Storm Week: Tornado Technology

At Texas Tech University Dr. Ernst Kiesling serves as a professor, but he also serves as the Executive Director of the National Storm Shelter Association. This group helps to assure the safest storm shelters are produced for residents and communities.

The National Storm Shelter Association, or NSSA, was founded after scientists saw the horrible scene that followed the deadly tornado outbreak on May 3, 1999 in Oklahoma. 

"What we saw suggested that there was a lot of help needed in designing storm shelters," said Dr. Kiesling.  "If you build something that's called a storm shelter then it needs to meet this standard."

The standard set by the NSSA has helped the shelter industry to grow in both quality and size.

Kiesling said, "I think we can say that the shelter industry now is pretty well established. Creativity shown by the manufacturers and (they are) building better shelters and reducing the cost."

Above ground shelters are a product of the manufacturers creativity over the past decade.  Viewers at last year's Skywarn Six Weather Road Show wanted to know if there is a difference in protection between an underground shelter versus an above ground shelter, and there is no one better to ask than Dr. Kiesling.

"I'd say both the underground shelter and the above ground shelter would provide a high degree of protection and I would even say an equal degree of protection if it's built according to standards," said Dr. Kiesling.

Shelters not only are becoming more affordable, but in some instances the government will help pay for part of the cost, even for residential installations.  To find out more head to the NSSA website.

Texas Tech also leads the way on researching a tornado's effect on buildings.  Dr. Darryl James works in the Wind Science and Engineering Center with this large machine called Vortech.
"This is a tornado simulator, we physically simulate tornadoes," said Dr. James.  "This research started back in 1999, my first simulator could fit on a desk. Then (it became) bigger and bigger, until now this facility is actually about 35 feet in diameter."

Vortech is large enough for two SUVs to park back to back from one end of the simulator to the other.  Dr. James and his research crew use real storm data to create an environment that is as close as possible to reality.

A mobile radar was used during Vortex 2... a tornado research project that measured wind speeds coming into an actual tornado and they use that data with Vortech.  The air being pulled into Vortech is modeled after the data from the real tornado.

This research is some of the first of its kind and in the future could provide new lines of defense against the fury of storm season.
"Maybe what we can do is take that and reinforce certain locations in homes and certain locations in buildings to make them more tornado resistant," said Dr. James.

More tornado resistant buildings and storm shelters can save many lives, and that is always the primary goal for tornado research.

Ben Walnick, Newschannel 6