Texas Tech University

Tornado Experts Available to Give Insight on Severe Weather

Amanda Bowman

March 5, 2019

Peak tornado season is March through May.

Experts from Texas Tech University are available to discuss the current tornado season and can speak on the atmospheric science of a tornado, the structural impact they can have on buildings, their economic impact as well as safe room compliance of storm shelters.

Texas Tech is home to the National Wind Institute (NWI), which leads the nation in wind research. The department was created after an F5 tornado killed 26 people and destroyed portions of downtown Lubbock in 1970. Faculty representing the university's Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering and the atmospheric science group in the Department of Geosciences collaborated on solutions for what could be done to minimize the effects of severe wind events such as tornadoes and hurricanes on lives and structures.


Atmospheric ScienceChristopher Weiss, professor of atmospheric science, (806) 834-4712 or chris.weiss@ttu.edu

  • Weiss has researched the genesis and low-level wind structure of tornadoes for more than a decade. He maintains a research interest in the processes responsible for the generation of the parent thunderstorms. He can speak to the current scientific understanding regarding why tornadoes form and intensify, as well as how the structure of the tornado relates to the observed damage seen on the ground. Weiss is currently involved in two field campaigns aimed at improving our understanding of tornadoes using observations.

National Storm Shelter AssociationErnst Kiesling, research professor and executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association, (806) 789-2083 or ernst.kiesling@ttu.edu

  • Kiesling can discuss the construction and use of residential and community shelters. He has more than 50 years of experience in the field documenting storm damage, writing performance standards for safe rooms and verifying compliance of safe rooms with those standards.

Tornado Simulation Research – Darryl James, vice provost for institutional effectiveness and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, (806) 834-3386 or darryl.james@ttu.edu

  • James developed a large-scale tornado simulator located at the Reese Center. The device, known as VorTECH, simulates tornado-like winds in the mid-EF3 range or less and, collaboratively with Delong Zuo, an associate professor of civil engineering, a moving floor has recently been added to VorTECH. The purpose of the research effort is to understand the near-surface velocity and pressure characteristics in order to learn how tornadoes create damage.

Atmospheric Science and Wind MeasurementsBrian Hirth, research professor, (806) 834-0717 or brian.hirth@ttu.edu

  • Hirth has more than a decade of meteorological field experience. He has been principal investigator and field coordinator for two research projects that examined the thermodynamic and kinematic structure of rear flank downdrafts in tornadic and non-tornadic supercell thunderstorms.

Structural ResearchDelong Zuo, associate professor of civil engineering, (806) 834-6535 or delong.zuo@ttu.edu

  • Zuo uses both laboratory testing and probabilistic modeling to study the characteristics of tornado-like flows and tornadic loading on structures. As the principal investigator of two projects supported by the National Science Foundation, he is currently working with Darryl James to study tornadic loading on low-rise buildings, which are among the most vulnerable to tornado damage. The outcomes of the research can help improve the resilience of buildings to tornado hazards.

Structural ResearchXinzhong Chen, Ed and Linda Whitacre faculty fellow and professor of civil engineering, (806) 834-6794 or xinzhong.chen@ttu.edu

  • Chen uses measurement data from tornado simulators to characterize non-stationary probabilistic tornado load effects on buildings and other structures. As the principal investigator of a project supported by the National Science Foundation, he is currently working on the modeling and characterization of translating tornado-induced pressures and responses of low-rise buildings based on pressure measurement data from a tornado simulator. The outcome of this research is to provide design loads for low-rise buildings against damaging tornadoes.

Economic Impact of TornadoesBradley Ewing, C.T. McLaughlin chair of free enterprise and professor of energy commerce in the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, (806) 834-3939 or bradley.ewing@ttu.edu

  • Ewing has studied the economic impact of hurricanes and tornadoes for more than a decade. He can speak to the impact of hurricanes and tornadoes in cities like Oklahoma City; Corpus Christi; Wilmington, North Carolina; Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee.

About the National Wind Institute

The National Wind Institute combined the former Wind Science and Engineering (WiSE) research center, which created the first doctorate in wind science and engineering, with the Texas Wind Energy Institute (TWEI), creator of the only bachelor's degree in wind energy. NWI strengthens the university's interdisciplinary approach to all things wind.

Through NWI, scientists and engineers have collected one of the country's largest repositories of wind data and helped develop the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, implemented in 2007 by the National Weather Service.