Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Initial Question

Everybody has seen it. Everybody knows exactly what I’m talking about. Yet there is nothing on it anywhere. It doesn’t matter where you look, internet, books, science journals, there is zero insight and/or discussion of the molecular dynamics of the very distinctive and highly observable cone or vortex of tornadoes.  You may have done the same thing I’ve done. After viewing video of a tornado you get on your computer and do a number of searches using combinations of the following words: tornado, vortex, molecular, dynamics, composition, expecting to find some kind of explanation. You might even have ended up at this site which does a fairly good job of encapsulating the attitude of meteorologists who, it seems, would have us believe that observation of tornadic vortices has more to do with our perception than it does physical reality:

“It is not a “thing” in the sense that a table or a book (neglecting atomic or molecular fluctuations) is the same from one moment to the next. Much confusion about tornadoes comes from thinking of tornadoes as objects rather than as the kinematic manifestation of dynamic processes.”

Obviously this is just doublespeak intended to minimize the issue. Nobody disputes that a vortex is more than just a listing of molecular composition and percentages thereof. Nobody disputes that energy is involved, such as that associated with its rotation and that associated with air moving up and through its conduit-like structure. And nobody disputes that situational factors are instrumental. It is, for example, commonly observed that factors associated with wind-shear between two bodies of air moving at cross angles—one being relatively moist and the other relatively dry—and other factors such as general instability and high winds aloft are also associated with the observation of these vortices. But none of this answers the question: what specifically is going on with the molecules that comprise the cone or vortex?

I had been entertaining this question in my mind casually for fifteen or twenty years. Every once in a while I would read something or see something on TV that would trigger my thinking. One of these triggers was the concept that water is a non-Newtonian fluid.   Newtonian fluids are fluids in which, “shear strain is directly proportional to shear stress.” Non-Newtonian fluids, therefore, are fluids in which shear strain is indirectly or even inversely proportional to shear stress. What this means is that whereas Newtonian fluids get weaker under stress non-Newtonian fluids get stronger under stress (in particular ways). After further investigation I came to the conclusion that water’s non-Newtonian attributes are an implication of the H2O molecule’s polarity and associated hydrogen bonding. In my book, entitled Solving Tornadoes: Mastering the Mystery of the Vortex, I provide details as to how these cumulative factors, starting with clusters/droplets of water suspended in the atmosphere, produce a plasma (or plasma-like substance), an heretofore unspecified phase of water, as being the answer to the question asked in the above paragraph. (If you are interested in a brief overview of the underlying physical principles and forces involved with this theorized plasma phase of water follow this link.)

Greater Realization

As is explained in more detail in my book, the role of atmospheric water, in the form of this newly discovered plasma is much more centrally involved with the general circulation than anybody had previously imagined. And this is true despite the fact that the role previously imagined for water, as the source of the force of storms and upward movement by way of convection, is completely refuted by the realization (a realization that is arrived at through this new understanding) that, in contrast to what everybody has believed for a very long time, moist air is heavier and not lighter than dry air and therefore cannot provide any kind of up-welling force whatsoever.   Instead—made possible by the structural capabilities of this newly discovered plasma phase of water—the jet stream takes center stage as the source of energy for storms and general circulation, including both updrafts and downdrafts. The larger picture that emerges implicates the jet stream as being more structurally significant, more active, and more multi-faceted than we are generally aware; most of its activities taking place very high, all along the extensive boundary between the relatively moist troposphere and the very dry stratosphere.  Additionally, the jet stream is revealed as a thermodynamic entity that maximizes entropy, conserves energy, and does work (storms). At one and the same time the jet stream is a river with many tributaries most of which are invisible to us. Energy gets distributed, by way of vacuum effect, along these tributaries based on a relatively straightforward, working principle (which I will not describe here, because it will only cause confusion; suffice it to say that boundaries between dry air and moist air are essential) in which the structural capabilities of this plasma are pivotal in regards to their role in the manifestation of the conduits of this distribution. Storms and tornadoes, being at the far-reaching ends of these conduits of distribution and not the independent entities that some (including most meteorologists) have imagined them to be, can now be correctly considered from the perspective of the factors that underlie the growth of said structure in the lower part of the atmosphere, providing us insight that opens the door to methods of tornado mitigation that previously had not been considered. (More on mitigation below.)

In a paper entitled, A History of Prevailing Ideas about the General Circulation of the Atmosphere,   Edward N. Lorenz (1983) writes of these, “prevailing ideas,” occurring in steps, which is summed up in the final three paragraphs:

If our own most recent view of the general circulation (Lorenz, 1969) is accurate, we may be nearing the end of the fourth step. We have pictured a circulation that, if not easily explainable in simple sentences (except by calling it a baro-clinic-instability phenomenon), can at least be duplicated in its main features by numerical solutions of fairly realistic approximations to the governing dynamic equations. The statistics that have been evaluated from these solutions compare fairly well with those determined from real atmospheric data. There is a comfortable feeling that the problem is nearly solved.

