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A Physicist Says He Can Tornado-Proof the Midwest With 1,000-Foot Walls 501

Posted by samzenpus
from the up-against-the-wall dept.
meghan elizabeth writes: Temple physicist Rongjia Tao has a utopian proposal to build three massive, 1,000-foot-high, 165-foot-thick walls around the American Midwest, in order to keep the tornadoes out. Building three unfathomably massive anti-tornado walls would count as the infrastructure project of the decade, if not the century. It would be also be exceedingly expensive. "Building such walls is feasible," Tao says. "They are much easier than constructing a skyscraper. For example, in Philadelphia, the newly completed Comcast building has about 300-meter height. The wall with similar height as the Comcast building should be much easier to be constructed." Update: 06/28 04:14 GMT by T : Note: originally, this story said that Tao was at Drexel rather than Temple -- now corrected
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A Physicist Says He Can Tornado-Proof the Midwest With 1,000-Foot Walls

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  • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:32PM (#47320359)

    ...kaiju protection.

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:33PM (#47320365)

    Homeland Security will jump on this as the perfect opportunity to build a prison large enough to hold us.

    • by Ronin Developer (67677) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:41PM (#47320439)

      Okay...I am embarrassed...I WENT to Drexel. A 1000 ft wall AROUND the mid-west?

      What happens if somebody decides to fill it with water?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The US governement can't even get off their ass to build a 30ft high fence along our southern border even though they got congressional approval and have millions of people wanting it... not to mention that fence would have a bigger positive benefit in our economy, crime-rate, and prison population that a frigin cement wall around the mid-west would.
      • by narcc (412956)

        You actually believe that such a fence would keep people out?

        Amazing.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          You actually believe that such a fence would keep people out?

          Amazing.

          It works in Israel, and it more or less works in Spain. What's the difference? Israel proactively patrols the border. In Spain has various groups that actively work against the border patorls, much like in the US where the current administration is doing the same thing at the behest of various groups. You guys are dense as a post, and I can almost bet that Canada would have a fence in place with active patrols along the border if the US turned into a 3rd world state.

          • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:35PM (#47321689)
            It works in Israel because there is a fraction of the linear border distance to fence and patrol and maintain. Israel has less than 760 kilometers of fence, The USA/Mexico border is around 3,169 km long. It also crosses some of the most inhospitable desert on the content. This adds more than a little difficulty in patrolling and maintaining any sort of 'fence'
            • It helps too as they are pretty much at war with their neighbors...so they can just shoot people far easier. If this many people rushed the Israeli border the IDF probably would have bombed them by now.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by NFN_NLN (633283)

          You actually believe that such a fence would keep people out?

          Amazing.

          Great Wall of China... Mongols. I rest my case.

          • Great Wall of China... Mongols. I rest my case.

            Yeah, that worked real well. [wikipedia.org]

            • by sadboyzz (1190877) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @12:00PM (#47325717)

              Great Wall of China... Mongols. I rest my case.

              Yeah, that worked real well. [wikipedia.org]

              Actually, it's a common misconception to think that the Great Wall was built as a military defense mechanism in the event of full scale war. For one, it's too low, easily scalable by an army with the right tools. And secondly, it's too long, and can never be effectively manned along the full length. All in all, the Great Wall was never designed to function like a city wall.

              What the wall really does, and it does well, is act as a deterent and early warning mechanism against the annual and semi-annual small scale border raids from the northern nomadic tribes, where riders would just charge down south, loot what they can and quickly retreat back into the great prairies. It's actually a (relatively) economical answer to a persistent problem -- for it's very expensive for a settled agricutural civilization to mobilize an army, while it costs almost nothing for the nomads to gather up a group of riders and raid a small border settlement.

              And BTW, China is far from the only one in building a wall. Almost every settled civilization on the Eurasian continent, from Korea [wikipedia.org] all the way [wikipedia.org] to England [wikipedia.org], built a wall at some point in their history. The Chinese wall was the largest simply because China face the greatest threat from the Mongolian plains, which produced some of the most brutal and effiecient nomadic people in human history.

