Texas Tech University

How to Stop the Wind

Brantley Hargrove

August 3, 2017

Popular Mechanics - Don Greer and his wife, Helen, hid in a tornado shelter. Only he survived. Now, a team of engineers has committed to doing the impossible: building a structure that's stronger and smarter than the merciless, random powers of nature itself.

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.

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