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6 Elaborate Plots to Prevent Tornadoes 

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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.

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Even in Real Time, the Northern Lights Look Like a Beautiful Timelapse Video
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Nothing compares to seeing the Northern Lights in person, but this video shared by The Kid Should See This is a pretty decent substitute. Though it may look like a timelapse, the footage hasn’t been altered or sped up at all. The undulating green lights you see below are what the aurora borealis looks like in real time.

Astro-photographer Kwon O Chul captured the footage of the meteorological phenomenon in Canada’s Northwest Territories in March 2013. The setting, the Aurora Village in Yellowknife, is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Northern Lights up close. In the video, you can see how the camp’s glowing teepees complement the colorful ribbon of lights above.

Even if you plan your Northern Lights sightseeing trip perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a clear view of the aurora borealis on any given night, since factors like solar activity and weather conditions affect the light show’s visibility. But if you want to know what to expect when the lights are at their peak, take a look at the clip below.

You can check out more of Kwon O Chul's photography on Facebook.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Alaska Got 15 Inches of Snow in 90 Minutes Last Week
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Alaska is obviously no stranger to snow, but this month's white weather will likely go down in the state's record books. As The Weather Channel reports, Thompson Pass—a 2805-foot-high area in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains—received a whopping 15 inches of powder in just 90 minutes on Wednesday, December 6.

Thompson Pass sits just outside of Valdez, a tiny port city on Alaska’s south coast. Located along the Gulf of Alaska, Valdez is perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and for its rich Gold Rush history. Today, it’s important for commerce, since it’s the northernmost ice-free port in North America. But ice-free doesn't mean blizzard-free: The city is regularly cited as one of the snowiest places in the U.S., if not the snowiest. On average, locals can expect to see (and smell) 300 or more inches of frozen precipitation per year. As for Thompson Pass, it very often receives more than 700 inches of the wet stuff in a year.

Still, Mother Nature truly outdid herself on December 6, when Thompson Pass was slammed with what weather historian Christopher Burt deemed to be one of modern history’s most intense snowfalls. By the storm’s end, 40 inches of heavy snow had accumulated in just 12 hours, according to The Washington Post.

Who angered the winter weather gods? Or, more scientifically speaking, which atmospheric conditions led to the storm? According to experts, a stream of warm water vapor from the Pacific Ocean hit Alaska’s coast, traveling through an aerial channel known as an “atmospheric river.” When atmospheric rivers hit land, they release this water vapor as either rain or snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Intensifying the phenomenon was the North American Winter Dipole, which The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described as a “fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East.”

"Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half,” Samenow said.

Valdez residents are accustomed to snow, but last week's storm was particularly challenging for townspeople. An avalanche buried Richardson Highway, the city’s only overland route that leads in and out of town. It reopened on Thursday, December 7, according to The Cordova Times, but driving conditions were poor.

While extreme, the Thompson Pass blizzard might not be history's weirdest snowfall. For example, arid countries like Kuwait and Iraq have experienced snow. In January 1887, 15-inch snowflakes were reportedly spotted at Montana’s Fort Keogh. And in 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 and April 15 in Silver Lake, Colorado—the most snow to ever fall in a 24-hour period in the U.S.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

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