Driving into the Wind with Kishor Mehta
by George Watson
Kishor Mehta, a Horn Professor of Civil Engineering, arrived at Texas Tech in 1964 after earning his doctorate from the University of Texas. He was immediately drawn to wind research. He paired on several projects with fellow professors Joe Minor and Jim McDonald, who later became the chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department.
It was a West Texas dust storm in 1968, however, that put them on the path toward Texas Tech becoming a world leader on the subject of wind and wind damage. That dust storm, Mehta said, collapsed some of the light standards on the east side of Jones Stadium. Mehta and McDonald began doing tests on the standards to determine their load, or how much wind force they could withstand.
Two years later, the event that changed Lubbock furthered their research when the tornado of 1970 swept through the city. That led Mehta to begin testing the wind load for various buildings.
"A lot of buildings collapsed or were severely damaged," Mehta said. "Though we had no control over it, we thought it would be worthwhile to assemble the data to see if we could understand the mode of damage and the extent of the damage.
"Wind is the natural resource in Lubbock. That is a resource that is always going to be there. With our buildings and tower,s we have to take care of them in extreme conditions. In engineering in the 1970s we did not think about wind energy, but in this millennium we did."
Mehta's continued research into wind load and damage led to the development of the Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, which was eventually renamed the National Wind Institute, a nationally respected hub that allows for interdisciplinary education and research on wind science, energy, engineering and wind hazard mitigation.
In conjunction with his work at Texas Tech, Mehta recently worked for the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. as program director for hazard mitigation and structural engineering. It's a long journey from his time in Lubbock.
"Jim McDonald, Joe Minor and I used to sit around a table every Wednesday, and we all agreed we wanted to put Texas Tech and the city of Lubbock on the map," Mehta said. "It turns out wind was the vehicle that allowed us to do that. In our minds we wanted Texas Tech to be known around the country."
Now that he's become an expert in how buildings can withstand damaging winds, Mehta wants to find a way to prevent that damage in the first place.
"The goal I have in mind is how do we prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters," Mehta said. "I want to make communities, and it may take 20 years to do it, resilient to weather damage and be able to recover fairly quickly."