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Could dropping a massive plate thru the center of a tornado kill it?

  1. Jun 28, 2014 #1
    I was googling to see if a bomb could disrupt a tornado and I came across this thread here ( https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=692975 ) and I saw this graphic posted there (see attached thumbnail below).

    And it got me to wondering, if you made a giant, massive, strong metal plate with a tail-stabilizer and had powerful planes lift it up above the tornado system and then drop the plate down through the middle of the tornado, wouldn't that break up the stable tornado pattern? If you had that much air pushing downward and outward from the center of the tornado funnel, it seems like it would *totally* disrupt the tornado system.

    As a complete physics laymen, please tell me why my idea wouldn't work, because I'm sure if it could work then someone would've thought of it already and already tried it.

    Image link - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...zelle_schema.gif/1280px-Superzelle_schema.gif

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 29, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Welcome to PF;
    The trick to thinking about this is to try figure out how big, and heavy, the plate would have to be.
    Quite large sheets of metal get tossed about by tornadoes all the time - so do aircraft for that matter.
  4. Jun 28, 2014 #3
    I figured that it would need to be massive and huge, but it certainly seems like it could be done, and if it could be done it seems like it would be financially and morally worth doing.

    EDIT: In other words, aircraft get tossed around by tornadoes, but rarely do aircraft CARRIERS get tossed around by tornadoes. So somewhere in between these two sizes/masses should probably be able to do the trick of pushing through the tornado instead of vice versa.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2014
  5. Jun 29, 2014 #4
    I don't have an answer myself, but I wanted to say that I don't want aircraft carriers falling from the sky out here. An underground shelter might keep me safe from a tornado, but this massive sheet of metal would probably kill me outright, or else trap me and leave me to suffocate.
  6. Jun 29, 2014 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    How big-an area does the sheet of metal have to cover?
    (Remember that it has to be strong enough not to buckle.)

    What sort of aircraft would be used to carry it?

    Where would you store the sheet when it isn't being used?

    What sort of speeds are needed to get the sheet to the tornado in time?
    (Tornadoes are inherently unpredictable and they move around.)

    What about other morally imperative things to spend the money on?

    Oh and, thank's Nick, what about the damage done by the sheet when it hits the ground?
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2014
  7. Jun 29, 2014 #6
    How IS a tornado funnel affected by objects?
    Typical diametere of a tornado is 100 m.

    Now imagine that a moving tornado funnel were to collide with a stationary, affixed to ground and impermeable to wind object that is 400 m tall and 40 m wide.

    In other words, a skyscraper.

    What are the usual effects of a tornado experiencing a dead centre collision with a skyscraper? For the tornado, and for the skyscraper?

    Or how about a bit wider, but also stronger and often taller obstacles - namely mountains? Appalachians are 2000 m tall, and there is a scatter of a few outlying mountains like Monadnock. How are travelling tornadoes affected by tall mountain peaks and ridges?
  8. Jun 29, 2014 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    The cell that powers the tornado is usually much bigger though.

    A tornado will tear all the outer cladding off a skyscraper.
    Tornados sometimes hit cities - so you can look them up for details.
    i.e. http://www.livescience.com/29691-big-city-tornadoes-100917.html

    Mountains don't stop tornadoes either ... basically if the obstacle is too big to destroy, it's basically a bit of terrain.

    Also see:
  9. Jun 29, 2014 #8


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    ^^ yes indeed, the tornado will just go around or over the top of

    there isn't an aircraft "strong" enough to lift a metal plate big enough to have any sort of effect

  10. Jun 29, 2014 #9

    Sure no SINGLE aircraft could lift it, but a squadron of 8ish working together would be able to pick up pretty much anything.
  11. Jun 29, 2014 #10
    Even if that were true (I'm going to go out on a limb and say it isn't), that would be suicidal. You can't tether aircraft together and expect things to end well.
  12. Jun 29, 2014 #11


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    And since no one knows where a tornado might strike and they usually have a short duration, how would all of these aircraft reach a tornado in time? And what about the people underneath that heavy plate?
  13. Jun 29, 2014 #12


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    Negative. So, I think we've pretty much been able to dismiss this particular tornado-butsing idea, but kudos to you for your creativity! Can you think of some other ways that we should talk through? Certainly being able to disrupt tornado systems (or keep the bottom of the funnel from touching down) would have huge value.