We may therefore pause and ask ourselves whether this step will be completed in the manner of the last three. Will the next decade see new observational data that will disprove our present ideas? It would be difficult to show that this cannot happen.

Our current knowledge of the role of the various phases of water in the atmosphere is somewhat incomplete; eventually it must encompass both thermodynamic and radiational effects. We do not fully understand the interconnections between the tropics, which contain the bulk of water, and the remaining latitudes. Satellite observations have revealed various features, such as a frequent continuum of clouds extending northeastward from the tropical Pacific into the central United States, which were not previously recognized. Perhaps near the end of the 20th century we shall suddenly discover that we are beginning the fifth step.

I think it fairly certain that when Lorenz wrote of these, “various phases of water in the atmosphere,” back in 1983 the possibility of a plasma phase of water occurring naturally in our atmosphere was not even a remote consideration.  Moreover, the notion that such a phase of water could provide the structure, and thereby, the leverage necessary to enable the jet stream to be the dominant influence of atmospheric flow (and one that would simultaneously effectuate storms as the mechanism to replenish the water expended in the process) would have sounded perfectly audacious to his ears. It is now 2014, here I am and here it is. In consideration of the fact that this new understanding does a better job of explaining what is actually observed than does current thinking/theory my audacious sounding claims about the role of water in the atmosphere and implications thereof is, in my opinion, not audacious at all. Moreover, I am not hesitant to make the argument that truly audacious claims have been a part of meteorology’s mythology and catechism for longer than even its the most mature practitioners can remember:

  • That moist air is lighter and convects up through dry air to power storms. This assumption has remained untested and completely unchallenged over the full breadths of Meteorology’s 170 year history. It’s empirical verification is about 169 years overdue.
  • That a rising bubble of warm, moist air (or multiples thereof) can somehow explain (or be the trigger/cause of) widespread low pressure and the strong cold winds associated with storms. More specifically, these phenomena, (cold fronts) are just assumed in synoptic models and, therefore, have no logical connection to the notion that storms are caused and powered by convection of moist air (and/or warm air).
  • That the same seemingly benign process of warm, moist air rising can somehow cause the extremely concentrated and high magnitude of energy found in tornadoes (especially the larger, more destructive tornadoes).
  • Depending upon when it is argumentatively convenient to assume one or the other, that dry air serves as both the substrate through which “lighter” moist air convects and as the cap (inversion layer) that stops and/or opposes the up-welling force of convection. And that the latter of these two absurdities, the cap, explains both how storms and tornadoes can happen hundreds of miles away from the locations the moist air was created and, as if that is not crazy enough, how there can be a build up of upwelling energy that explains the high magnitude of energy in some storms and tornadoes. (More on this issue/theme can be found here.)
  • That one can observe the cone or vortex of a tornado and not notice, or at least suspect, its structural functionality or the underlying molecular distinctions that, seemingly, crying out for explanation and, somehow, dismiss it as, “not a thing.”

And the one that is most arrogantly audacious of all:

  • That researchers (meteorologists, especially those associated with tornadogenesis) can claim to know that tornadoes can never be prevented or mitigated and, therefore, the best we can ever expect is to better predict them.

There is a semi-informal rule of science that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.   As you can see in the above list, this is a rule that the discipline of meteorology has chosen to ignore. It would be nice to think that they would read this post, acknowledge the shortcomings indicated herein, take the bull by the horns, and begin to actually take the steps necessary to attempt to test these notions experimentally. But their attitude is that they have a consensus and, as such, they have nothing to prove to anybody.  Instead they expect that we should blindly accept what they profess.   Unfortunately this unprofessional attitude leaves us here at Solving Tornadoes with no choice but to take a hard stance. As far as we are concerned, unless and until they begin to change their attitude with respect to meeting the requirements for extraordinary evidence of their (above mentioned) extraordinary claims their input or advice will be looked at with the same scrutiny that one would invoke when presented with advice from members of a cult or religious belief. (The history of science has proven that taking a hard stance is the only viable option when dealing with science denialism, especially when such is ingrained in the long-standing traditions of a scientific discipline.)

Simple Solution

At this point in reading this blog post you may be not quite sure what all the fuss is about. If you take nothing else away from this reading experience take the following and please relay it to everybody you know: mitigating and/or preventing large, destructive tornadoes may well prove to be extremely easy, extremely inexpensive, and extremely effective! And the extraordinary evidence that we here at Solving Tornadoes intend to provide to substantiate this extraordinary claim is to begin to do just that: mitigate and/or prevent large destructive tornadoes!

