6 Elaborate Plots to Prevent Tornadoes 


Each year, the central part of America known as Tornado Alley is at the mercy of Mother Nature. Powerful twisters tear across the landscape, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. In 2013, more than 800 tornadoes were reported in the U.S., and at least 50 people were killed.

What if we could prevent tornadoes from forming altogether? Temple University physicist Rongjia Tao thinks we can. His plan comes in the form of three 1000-foot tall “great walls” built at strategic points through Tornado Alley. In a paper published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B, Tao explains that tornadoes spawn when northbound warm air meets southbound cold air to form supercells. These storms turn into tornadoes roughly 30 percent of the time. The walls, which would run east to west and be about as thick as a football field is wide, would “weaken or block such air mass clashes and therefore diminish the major tornado threat in the Tornado Alley forever,” Tao says.

Weather experts were quick to debunk the idea, but it’s not our first harebrained attempt at preventing tornadoes.

1. Giant walls around cities, 1896

A man named David Wechsler suggested that, since steel-framed buildings seem to survive tornado-strength winds, giant steel walls could be built to the west of big cities to serve as “windbreakers” that would offer “protection against the weather as old-time towns were walled against human foes."

2. Metal towers packed with explosives, 1897

For a long time, we were fascinated by the idea that we could blow tornadoes up. A French inventor called Turpin suggested the construction of a series of 120-foot tall towers topped with 200 pounds of explosives and a windmill device to measure wind strength. When the wind picked up to tornado-like speeds, the tower tops would explode and “destroy the tornado at once.”

3. Missiles, 1953

Col. Rollin H. Mayer with the American Meteorological Society suggested we build a tornado-detecting network that used radar and tracking data to warn us of an approaching storm. Reasonable enough. Then when the network spotted a tornado, “jet planes with tornado-destruction missiles would be standing by to destroy tornadoes before they destroy us.”

4. Cloud-seeding, 1958

One idea was to seed storm areas with “condensation nuclei,” or cloud seeds. These are tiny particles (usually silver iodide, potassium iodide, or dry ice) that facilitate rain and other forms of precipitation by letting water cling to them and go from vapor to liquid. Morris Tepper, a tornado expert, wrote in Scientific American that using cloud-seeding could “soften the fury” of a tornado by weakening the updrafts that feed them.

Actually, it can’t do much to prevent tornadoes, but the U.S. has attempted to use cloud-seeding to reduce the size of hailstones produced in storms. People also use it to reduce fog surrounding airports and to encourage snow near ski resorts.

5. Jet engines, 1972

An article appeared in MIT's Technology Review in 1972 suggesting we create "hot spots" to weaken tornadoes by affixing jet engines to the ground that would blow a bunch of hot air upwards. The theory was that the updraft could create clouds and maybe rain to suck energy from the storm. Minor downside: The jet engines could also accidentally create their own tornadoes.

6. Microwave-blasting satellites, 2000

A physicist in California named Bernard Eastlund has proposed launching massive solar-powered satellites into space that would spot thunderstorms and then blast them with microwaves. This would heat the storms and prevent funnel clouds from forming. “I want to snip off the energy that is feeding the formation of the tornado,” Eastlund says.

The Northern Lights May Be Visible Over Parts of America Tonight

The Northern Lights are rarely visible in the continental U.S., but Americans living in the Upper Midwest and New England occasionally catch a glimpse. Tonight, March 14, may mark one such occasion, according to Thrillist.

Thanks to a mild geomagnetic storm on March 14 and 15, the aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine, the National Space Weather Prediction Center (SPWC) reports. The storm has been rated as a G1 geomagnetic storm, the weakest rating on a scale from G1 to G5, meaning it probably won’t disrupt power grids or satellites.

If you don’t live within the U.S.’s higher latitudes, you’ll have to be content with watching videos of the spectacular phenomenon.

If you do live along the country’s northern tier near the Canadian border, you can check the SPWC’s 30-minute aurora forecast to get a better sense of where the Northern Lights might appear in the sky in the near future.

[h/t Thrillist]

Nancy Rothhammer Dietrich
This Just In
Thanks to Winter Storms, a New Jersey Beach’s Famous ‘Ghost Tracks’ Have Reappeared
Nancy Rothhammer Dietrich
Nancy Rothhammer Dietrich

Powerful storms have a way of unearthing history in unexpected ways, from Civil War cannonballs—uncovered in South Carolina by Hurricane Matthew in 2016—to the oldest human footprints outside of Africa, found in England after storms in 2013. In New Jersey, recent nor'easters have revealed rarely seen railroad tracks dating back more than 100 years, as reports (and which you can see in the video below).

The so-called “ghost tracks” in the sand between Sunset Beach and Higbee Beach in southern New Jersey were originally used to carry sand and munitions in the early 1900s. One part of the track, built in 1905, transported sand from the beach and dunes to a nearby sorting facility for the Cape May Sand Company. During World War I, Bethlehem Steel Company used another part of the tracks to transport munitions down the beach to test their power, according to The Press of Atlantic City.

This isn’t the only not-too-distant time that storm-shifted sands have made the tracks visible to beachgoers. After eight decades under the sand, they first appeared in November 2014, but were soon buried again. A storm uncovered a section of track in November 2017, though it too disappeared within a few months.

The whole section of railroad isn’t usually visible at once. According to, the part of the tracks uncovered by recent storms are more intact and level than the parts unearthed in 2017. It’s likely that future storms and shifting tides will reveal portions of the railroad again, but it’s hard to say which lengths will be uncovered or how deteriorated they might be. You can be sure that local photographers will be on the lookout during the next storm, though.



More from mental floss studios