August 3, 2017
Six hundred fifty miles to the west, a man named Larry Tanner has spent nearly two decades studying the kind of wind that is screaming through Mayflower—and how to defend against it. He runs the laboratory at the National Wind Institute, a Texas Tech research center that serves as a hub for the study of everything from wind energy to wind-hazard mitigation. Housed in a hangar at what used to be Reese Air Force Base, on the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, it contains a massive, two-story vortex simulator; a wind tunnel capable of generating a sustained gale of up to 110 miles per hour; and, in a far corner, the Debris Impact Facility.
Tanner has a ruddy face, a thick, west-Texas drawl, and a shock of cotton-colored hair. He is an architectural engineer, a student of catastrophic tornadic events, and the world's foremost expert in tornado shelters. Three years after the Mayflower storm, Tanner stands behind a protective wall of clear Lexan paneling, reading from a clipboard in the officious monotone of a man about dull work. Some of what he says is a recitation of FEMA codes, but the gist is, he's about to propel a fifteen-pound projectile a hundred miles per hour at an aboveground steel-panel tornado shelter to simulate the debris impacts generated by a tornado packing 250-mile-per-hour winds.