Water towers surviving tornadoes

Weather Blog

Dear Tom,
I have seen photographs of water towers standing apparently undamaged in the midst of severe tornado damage immediately around the towers. What accounts for this?

Steve Rogers, Ottumwa, Iowa

Dear Steve,
The cylindrical or spherical shape of water towers, the way they are engineered and the fact that they are heavily loaded with water jointly contribute to their survival in many tornado situations. Photos exist of water towers standing in the midst of rubble after a Brandenberg, Kentucky tornado in 1974 and in the wake of Category 3 intensity (111-130 mph) Hurricane Fredrick’s $2.3 billion assault on Mobile, Alabama in 1979. There are exceptions, however. Water towers failed in twisters at Xenia, Ohio, in April, 1974 and in Spencer, South Dakota, in 1998.

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