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No, the Mississippi River bluffs do not protect Memphis from tornadoes

ABC24 Memphis' exclusive Verify Team looked into claims on social media and questions sent in from viewers on the topic.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — As forecasters and damage teams visited affected areas Monday and updated the specific intensity of tornadoes that moved through the Mid-South, our exclusive Verify team is also separating facts from fiction.

A common myth again surfaced on social media or sent to us by curious ABC24 Memphis viewers is: Do the Mississippi River bluffs in Downtown Memphis protect against tornadoes?

So, let's verify.


Do the bluffs along the Mississippi River protect Memphis from tornadoes?


They do not.

This is false.


Our source was Phil Baker, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service Memphis office.

"Unfortunately they do not," Baker said Monday. "We have been lucky, let's just say that."

Baker said tornadoes form through deep layers of the atmosphere - up to 15,000 feet - meaning the slight elevation of the Downtown Memphis Mississippi River bluffs aren't a storm buffer at all.

"With the Memphis bluffs, you are talking 100, 150-feet maximum above the Mississippi River. That's only about 1% of that depth that, that wind shear taking place through that actually forms those tornadoes. So just the 1% layer, that's just not enough to stop something powerful," Baker added.

That's why Baker offered advice to anyone living in Downtown Memphis near the river, who may have a false sense of security ahead of or during an active tornado system.

"Just know that the bluff provides no protection against a tornado and it's just as important in Memphis, as it is anywhere else, to be weather aware, to have multiple methods of receiving warnings," Baker said.

So, based on those facts laid out by the NWS, we can verify the claim that the bluffs along the Mississippi River protect Memphis from tornadoes as false

"The message that we want to get out to people that anywhere in the Mid-South is subject to tornadoes," Baker said.

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