Here is an appealing idea: Ending the threat of tornadoes forever! And here is a man who says he has figured out how to do it: Temple University physics professor Rongjia Tao, who claims that the key to stopping tornadoes from ever happening again is so simple, it’s basically like something out of Game Of Thrones—you just need to build a really tall, really long wall, and the invading hordes of, er, destructive weather events will be kept at bay. 

According to Professor Tao himself, the idea is foolproof and would end the tornado threat for all time

“If we build three east-west great walls, one in North Dakota, one along the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and the third in the south in Texas and Louisiana, we will diminish the threats in Tornado Alley forever,” he said.

As evidence, he points to China – where only three tornadoes were recorded last year, compared to 803 in the US.

Disappointingly, Professor Tao doesn’t cite China because they have a Great Wall of their own—he says that the reason China’s tornadoes die down before they become destructive is because of hills and mountain ranges that diminish their ability to gain momentum and build up. That is true, as far as these things go, but the weather community is not impressed by his plan to build walls to try to mimic the effect of those natural formations.

“Everybody I know is of 100% agreement – this is a poorly conceived idea,” [Prof Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research] 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.

So is the problem that Professor Tao’s walls just don’t go high enough? The walls he proposes would be a mere 1,000 feet tall, barely taller than just three football fields, with the end zones, stacked one on top of another vertically. Professor Wurman says that they’d need to be about ten times that big to have an impact. The 1,000-foot versions of these nutty walls would run $16 billion each, of course, so Wurman’s walls would probably be, what, $160 billion? Or perhaps more, since the technology to build walls that are nearly two miles tall may still need to be developed…

Of course, Wurman isn’t actually endorsing the completely nutty idea of building 10,000 foot tall walls—he’s highlighting the extent to which Professor Tao has revealed himself to be something of a mad scientist

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.”

He added: “Don’t get me wrong, I’m open to new ideas. I consider myself an out-of-the-box thinker. But just because an idea is heretical, doesn’t mean it’s a good one.”

Certainly, we all agree that ending the threat of tornadoes would be a terrific thing, and we can all applaud Professor Tao’s interest in saving the lives and property destroyed by tornadoes every year. But perhaps it would behoove the physicist to talk to meteorologists about his ideas before suggesting a $48 billion solution. 

(image via Flickr)