Water towers and tornado destruction

Dear Tom,
I have seen photographs of a huge water tower still standing unharmed in the field of debris left after a tornado struck the area. How can that be?
Jacob Irish
Dear Jacob,
It is indeed surprising to see photographs of a large water tower standing unharmed while surrounded by debris left in the wake of a tornado. National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Smith, who has conducted tornado research with Dr. Ted Fujita and now participates in Weather Service storm assessment investigations of tornado disasters, says water towers can survive the high winds of tornadoes because of their streamlined shape. Air flows smoothly around them, as opposed to houses, that have eaves and sharp corners that cause turbulent air motion. A water tower survived an F5 tornado in Barneveld, Wisc., in 1984 because air flowed smoothly around it.

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