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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri S&T Engineers Inspect Jefferson City Tornado Damage To Make Houses Stronger

Missouri S&T engineering professor Grace Yan and her students survey post-tornado damages in Jefferson City in May 2019.
Missouri University of Science & Technology
Missouri S&T engineering professor Grace Yan and her students are surveying post-tornado damages in Jefferson City.

Engineering researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology are spending several days in Jefferson City to study the destruction caused by a tornado that battered the city late Wednesday.

Missouri S&T engineering professor Grace Yan and her graduate students began Thursday to interview residents and capture drone footage of the damages. Her research has focused on designing buildings to become more resistant to tornadoes.

There have been many examples of damages in Jefferson City that are unique to tornadoes, such as roofs being torn off, Yan said.

“We found, for a number of buildings, the roof is completely gone, or for some buildings, a part of the roof has been damaged,” said Yan, who directs the university’s Wind Hazards Mitigation Laboratory.

Rotating winds create low atmospheric pressure in the center of a tornado. That causes the tornado to act like a suction and pull roofs off of houses, Yan said.

Yan also is using her research to recommend that municipal residential building codes mandate construction methods that protect houses from the rotating winds that come from tornadoes. Current building codes only require that homes be built to resist straight-line winds, or winds that come from a thunderstorm, she said.

“If the tornado intensity is not that high, [and] if we have improved our building code to recommend tornado-resistant design, the damage would be much less,” Yan said. “For example, a number of buildings, the entire roof has been blown off, but if we performed tornado-resistant design, the damage can be minimized to just the shingles.”

The tornado that hit Jefferson City blew 160 mile-per-hour winds, making it an EF-3 tornado. If buildings were built to withstand tornadoes of that level, homeowners could spend much less on repairs, Yan said.

After inspecting damages in Jefferson City, members of Yan’s laboratory will use photo and video footage to develop computer models that simulate how tornadoes destroy houses.

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