This week the Land of Oz will return to the silver screen in Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” The last time Oz and all its’ magical creatures graced the big screen most of us were in diapers. So we’ve literally been waiting most, if not all, of our lives for an Oz movie.
The new film started us thinking about one of “The Wizard of Oz’s” most important scenes. Near the beginning of the film our heroine Dorothy Gale hides in her house from a tornado, or as the farmhands call it a “twister.” As Dorothy hides the farmhouse is whisked away by the tornado.
One thing we’ve always thought about is whether the tornado could actually move Dorothy’s house. Instead of sitting around, we decided to figure it out.
What did we find? It might be possible, but it’s definitely not probable. A tornado likely won’t produce enough force to lift a house very far off the ground. At the same time, we’re certain a home that would somehow get lifted into the tornado would be torn apart.
Of course, that didn’t stop us from figuring out how fast the tornado needed to be in order to move Dorothy’s house. Shame on you if you thought it did.
We calculated the tornado that supposedly sucked up Dorothy’s house in “The Wizard of Oz” would, at minimum, had to have generated winds at about 334 miles per hour. There are some caveats. This calculates how much it would take to just to move Dorothy’s house, if it wasn’t attached to a foundation. To actually get the house into the air, it would take an even higher wind.
How did we come up with the tornado’s speed? Click your ruby slippers together because there’s no place like our novelty real estate blog.
How to Blow a House Away
We’ve written stories like this before. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, it goes like this:
- Figure out the size and weight of Dorothy’s farmhouse
- Learn as much about tornadoes as possible
- Make magic
We’ll start with Dorothy’s farmhouse.
“The Wizard of Oz” was filmed on an MGM Studio lot. This gave us a lot of problems when we attempted to locate the house used in the film. The short answer is we couldn’t find Dorothy’s farmhouse. This led us down a long and winding path that finally finished with a fan model and some guesstimation.
Our first stop on our whirlwind tour led us to the Seward County Historical Society, which maintains a “replica” of Dorothy’s house. We’ll admit the replica looks something like Dorothy’s farmhouse, but not enough to satisfy us.
Our next thought was dig through our old stories and see what we could come up with an idea around our problem. A few months back we calculated the value of Mister Rogers’ home based mostly on model scale.
We searched until we came across this model on Beyond the Rainbow 2 Oz. And low and behold there were dimensions -- just not all of them.
The model’s architect used a “quarter inch scale,” which means each one-fourth inch equals one real-world foot. The post gives the model’s width and height. These were enough to calculate the width and height of Dorothy’s house.
Our next problem was the house’s mass. In the past, we used this resource to help us figure out the estimated weight of a house. We saw no problem using it again. However, we needed to know Dorothy’s farmhouse’s square footage. We estimated this number to be about 1,500 square feet. Based on our assumptions, Dorothy’s house weighed 300,000 pounds or 150 tons (again, sans foundation).
Once we knew the size and weight of Dorothy’s house we studied up on tornadoes. Excuse us, we mean twisters.
Twisters Are Scarier Than You Think
We mentioned above that tornadoes probably won’t pick up a house and chuck it across the country. One reason is time. Tornadoes can last for several seconds to more than an hour. Most tornadoes last for less than 10 minutes.
At the same time, tornadoes travel at an average speed of 30 miles an hour, and can reach 75 miles per hour. Hopefully, you’re starting to see our point. If your home did manage to get lifted, at maximum it would get dropped off about 75 miles away.
But can a tornado lift a house?
There are records of tornadoes lifting heavy objects. In 1931, a train near Moorhead, Minnesota was struck by a tornado. One 83-ton coach was flung 80 feet through air.
What about an honest to goodness house? There are records of a tornado taking a house off its foundation and moving it several feet. Still, the chances of a house getting picked up and dropped off in the Land of Oz are astronomically slim.
Putting It All Together
When we calculated how fast the tornado in the “Wizard of Oz” needed to be lift Dorothy’s house, we estimated the farmhouse’s size and weight. We then assumed a tornado approached the house straight on, and that the home was not attached to a foundation. In essence, we calculated the wind speed required to overcome the force of static friction on the house. We also assumed her house was made by world-class designers because it didn’t fall apart.
So while Dorothy’s farmhouse could “technically” be lifted off the ground and transported to the Land of Oz, she’d probably be injured before getting there. Or she’d be really, really dizzy.
- Won’t You Be His Neighbor: The Cost of Mister Rogers' Make Believe Home
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