The Mystery of the Hoover Dam Updraft

If you decide to take a tour of the Hoover Dam, don’t be surprised to see people pouring water over the side of this engineering marvel. The would-be Bill Nye’s are replicating a quirky “science” experiment first brought to us by Instagram user Leslie Hutchings, @leslieh138, last year. The Hoover Dam visitor discovered that water poured over the dam’s face flows up, seemingly defying gravity.

The viral video isn’t an act of mystical wizardry, but a demonstration of the high winds that can whip through Black Canyon, home to the dam, at speeds upward of 50 mph. When all that wind hits the approximately 900,000-square-foot face of the dam, it has nowhere to go but up, causing a severe updraft at the lip.

Doug Hendrix, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Hoover Dam, said that it is the natural surroundings of the dam that cause the phenomenon.

“We can get some pretty high winds in the area,” Hendrix said. “The canyon often acts as a funnel.”

While he wasn’t aware that visitors were conducting their own science experiments, it’s that type of wonderment, he said, dam ambassadors try to instill in everyone who takes the tours.

The irony here is that Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the dam that provides water to Arizona, California and Nevada, is facing plummeting water levels thanks to 17 consecutive years of drought. Demand for Colorado River water is stretched thin as it is. If levels of the river’s largest reservoir continue to drop at this rate, the federal government will be forced to step in and reallocate the water. So maybe just enjoy the Instagram video and avoid replicating the “experiment” during your next tour of the Hoover Dam.

“[Conservation] is a big part of our message,” Hendrix said. “The Hoover Dam is a lifeline for the desert Southwest.”

Nearly a million people take the tours offered by the Bureau of Reclamation annually. Visitors to the man-made wonder can enjoy educational explorations of the dam. Two different tours are offered: a general dam tour and one of its power plant. The first tours depart at 9:30 and 9:25 a.m. respectively. They typically sell out hours in advance, so remember to book ahead of time.

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