      • by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:54PM (#47321543) Homepage

        I always thought the best method was to create inverted solar heated funnels with built in wind turbines at ground level and at the outlet, to basically create safety valves to enable hot air at ground level to continually vent to upper atmosphere and as a bonus provide energy to pay for the system. This to prevent the destructive funnel that would otherwise occur. You would need to space them so as to substantially reduce the risk of the natural funnel forming. You could also use them as communication towers, wireless and microwave broadband and mobile phones. As an additional bonus dependent upon region they can also collect water via direct rainfall as well as condensation.

        So rather than just attempting to solve one problem badly. A little out of the box thinking and funnel, 'heh' 'heh', many problems into one solution and achieve a far higher level of cost efficiency.

      • The US governement can't even get off their ass to build a 30ft high fence along our southern border even though they got congressional approval and have millions of people wanting it

        Who wants it?

        • Do the politicians really want it? Or would they rather have an imminent threat of "illegals" to whip everyone else into a frenzy with?
        • Do the rich want it? Or would they prefer to hire cheap labor?
        • Do businesses want it? Or would they prefer to hire cheap labor and sell to them?
        • Do most citizens want it? Or
    • by freeze128 (544774)
      I think it's a good idea to build a wall to prevent tornadoes, and I think the insurance companies should fund it. It only makes sense, since they have the most to gain from it.
  • Now we know (Score:5, Funny)

    by Punto (100573) <puntob.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:33PM (#47320371) Homepage

    Now we know why there are no Tornados in Westeros.

  • by Aighearach (97333) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:34PM (#47320379) Homepage

    If you can go with a slope and build it as a triangular prism then it is easy to build, like a long pyramid. Jobs, jobs, jobs!

    • If you can go with a slope and build it as a triangular prism then it is easy to build, like a long pyramid. Jobs, jobs, jobs!

      To me, the whole things sounds suspiciously like the Law of Unintended Consequences just waiting to happen.

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:41PM (#47320437)

    If you're going to build something that large you might as well make it dual use. How about an archology? [wikipedia.org]

  • by CQDX (2720013) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:48PM (#47320489)

    The only natural predator of trailer homes are tornadoes. Are we prepared for the inevitable population explosion if we defeat tornadoes in the Mid-West? I don't think we'll be able to build Wal-marts fast enough.

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:58PM (#47320541)

    Building three unfathomably massive anti-tornado walls would count as the infrastructure project of the decade, if not the century. It would be also be exceedingly expensive.

    If it is not exceedingly expensive, it's not the infrastructure project of the century.

  • Pedestrian (Score:4, Funny)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:00PM (#47320555)

    Construct mighty engines of fearsome complexity and madness-inducing size to redirect the gyronormous aetheric power of these "tornadoes" towards the hated enemy.

    Nobody thinks cyclopean these days, that's what's wrong with society.

  • by Hussman32 (751772) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:02PM (#47320569)
    In theory, everything works in practice. In practice, it doesn't.
  • by Pete Venkman (1659965) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:03PM (#47320573) Journal
    That it only works for square tornadoes on an infinite plane of uniform density?
  • Oh Geeez (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jmd (14060) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:05PM (#47320579)

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to move all of the people in the midwest to China? That's where all the jobs went anyway

  • by jabberw0k (62554) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:12PM (#47320609) Homepage Journal
    Hey, those could be Solar Freakin' Walls and they could be made out of scratch-proof glass, topped with windmills and LEDs that you can see in the daytime and generate eleventysix times the electricity of [[transmission garbled]]
  • by statemachine (840641) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:14PM (#47320623)

    $160 million per mile, to prevent an average of 50-60 tornado deaths per year?

    1) Build 1000 miles? Only $160 billion? Is that cost of labor alone? What about the cost of land?
    2) Build just for cities? Which cities?
    3) How does a city afford even 1 mile of wall?

    We can drop nukes in tornadoes too for much less, not that I'm advocating that either.

    Just last year, there were 32,850 vehicle fatalities [nhtsa.gov] in the good ol' USofA.

    Driverless cars would've prevented 99% of the crashes. Let's concentrate on rolling those out first and soon.

    • by Sasayaki (1096761)

      Fucking this.

    • What's the economic damage of shutdowns due to tornados?

      A lot of talk about a city's traffic problems essentially focuses on the fact that a major car accident can wipe out productivity for an entire morning or day in a metropolis. How much productivity is being lost due to tornados? If you could prevent them entirely, then it could easily pay back many, many times the construction cost.

