Computer models of tornadoes show possible sheltering region behind hills
PostedOctober 18, 2013
Using 3-D computer models, University of Arkansas researchers have demonstrated the influence of hills on tornadoes. Their models revealed that the height of a hill and the size of a tornado’s vortex have a significant effect on the tornado’s destructive power. The findings could be used to identify safer areas for construction.
The researchers found that lower levels of a tornado’s vortex are significantly disrupted if the height of a hill is equal to or greater than the radius of the vortex. The models also confirmed an important finding from a previous field study – that wind velocities are significantly reduced on the leeward side of hills.”A preliminary observation from this study indicates that there is a region behind a hill where velocities are reduced due to disruption of the tornado vortex,” said Panneer Selvam, professor of civil engineering. “Of course this disruption depends on the height of the hill, as well as tornado size and velocity. We measured this effect in scenarios in which the width of the hill was perpendicular to the direction of the tornado.”
Selvam and civil engineering graduate student Piotr Gorecki used computational fluid dynamics, a widely used method to study the effect of wind on structures, to create 3-D computer models showing the interaction of hills and tornadoes. The study was conducted to reveal the influence of the hill height on the tornado-hill interaction. Three different rectangular hill heights – 12, 24 and 36 meters – were investigated, although each hill had the same width and length. For each study, the size of the tornado’s vortex – diameter of 8 meters – was the same, as was its maximum velocity – 86.5 meters per second.