    You've looked at the explosives option, have you looked at other weather control options? Maybe someting related to cloud seeding, or the Butterfly Effect, or something else?

    BTW, thanks for the smile -- "Rarely are aircraft carriers tossed around by tornados" -- there's a good reason for that! :biggrin:
  14. Jul 1, 2014 #13

    Simon Bridge

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    ... you can, in principle, tether a number of aircraft to carry heavy loads, it's a plausible concept.
    There's even a (suspect) vid on youtube claiming to have done this with two model helecopters.

    However, I doubt you'll find any examples of full-scale aircraft cooperating to lift a heavy load in turbulent conditions. If you can, please provide a reference ;) It is (a) not practical, and (b) dangerous.

    Anyway, you have yet to answer the main objections:

    Work out the overall size of the sheet - what area does it need to cover in order to disrupt the storm.
    (1-10kms across to get the bigger storms?)

    Then, remembering that it needs to be rigid in the storm conditions: how massive would it need to be (it will need to be thick and have reinforcing beams that won't buckle or twist.)

    You need also to work out the window of opportunity between noticing a big tornado is forming and that it touches down ... this tells you about placement and deployment, how ready the pilots need to be and how fast the deployment has to be. Hint: one of the problems using explosives to disrupt a tornado is that it take too long for a rocket or a cruise missile to get to the target. i.e. since rockets are too slow, what sort of aircraft were you planning on using?

    When you know the weight and deployment requirements, you'll have the overall power needed to shift the sheet into position - which will tell you how many heavy-lift vehicles you need and what their flight characteristics will need to be. I'm betting you'll need to streamline the big sheet.

    When you've got all that you can figure out the cost. Not the dollar cost since you don't care about that, but the cost in the damage cause by the solution. i.e. we could probably disrupt tornadoes using nukes - get around the deployment issues by mining tornado alley with warheads which go off as a tornado touches down... however, the devastaton caused by the nukes would be bigger than that caused by the tornado.

    So consider - what is the damage if it does work?
    What is the damage if it doesn't? (It wont take many of the carrying aircraft to break down, get blown out of formation, or make a mistake, to bring the whole thing down.)

    The dollar cost is still important - even if the moral imperative to spend the money is overwhelming. i.e. if you are spending 10-billions of dollars per tornado on this solution, wouldn't you be better off just putting the towns and cities in tornado alley underground? Wouldn't that be a more cost-effective way to save lives? Or, maybe, since cost is no object to your mind, maybe there is a moral imperative just to move everyone out of tornado alley completely? Workers could still be trucked in and out using armored trains and an underground railway?

    If we can really construct a giant plug strong enough to disrupt a tornado, then we can construct huge domes over cities, towns, and farms as well - probably cheaper. So why not do that instead?

    If there are many ways to spend the money just t stop tornadoes, then consider that tornadoes are not the only way people lose their lives and property. If he moral imperative to stop tornadoes is overwhelming, then what of other ways people can lose their lives. Shouldn't the other threats attract even more money?