To get a more in-depth understanding as to how we expect to do this I would direct you to my book, mentioned above. (Or, for a somewhat more vague and meandering exposition on this theme you can go to the website that I completed in June of 2013 (link). I suggest reading Parts One, Two and Three. But you could just skip ahead to Part Three to get a sense of what specific mitigation measures are being prescribed.) Or even, just read the following, which I hereby present as a series of talking points that you can commit to memory and relay to others:

  1. Made possible by the structural capabilities of a newly discovered plasma phase of water, the jet stream is the source of energy for storms and tornadoes.
  2. The energy of storms is distributed, by way of vacuum effect, through down-reaching tributaries which are themselves vortices (conduits) constructed from this plasma, tornadoes being the far-reaching end of these conduits of distribution.
  3. Boundaries between dry air and moist air, what are referred to as “layers of differentness” (or, more simply, “differentness”) are the resource that these vortices of plasma grow into.
  4. The higher the quality of this differentness with respect to being long, flat, straight, smooth and distinct the greater the potential for rapid growth and greater energy transfer and, consequently, the greater the potential for larger, higher energy vortices/tornadoes.
  5. More commonly referred to (erroneously) as “inversion” layers, the long (extensive) straight, high quality boundary layers that form naturally in the lower atmosphere during calm weather conditions are, essentially, the accidents waiting to happen in tornado alley (and other parts of the world that experience large, destructive tornadoes). Fortunately however, these sleeping giants of differentness are themselves rather delicate and easily destroyed. Relatively slight perturbations can/will greatly reduce/eliminate their qualitatively determined ability to facilitate the rapid growth and energy transfer associated with large, destructive tornadoes. Specifically, the threat of large, destructive tornadoes associated with inversion layers can be greatly reduced by any perturbation directed at the inversion layer that 1) compromises the distinctness of the its differentness; 2) interrupts the straight-line length of its differentness; and/or 3) compromises the flatness and/or smoothness of its differentness.

In a nutshell:

We can think of inversion layers that form in the lower atmosphere as sheets of fabric that can/will subsequently be rolled up to form a tube or vortex. If these sheets are of high quality (long, straight, smooth, and/or distinct) then the tubes that form from them will themselves be of high quality and will, thereby, be very proficient as conduits of energy, producing large destructive tornadoes. If, however, these sheets are of low quality (short, crooked, ragged (having holes), bumpy, and/or fuzzy) then the tubes that form from them will themselves be of low quality and will, thereby, be ineffective as conduits of energy, producing relatively benign, low energy storms and tornadoes (and more of them).

All in all, there are reasons for optimism with this new understanding of tornadogenesis. In addition to being relatively easy to locate and easy to get to, the layers of differentness that develop (during periods of calm weather) in the lower atmosphere are extremely fragile. The slightest perturbation destroys them. The downwash coming off the wings of an airplane, for example, is more than enough to destroy any differentness in its immediate vicinity. Moreover, the whole-scale destruction of these boundary layers of differentness may not be necessary to effectively mitigate tornadoes; in order to achieve rapid growth plasma vortices are dependent on finding a pathway of differentness that is long in addition to being distinct and smooth. By flying patterns with aircraft along these layers of differentness and allowing the downwash off the wings to divide these sleeping giants of differentness into segments, like cutting fabric, we may be able to interrupt the straight-line continuity of the differentness in these inversion layers. Theoretically, this will prevent the kind of runaway vortex plasma growth associated with large, high energy, storms and tornadoes.

Too Good to be True?

Does this all seem too simple? Can it really be this easy? Can the annual threat of large, destructive tornadoes actually be brought to an end with something so simple as deploying aircraft to fly directed patterns at designated altitudes during periods of high risk? It’s hard to imagine any reasonable person not being skeptical of such a claim. I myself am skeptical on this point. But just yesterday I came across something on Twitter that would suggest that, possibly, it is not as crazy as it sounds. I re-posted it yesterday (link). It is a chart indicating that, according to Steve Goddard, “The number of strong tornadoes has declined significantly since the 1950s.” As I mentioned in that post, this decline seems to correlate with the increase in commercial air traffic during the 1960s. Might this purported reduction in tornado strength be a result of the fact that we have, inadvertently, been mitigating (destroying) layers of differentness with commercial aircraft? In other words, might we have already been accidently mitigating large, destructive tornadoes?   Yes, I know, this is a stretch.   And, yes, I know, this reduction in tornado intensity is subtle. And, yes, I know it might be a measuring bias or have some other perfectly reasonable explanation. But, supposing it is true that we have inadvertently been mitigating against strong tornadoes with commercial aircraft just think what kind of reduction in tornado strength we might achieve if we were actually trying.

How You Can Help

As an organization Solving Tornadoes is in its infancy. If you would like to know more about how you can help bring an end to large, destructive tornadoes please follow this blog and follow us on twitter: @solvingtornadoe

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