TORNADO TERRAIN: Research Busts Myths

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It’s an old wives tale. Tornadoes can’t touchdown in certain places, like near a big hill or river. According to new research at Iowa State that is just not true.

“We’ve had tornadoes cross the continental divide in Wyoming, tornadoes have crossed rivers multiple times as a river winds back and forth, cross right over that, it doesn’t matter, a tornado doesn’t really care what’s there,” says Christopher Karstens with ISU.

Last year, a tornado rolled through Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Graduate student Christopher Karstens of Iowa State University went down there as a part of his doctoral research. He saw damaged trees in small valleys away from the tornado’s track.

Karstens is now researching how terrain affects tornado damage.

“As the flow kind of squeezes into that smaller area it wants to speed up so we see these fingers of damage that kind of extend away from the primary damage swath. So again it’s outside the vortex, but as the tornado is coming in there is these interesting damage patterns that occur,” says Karstens.

Karstens plans to use the tornado simulator at ISU to continue to test his research.