People Came Up with Some Crazy Ideas to Fight Tornadoes Back in the Day

Illustration for article titled People Came Up with Some Crazy Ideas to Fight Tornadoes Back in the Day

I've never experienced a tornado but I watched Twister multiple times and I'm scared shitless of them. And I sort of understand the weathery science behind them! Imagine how people felt in the 1800's when those menacing winding bolts from the sky would manifest and tear up everything in its path. Not fun.

To avoid the destruction of tornados—and there was destruction, thousands of people died in the late 1800's—people started fantasizing ways to ward off tornadoes. Two, in particular, caught my eye. One was to build a huge ass wall and the other was to develop a tornado extinguisher system.

Seriously! In 1896, the San Francisco Chronicle theorized that it would be "possibly practicable to build great windbreakers to the west of big cities that should forever guarantee them from such dire misfortune as that which overtook St. Louis; in other words to wall modern cities as a matter of protection against the weather as old-time towns were walled against human foes." Sadly, Mother Nature pays no mind to walls.


A more sciencey way to fight a tornado was to create a 125 feet high tower that would extinguish them. The idea was "to place an immense cylinder filled with some highly explosive material...when the tornado struck the windmillish arms, they would revolve - producing friction that would ignite [it]." That explosion would hopefully disrupt the motion of the tornado.

The ideas were awesome but really, there's no way to fight off a tornado. The best option we have is to warn people about them and get them to take cover. Unfortunately, even today the warning time for tornadoes is only 10 to 15 minutes. Damn. Let's just all move to Antartica. [NPR]

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So, I am not up on my meteorology: Is it *theoretically* possible to disrupt a tornado? Like, is there some point where you could change the air pressure to interfere with the whole "small-area high-wind" phenomenon?

I imagine it is possible that the actual causal portion of the phenomenon is larger or higher than the part we see, and therefore hard to change. However, my impression is that we have a reasonable understanding of that cause. So on some level, we could speculate on what kind of change it would take to stop a tornado (even if that change is technically infeasible or even dangerous in its own right). Any thoughts?

Edit: Small addition via Wikipedia. It seems we do not completely understand the cause of tornados. We have them up to a point, but there seems to be a step that leads to tornado formation that we still haven't figured out. I imagine that step would be integral to and plan to stop a tornado.