The Electromagnetic Nature of Tornadic Supercell Thunderstorms

Last modified: 2013-08-25 20:57:42 UTC

© 2007~2017 Charles L. Chandler

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Abstract

Supercell thunderstorms, and the tornadoes they spawn, are considered. Consistency with the current research trends within the disciplines of meteorology and geophysics is neglected in the pursuit of a mechanistic model that can more accurately describe the distinctive characteristics of tornadic supercells. Specifically, the common assumption that electromagnetism is too weak to influence the behavior of a supercell is challenged. The charge separation process in the storm creates electric fields that exert a force more powerful than gravity on charged particles, which then exert aerodynamic forces on the surrounding air, thereby modulating the flow fields. Charged gases also have lower viscosities, and therefore flow faster in pressure gradients. Furthermore, charged gases are less prone to turbulence, with dramatic effects on the net velocities. Studying supercells as charged gases might enable solutions to many otherwise intractable problems. Most significantly, a mechanistic model of the tornadic flow field is presented. While a tornado occurs within the influence of a low pressure aloft, and is typically thought to be a simple suction vortex, its defining characteristics are that the lowest pressure, tightest radius, and fastest wind speeds occur at the ground, farthest from the low pressure aloft, and where the friction is the greatest. This proves that the primary energy conversion occurs at the ground, and that the low pressure aloft is merely absorbing the exhaust from that conversion. In conventional meteorology, the only energy available for conversion near the ground is latent heat stored in water vapor, but the release of latent heat continues through the entire height of the tornado (and beyond), and therefore cannot be concentrated just at the base of the vortex. The only other force present is electromagnetism. Previous research showed that ohmic heating from the flow of an electric current through the tornado is more powerful than latent heating, but similarly, this energy is thermalized through the entire height of the vortex, leaving the extreme low pressure near the ground unexplained. The sustained current inside the tornado was confirmed by various methods to be greater than 100 amps. Inexplicably, evidence of such a current going into the ground has never been found. The possibility not considered by previous research is that the current terminates in the air itself, meaning that the tornadic inflow is charged. If so, it induces an opposite charge in the ground, and is attracted to that charge. As the air flows along the ground, skin friction generates heat. Once the air enters the vortex, the electric current neutralizes the charge, releasing the air from its attraction to the ground, and thus releasing all of the accumulated thermal potential. This means that the unexplained power expended by the tornado on the ground answers its own question, as the frictional heat so generated is the only energy that could cause a robust updraft so close to the ground, while the charge neutralization is the critical conversion. The energy budget of the entire tornado can then be reconciled as the sum of frictional heating at the ground, latent and ohmic heating inside the vortex, and the low pressure aloft. An extensive review of the available data is made, without finding reason to abandon this model. The implications are then considered.