      • NHTSA: Economic costs of car crashes $277 billion [detroitnews.com]

        I've provided two links now. Where are yours?

    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      We can drop nukes in tornadoes too for much less, not that I'm advocating that either.

      But we should probably keep this in mind in case of Sharknado.

    • by Guspaz (556486)

      One mile of this wall would seem to me to be like roughly five hoover dams. The hoover dam cost $750 million in today's dollars. So wouldn't one mile of this super-wall cost $3.75 billion, not $160 million?

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > We can drop nukes in tornadoes too for much less, not that I'm advocating that either.

      But MAN.... that'd be cool to watch. From a safe distance.

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:19PM (#47320649) Journal
    Needs it's own Bad News Brian meme. Here you go. [memegenerator.net]
  • by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:26PM (#47320699) Homepage Journal

    They're coming here, stealing our jobs. We need to build a fence to keep them out, and allow warrentless searches of anyone who looks like a tornado. Ironically, to save on costs, most of the wall will actually be built by tornadoes.

  • The proposal isn't to build a wall "around" anything. The proposal is to build three east-west walls to mimic the mountain ranges that have successfully limited supercell production in tornado alleys elsewhere on earth. Why OP threw in the word "around" is beyond me.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:31PM (#47320733) Homepage

    As an earthmoving project, each kilometer of wall is 18M cubic meters. The Panama Canal was about 250M cubic meters of earthmoving. So every 14KM of wall is one Panama Canal. The proposed Arabian Canal [wikipedia.org] near Dubai (to create "valuable waterfront property" accessable by yacht) would require about 1100M cubic meters of earthmoving. So one Arabian Canal is about 60KM of wall.

    In terms of speed, one Bagger 288 [wikipedia.org] can move about 250K cubic meters of earth a day. That's 5KM of wall per year. With one such $100 million machine for every 100KM of wall, the project would take 20 years.

    It's a big project, but not impossibly big. Just expensively big.

  • Or (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArchieBunker (132337)

    People could stop living in places where a tornado comes through every few years. You hear the same complaints about people living in flood plains

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > People could stop living in places where a tornado comes through every few years.

      Unfortunately, that's where the food grows.

      > You hear the same complaints about people living in flood plains

      I think you do have a point there.

    • Yeah, they should move instead to a Hurricane Zone, Flood Zone, Earthquake Zone, or Storm of the Century Zone (? - OK, Noreasters or whatever the devil it is they're called.)

      ...which unfortunately is the whole of the rest of the country I believe.

  • Some sort of structure that, when placed in the path of wind, produces a clockwise rotation in it (opposite that of cyclonic rotation). Ideally, these could be built as earthworks in the path tornadoes take to approach high value targets (towns, etc). If the earthworks could be built low and wide, the land could still be used for agriculture.

    I'll leave the details to actual mechanical and civil engineers. And collect my patent fees per the usual USPTO process.

  • Appalachians (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:38PM (#47320775) Homepage Journal

    I live in the Appalachian mountains. As I watch weather radar, observing weather systems come at us from the west, I've seen dozens if not hundreds of times over the years where very powerful, well-defined weather systems (individual cells as well as frontal systems) totally disintegrate as they cross over from flat regions of North Carolina and Tennessee into Virginia, because they hit a literal 1,000 foot wall of mountains. Tornadoes are extremely rare here. A few years ago we had small one that messed up a couple sheds and the canopy over a gas station, and that was the first in decades. So I do believe this physicist is onto something that would be effective. Whether or not it's practical or acceptable to construct such a thing is another question.

    • Re:Appalachians (Score:4, Interesting)

      by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:48PM (#47321209) Journal

      OK, we should all read this [ustornadoes.com]

      My big take-away is that the altitude makes all the difference. The "barrier" effect is less apparent.

      So. If the guy builds a wall, he'll take away Sunlight nearby. Maybe there could be some effect due to the local average altitude being higher; but a puny little wall or even a small mountain range vs. the entire continental pattern? Even if we could alter the climate of a continent... I thought climate change was bad.

  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:41PM (#47320799) Homepage Journal

    Between the Higgs-Boson crap and this thread, I think Dice has decided to declare it "Give A Wingnut A Headline Week". :(

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:53PM (#47320905)

    After the walls were up for a while, some jackass land developers and greedy politicians would start building houses on top. And then we'd all of a sudden have the problem of exposed property again.

