Texas Tech University

La Niña Threatens US with Potentially More Severe Tornado Season

Amanda Bowman

March 1, 2021


Tornado season in the U.S. is March through May, and the La Niña climate pattern may make 2021 one of the worst.

La Niña is a naturally occurring climate pattern that brings cooler-than-average water into the central Pacific Ocean. This year, it could spell trouble for tornado season in the U.S.

Experts from Texas Tech University are available to discuss the current tornado season and can speak on the atmospheric science of a tornado, the potential structural impact on buildings, tornadoes' economic impact and 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 and Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering; the atmospheric science group in the Department of Geosciences; and the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business collaborated on solutions to minimize the effects of severe wind events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, on lives and structures.


Atmospheric ScienceChristopher Weiss, professor, (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 currently is involved in two field campaigns aimed at improving our understanding of tornadoes using observations.

National Storm Shelter AssociationErnst Kiesling, professor emeritus 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 ResearchDarryl James, vice provost for institutional effectiveness and a professor of mechanical engineering, (806) 834-3386 or darryl.james@ttu.edu

  • James developed a large-scale tornado simulator located at the Reese Center, known as VorTECH, that simulates tornado-like winds in the mid-EF3 range or less. In collaboration with Delong Zuo, a moving floor was recently added to VorTECH. The purpose of the research effort is to understand the near-surface velocity and pressure characteristics in tornadoes to learn how these wind events damage and destroy low-rise structures.

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 (NSF), he currently is 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, President's Excellence in Research 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 NSF, he currently is 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 will 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 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. Today, the NWI maintains a suite of state-of-the-art research facilities, including one of the largest tornado simulators in the world, Doppler radars and 24 Sticknet platforms. It also boasts a technical and administrative staff that enables the successful execution of large and complex research projects related to tornadoes.