We've seen movies about "storm chasers," who chase tornadoes in battered pick-ups, risking their lives in order to learn more about these destructive whirlwinds. We don't expect the problem to be solved by a scientist brainstorming from his home in Del Mar, California, an area that never experiences tornadoes.
Each year over 1,000 tornadoes rip through America, killing over 100 people. Ben Eastlund, a Star Wars defense programscientist, thinks he has found a way to eliminate them for good.
"The basic thought," Eastlund says, "is to find the right spot in one of the storms, the area where the energy is goinginto rotation, and to change it. It's suspected that a tornado forms between a hot updraft and a cold, rainy downdraft.Now, with microwaves, I could heat that cold, rainy downdraft."
He'd use a 500 foot wide microwave beam, aimed towards Earth from an orbiting satellite, to do the job. He's tested thebeam with a computer model, but never actually aimed one at a storm. One problem is that the microwave beam would haveto be so intense that it could also explode birds and cripple any airplanes in its path.
"The trouble with all these schemes, beaming energy from space and down into storms, is we're not certain how wellthey'll work," says Stephen Schneider, a global warming expert at Stanford University. "If you're gonna start playingaround with the system and monkeying around, you'd better have a fund to pay those people who get hurt when anythinggoes wrong."
"We really don't understand supercells enough to start fooling around with things like this," agrees John Monteverdi, ameteorologist at San Francisco State University.
But Eastlund is undaunted and wants to talk NASA into letting him try. If they agree, he'll try it out on water spoutsin the open ocean first, before taking on a real tornado.
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