, without them, the Earth would be an uninhabitable place.
To quote Dr. Malcolm from the classic movie 'Jurassic Park,' "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." In this case, let's just leave well enough alone.
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