Can we prevent tornadoes from occurring?

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DaveC426913
Gold Member
What are your thoughs on the matter?

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
While weather experts understand what conditions tend to produce tornadoes, I think there is a good bit not understood about exactly when, where, and why they occur. Until we have a better understanding, it would seem that prevention is a little ahead of the game. Beyond that, there are such tremendous amounts of energy involved that one wonders if intervention could ever be practical. For the foreseeable future, increasingly effective early warning systems are probably the best hope.

Borek
Mentor
I think it is possible - you have to find (and kill) correct butterfly in time.

Trick is to find it early enough and here comes this "better understanding" part that Ivan mentioned.

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Can we prevent tornadoes from occurring?
That would essentially require the ability to modify the weather or local climate.

Basically tornadoes form where cool air masses interact with warm air masses with a certain level of moisture. A thundercloud (cumulonimbus) forms and the shear region between falling cold air and rising warm air causes a circular rotation, which can evolve into a tornado.

The problem is one of determining precisely when and where the conditions for tornado exist - then one of determining the precursors to those conditions.

I've wondered if it would be feasible to fly 2 or more jets (capable of supersonic speed) into the critical region of a tornado and use the shock wave(s) to disrupt the vortex (i.e., the jets would 'break' the sound barrier in the vortex generating region). But there is perhaps a risk to the jets from debris and strong fluid dynamics.

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There is pretty good computer software to detect tornadoes, but they don't have enough radar sensors to gather the necessary data in most places, and even then it could probably only be predicted hours in advance. You need very fine-grained data to detect tornadoes because their formation is a chaotic process highly sensitive to fine scale initial conditions. This also means it would be fairly easy to prevent, since it's sensitive to initial conditions...but the hard part would be being prepared to employ preventative tactics wherever it was forming given only a few hours notice.

Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
This also means it would be fairly easy to prevent, since it's sensitive to initial conditions...
How can we say this with any confidence? That assumes that he initial conditions would be fairly easy to manipulate. Even the idea of disrupting things with something like a shock wave may be little more than a flea on a dog, so to speak.

Assuming that tornadoes are a purely thermodynamic phenomenon, and considering the amount of thermodynamic energy getting expended in a supercell thunderstorm, I agree with the "flee on a dog" description.

But the principles of thermodynamics don't even begin to adequately describe tornadoes. The air flowing into a tornado follows the path of greatest resistance, and that ain't exactly one of the standard principles of thermodynamics. So dismissing tornado prevention because the thermodynamic forces are too large, and on too large of a scale, is based on a false assumption.

I've been working on a broad-stroke theory that suggests that tornadoes are produced by a combination of thermodynamic and electromagnetic forces. If this is correct, then it opens up new possibilities. The thermodynamic piece is, and always will be, out-of-reach. But the electromagnetic component is accessible. We can induce lightning strikes to neutralize the electric charges within the storm. If the theory in question is correct, this would reduce the strength of the tornado, perhaps below the threshold necessary for its sustenance.

If you want more detail, there is an online book that I am still (and perhaps forever) working on, to be found here:

Please freely give up your comments and criticisms of this work. Unless somebody can prove that this definitely could not work, then next Spring, I'll be out in Tornado Alley shooting rockets into supercell thunderstorms. :)

If anybody is interested in the academic support for this line of reasoning, there is an extensive list of references at the URL cited above, but for starters, check this:

Dehel, T. F, Dickinson, M., Lorge, F., and Startzel, F. Jr., 2007: Electric field and Lorentz force contribution to atmospheric vortex phenomena. Journal of Electrostatics, Vol. 65, Issues 10-11, 631-638.

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Instead of researching ways to prevent tornadoes from happening which I doubt will ever happen especially as our Earth goes through its normal climate cycles... I think we need to focus on the more important matter, earlier warning!

If we can slowly increase our warning time every 10 years or so, we will slowly start saving more and more lives.

Good groups such as SKYWARN, V.O.R.T.E.X. and others are working on ways to do this, I just wish more people would get involved!

Couldn't we launch explosives into the tornado with enough power to 'kill' it?

I think we need to focus on the more important matter, earlier warning!
Warning and prevention are not necessarily unrelated issues. Both require that we understand the phenomenon. 60 years and a billion dollars have been spent attempting to understand tornadic storms. I think it's time we try something different for a while, especially since what I'm talking about would be ridiculously easy to test. If it worked, it would not only prove that tornado prevention was at least theoretically possible, but it would also teach us a lot about how tornadic storms work. That could lead to better prediction, and earlier, more accurate warnings.

Couldn't we launch explosives into the tornado with enough power to 'kill' it?
This assumes that tornadoes are mechanisms whose internal structures could be wrecked by an explosion. This is not the case. Tornadic storms are fundamentally thermodynamic, where the fluxes are getting modulated by electromagnetic forces. There is no complex internal mechanism. Detonating an explosive would merely add to the thermodynamic force at play, which would probably strengthen the tornado.

mgb_phys
Homework Helper
Couldn't we launch explosives into the tornado with enough power to 'kill' it?
Possibly for that particular tornado, what might be tricky is then stopping the one forming 1m away or 2 seconds later.

If you disrupt the start of one vortex you don't do anything about the driving weather conditions.

russ_watters
Mentor
Couldn't we launch explosives into the tornado with enough power to 'kill' it?
Absolutely, and the larger the explosives, the longer in advance and wider of an area you could cover with this "prevention" method. But as Ivan said, you run into issues with practicality: nuking a 10 mile diameter, 50,000 foot tall cumulonimbus cloud could no doubt prevent a tornado perhaps hours before forming, however...

