Skip to Content

Taming Tornadoes

Meteorology

During an average year in the United States, some 800 tornadoes injure more than a thousand people. A California physicist believes it is possible to use blasts of microwave energy from a satellite to diffuse developing tornadoes before they can wreak their damage.

Bernard Eastlund, president of Eastlund Scientific Enterprises in San Diego, Calif., proposes using microwaves to heat the cool, rainy downdrafts that form a tornado. According to modeling by Eastlund on supercomputers at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, about 100 million watts of energy added to the descending air column could disrupt a downdraft that otherwise might spawn a tornado.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) physicist Paul Bryant, an expert on tornadoes, thinks Eastlund’s idea is practical. “He’s got a good concept and has demonstrated in computer models that you can arrest a tornado,” Bryant says. Bryant, who is FEMA’s adviser to NASA on its efforts to mitigate natural disasters, says the International Space Station would be an ideal vehicle for an initial test that would involve diffusing developing waterspouts over remote sections of ocean.

Not everyone thinks that’s a great idea. Dan McCarthy, a tornado expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., cautions that diffusing tornadoes might open a meteorological Pandora’s box. “I’d be real careful in trying,” McCarthy says. “You may set off another area of thunderstorms elsewhere.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot
Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot

It will soon be easy for self-driving cars to hide in plain sight. We shouldn’t let them.

If they ever hit our roads for real, other drivers need to know exactly what they are.

supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way
supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way

This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy

The stunning image was made possible by linking eight existing radio observatories across the globe.

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.