    Consider similar cases from history:
    - Houses on flood plains.
    - Houses right near beaches, especially eroding ones.
    - Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

  • Quote:
    Each year in the U.S., 1,200 tornadoes on average kill 60 people, injure 1,500, and cause roughly $400 million in damages, putting long-term average tornado losses on par with hurricanes, according to a new report by Lloydâ(TM)s of London.

    âoeTornadoes: A Rising Risk?â finds that the U.S. experiences more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world. The year 2011 was especially vicious, with a record-breaking 1,600 tornadoes causing more than $25 billion in damages, surpassing records for

  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:17PM (#47321037) Journal

    Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake basin are surrounded by much higher natural "walls". Downtown SLC still managed to get a tornado. No, it was not a massive F5, but it was definitely a tornado in a place that doesn't even usually get them. Any meteorologist will tell you that mountains don't prevent tornadoes, so I'm highly skeptical of the whole idea.

    He's a physicist of course, so this only works on spherical chickens in a vacuum.

  • Something tells me this idea wasn't very well thought out. And this guy has a PhD? I can also think of better things to spend that money on to save 500 lives a year...
  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @10:15PM (#47321359)

    ok, so he doesn't mention a length... but lets just start with one mile.

    The internal volume of 1000' * 165' * 5280' = 871,200,000 cubic feet
    That's 32 million cubic yards.
    Concrete, the most basic thing you'd have to make it out of averages about $75 per cubic yard.
    So this thing would cost $2.4 billion dollars, per mile, to build.

    This doesn't even factor in grading, paying workers, rerouting highways, etc...
    Oh, and you'd likely consume all the concrete in the US, driving up the price and crash industries all over the country because of it.

    Good luck!

  • Climate effect? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SecurityGuy (217807) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:12PM (#47321603)

    I didn't see anything about the climate effect, if there would be one. Mucking around with wind flow in the area that makes a lot of our food may turn out to be a bad idea, in which case we'd get to see the biggest demolition project ever, and hope it's reversable.

    • Re:Climate effect? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by plopez (54068) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:18PM (#47321629) Journal

      The entire point of the wall is to change the climate by preventing moist gulf air and cold air from the north from mixing. The change to the rainfall regime would probably create an even larger desert than already exists in the area. If you do not believe me look at the current climate of northern China he cites. That is what will be created.

  • by Miamicanes (730264) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:24PM (#47321653)

    There's a fairly easy way the death toll due to tornadoes could be lowered over time in states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, etc -- adopt the same building codes we have in South Florida.

    Most people don't realize it, but South Florida experiences the most urban tornadoes per square mile per year in the entire United States. Granted, we basically never see EF4 and EF5 tornadoes... but we get plenty of the smaller ones.

    The strength of South Florida tornadoes is EGREGIOUSLY under-reported by the Enhanced Fujita scale, because the EF scale is defined primarily in terms of observed damage rather than measured wind speeds -- damage that just doesn't happen in Florida, even with directly-comparable storms. An EF1 tornado capable of wiping a neighborhood of matchstick McMansions off the map would barely make a dent in a neighborhood of concrete post-Andrew South Florida homes with large-missile impact glass windows (Google "ASTM 1886-1996"), and would probably be reported as an EF0 unless it hit a trailer park or a neighborhood with older homes. An EF1 tornado is basically 30 seconds of a category 1 or 2 hurricane... and a direct hit by a category 1 hurricane is the South Florida equivalent of a snow day in upstate New York.

    Anyway, the point is, if homes in suburban Kansas were built from reinforced concrete, deaths from anything short of an outright EF5 monster would basically fall into the category of "rare, unfortunate freak accidents" in areas where all the buildings were built to Dade County standards.

    Assorted SoFla torn-porn:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • Better idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jonwil (467024) on Thursday June 26, 2014 @01:30AM (#47322193)

    Instead of building a giant wall, just require that any new buildings (including replacements for damaged/destroyed ones) built in Tornado Alley MUST be strong enough to withstand a certain amount of force, that way if its hit by a big tornado, it wont collapse. Its been done elsewhere (mostly in areas where cyclones/hurricanes are a problem but the same standards will stop all but the biggest/most extreme tornadoes).

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