 Though I doubt many would consider the idea to be conscionable, a practical person would probably want to at least consider the idea of nuking a hurricane. Hurricane Katrinia cost an estimated $300 billion and if for the cost of one nuke you could eliminate it offshore, it may be a worthwhile thing to do. Last edited: Possibly for that particular tornado, what might be tricky is then stopping the one forming 1m away or 2 seconds later. If you disrupt the start of one vortex you don't do anything about the driving weather conditions. In any open-air thermodynamic system, it is certainly true that all of the energy is going to get released sooner or later, and disrupting one thunderstorm could certainly cause another thunderstorm somewhere else. But the chance of that secondary thunderstorm becoming a supercell is 1 in 1,000. The chance of a supercell spawning a tornado is 1 in 3, so the chance of a secondary tornado is 1 in 3,000. The chance of a tornado being an F2 or above is 1 in 4, so the chance of a secondary tornado that could do some real damage is 1 in 12,000. Since most of the country is open space, the chance of a tornado actually hitting something is roughly 1 in 100. So the chance of secondary damage is 1 in 1.2 million. Then the only question is how successful tornado fighters will be in shooting down the secondary tornado, the same way they shot down the first one. There wouldn't be a secondary problem if they didn't succeed in the first place, so just to ask the question we have to assume that they are capable of succeeding. The worst case scenario would be that the chance of failure would be 1 in 2, nominally speaking. This puts the chance of an unmitigated secondary tornado at 1 in 2.4 million. Allowing 2.4 million primary tornadoes to hit populated areas because once in all of that, a secondary tornado will hit a populated area, wouldn't make much sense. Absolutely, and the larger the explosives, the longer in advance and wider of an area you could cover with this "prevention" method. But as Ivan said, you run into issues with practicality: nuking a 10 mile diameter, 50,000 foot tall cumulonimbus cloud could no doubt prevent a tornado perhaps hours before forming, however... )))) I just can't resist this -- you left too much up to the imagination there... ))) Nuking tornadoes would definitely work. It might not actually prevent the tornado. But after nuking the whole city, nobody is really going to notice whether or not a tornado came in and stirred up the rubble a bit. So we'll still be able to say, "Look on the bright side -- at least we didn't get hit by a tornado!" ...consider the idea of nuking a hurricane. Hurricane Katrinia cost an estimated$300 billion and if for the cost of one nuke you could eliminate it offshore, it may be a worthwhile thing to do.
Another approach that is currently being researched is to beam microwave energy down from a satellite, to selectively add heat to the storm, to disrupt it, or to steer it away from land, or at least away from major cities on the coast. This is a highly dubious initiative, since there is truly no way to anticipate the side-effects. Nevertheless, you're right that considering what's at stake, stuff like this is at least worth looking into.

Hello all, sorry to revive an old thread.

As sometimes happens while I am ruminating about something else, an observation strikes me in a new light, and raises new questions.

As also sometimes happens to me, this new thought occurred while I was taking a shower.

I have a bit of a slow drain, so a little water backs up. But the drain is fast enough for the water to spiral down it. However, I noticed sometimes it stopped spiraling and backed up. I then realized this happened every time I rinsed some soap off.

I realize water going down a drain doesn't follow the same rules as colliding weather fronts. And even if it did, there are a lot of problems taking a model from the micro to the macro level.

However, I wonder. Could 'seeding' a threatening supercell with an aerosolized surfactant prevent or lessen the severity of tornadoes?

Could it be cost effective to do so?

The surfactant would have to be cheap, non-toxic, and not volatile (yet hopefully biodegradable).

And the delivery system would also need to be cost effective and reliably able to function in a powerful storm. Either an airplane or perhaps a missile. It occurs to me that the technology that the military uses to engineer those horrible fuel-air/cluster bombs might be put to a more humane use.

But that is getting ahead of things. Could the properties of the water molecules in a supercell be changed enough by an aerosolized soap-like substance to prevent (or lessen) a tornado?

Sincerely,
Ben Schainker

DaveC426913
Gold Member
Could the properties of the water molecules in a supercell be changed enough by an aerosolized soap-like substance to prevent (or lessen) a tornado?
Tornadoes are caused by warm ground heating air resulting in a rising air mass. It has nothing to do with water content. Tornadoes do quite nicely in bone-dry areas.

Tornadoes are caused by warm ground heating air resulting in a rising air mass. It has nothing to do with water content. Tornadoes do quite nicely in bone-dry areas.
Perhaps I am wrong, but this is not my understanding of tornadoes. Though not definitive, my brief look at Wikipedia yields this quote:

"For a vortex to be classified as a tornado, it must be in contact with both the ground and the cloud base."

If clouds are necessary for a tornadoes, then water vapor must be present. From what I understand, water's unique properties are needed in the boundaries between the colliding air masses.

Ben Schainker

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
There is a research program to better understand the formation of tornados, and why only a few percent of rotational thunderstorms produce tornados.

http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/vortex2/ [Broken]

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I think that in the old days the advice was to open your windows whe a tornado was coming (in order to equalize inside and outside air pressure). In the 1970s after a devastating tornado outbreak that was changed. Opening the windows makes it far more likely that the house will be destroyed.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
I think that in the old days the advice was to open your windows whe a tornado was coming (in order to equalize inside and outside air pressure). In the 1970s after a devastating tornado outbreak that was changed. Opening the windows makes it far more likely that the house will be destroyed.
Can you provide some further reading? I've not heard that it was a myth that was overturned.

I'm very saddened to hear about designs to prevent tornados. Tornados are natural to our planet and should be protected from extinction. It’s not the tornado’s fault we are encroaching upon their habitat. They were there first.

Borg
Gold Member
I'm very saddened to hear about designs to prevent tornados. Tornados are natural to our planet and should be protected from extinction. It’s not the tornado’s fault we are encroaching upon their habitat. They were there first.