    The point of all this is to get you to notice what sort of questions come up in this sort of decision making.
    These are the sorts of issues that need to be addressed. Try to avoid the mindset of "we have to do something, this is something, therefore we have to do it."
  15. Jul 4, 2014 #14
    Folks, Don't bother to explain to me why GB's idea is a bad one; I could have thought that out myself. My question is slightly different in two parts.
    1:Why should the idea work anyway? (If it would work, there might conceivably be alternative ways of achieving the same effect. Not that I believe that either, but it might come closer to an interesting discussion.
    2:I am not convinced it would work anyway even on the most basic assumptions, such as that we could handle the twister chasing and logistic problems. I remember back in the days before I finally migrated from bathtubs to showers, playing with the vortex when I pulled the plug. Once that vortex had formed, it was extremely difficult to discourage, and one of its skills was to teleport itself from wherever you tried to discourage it, to just past your hands. Unless your twister-squasher was the size of Kansas on a hot day, I reckon you would simply displace it a few hundred metres, and very likely create a few new twisters in the process.
    Remember, the twister amounts to an accumulation of energy in a given form; mess with it and it must go somewhere. I have a better idea: drop a windpower turbine onto it so that the energy goes where it is wanted.

    Am I missing something? Like the generator's power cables maybe?
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2014
  16. Jul 4, 2014 #15


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    Wind turbines are designed to operate in breezes of moderate velocity, not 250 mph+ windstorms.

    If you drop a wind turbine in the middle of a tornado, it just adds to the debris field.
  17. Jul 4, 2014 #16
    But SK, there is nothing saying that we could not design turbines for even 500 mph winds, and they would be a lot more efficient than for even 100 mph turbines, except that our winds are too stingy to support such efficient turbines. I bet we could design droppable turbines that would work better than million-tonne steel plates! heck, we might even be able to design self-propelled flying turbines, though they would need a lot of tornados to power them! Maybe if we caused enough climate change, do you suppose...?

    Mind you, the cables, the cables... Do you suppose we could design the turbines to emit their generated energy as microwaves to be picked up by ground-based aerials, instead of dragging power cables connected to our networks?
  18. Jul 4, 2014 #17

    Simon Bridge

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    The wind turbines suffer from the same problems as the plate.
    I did a list earlier - please go through it one point at a time.

    Note: To avoid adding to the debris field, the turbine has to be very strong and heavy and well anchored - you'd need a lot of them all over the tornado belt to be sure of catching the tornadoes as they form. Having costed out such a system, money, materials, land, maintenance, you need to compare with what other strategies the money etc. could be spent on.

    If you want to drop the turbine - then it becomes part of the debris field pretty much because you just dropped it into a tornado... or it is so heavy that no aircraft can carry it and it will do damage to things when it lands - maybe comparable to the damage otherwise caused by the tornado. But before that is a problem, you still have to get it to the tornado in a timely fashion - have you worked out the logistics of that sort of deployment?

    These sorts of pseudo-solutions are all over the net - for some reason the people proposing them never want to do any maths.

    Have you even worked out how many turbines you'd need to drop the wind-speed from tornado-speed to something not damaging? Have you stood by a windmill on a windy day and observed how much energy the windmill takes out of the wind?
    Have you looked up the physics of windmills?
  19. Jul 5, 2014 #18
    Simon, you remind me vividly of the (computer) scientist who complained that if you don't give people an example, they don't understand the point, and if you do give an example they think the example is the point. Do please go back and this time read what I wrote. I never for example suggested that the turbines were viable even in principle; I gave them as an example of what might be better than your steel plates.

    "Better than steel plates" please note, does not mean "practical" or even "practicable"; it does not necessarily even mean "sane". Forgive me if I misled you into thinking that the approach threatened to tempt your local politicians into a boondoggle.

    Why not instead devote your undoubted maths talents answering my actual question? I asked in effect whether steel plates of less than the size of Kansas (read "infinite" in engineering terms!) would actually work on tornados even if we could drop them accurately. Did you calculate what would happen to the conserved energy and angular momentum?
  20. Jul 6, 2014 #19

    Simon Bridge

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    1. they would not work better than the steel plates - and for the same reasons... unless you want to demonstrate otherwise i.e. by doing the maths?

    2. they are not "my" steel plates.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2014
  21. Jul 8, 2014 #20
    Tornados have enough energy to lift a loaded railroad car. You would need a plate so big nothing could lift it.
    If it would work at all.
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