The Fifth Step
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.)