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An alternative explanation of tornadoes

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Luis Mateu

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I have read many explanations about how tornadoes form, like for example http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150511-tornadoes-storms-midwest-weather-science or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercell. Talks by experts like http://live.som.ou.edu/ also support them. These explanations share the idea of an horizonal vortex that is lifted by the mesocyclone into a vertical position, but this is counterintuitive to me. So I developped an alternative explanation of tornadoes closer to the idea of the whirlpool formed in the drain of a bathtub. I write here to ask if you have observed clues that could support my thinking.

In short my explanation requires a high altitude storm moving above the mesocyclone. The tornado occurs when an updraft forms between the mesocyclone and the high altitude storm. Eventually this will create an unusually strong updraft that sucks the air at the ground raising it to very high in the atmosphere. It is the heavy cold air that pushes the light warm air to go through the updraft. This is the whole picture:
fig1-tornado.png
The long explanation is as follows. It is well known that most tornadoes are spawned below the wall cloud of a mesocyclone. A mesocyclone is a big updraft with a width varying from 1 to 8 kilometers, as pictured here:
fig2-mesocyclone.png
The problem is that the observations show that most of the time the mesocyclone doesn't spawn tornadoes. Although the big tornadoes being at least 1 kilometer wide can be explained as the vortex produced by a mesocyclone, most tornadoes are much narrower than the mesocyclone. So in general tornadoes are produced by a different updraft, not the mesocyclone. That updraft must be narrow. Also consider that a narrow vortex will produce stronger winds than a wide vortex. For example hurricanes with the strongest winds like Andrew had a small eye compared with other hurricanes.

So the mesocyclone is an ingredient, but it is not enough. I think that a second ingredient should be a high altitude storm moving above the mesocyclone like in this picture:
fig3-storm.png
This is possible because the winds at different altitudes have changing directions and so the storms moving at different altitudes. A third ingredient is needed: the overshooting top of the mesocyclone must succeed to pierce the cold air layer that separates the mesocyclone from the storm above, forming a narrow updraft that connects the top of the mesocyclone to the base warm layer of the high altitude storm.
fig4-updraft.png
This updraft shall be strong enough to pierce the first cold layer of the high altitude storm. After that it will pierce the second cold layer and then the third and so on. Each time that a cold layer is pierced the updraft becomes stronger. This is because the heavy cold air pierced by the updraft pushes the light warm air bellow to raise through the updraft. The intensity of the updraft is given by the amount of cold air that is pierced. An additional cold layer means bigger intensity.

The base of the updraft will form a vortex like the whirlpool of a drain, but inverted. By this I mean that the air will spin around the updraft before entering it. I will make here a conjecture: this vortex will slowly descend through the mesocylone, progressively sucking the warm air from lower and lower altitudes. This is due to the intensity of the updraft and because there is no cold layer stopping it. See this picture:
fig5-descend.png
Finally the tornado forms when the vortex reaches the ground as shown by the first picture of this post. And that is my explanation for tornadoes. They are narrower and go higher than the mesocyclone. As you can see, my reasoning is very different from the explanation in http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/150511-tornadoes-storms-midwest-weather-science.

One point in favor of my thinking is that it also can explain multiple vortex tornadoes: because the mesocyclone is so wide, there is enough place above it to form 2 or 3 updrafts connecting the mesocyclone to the high altitude storm, and therefore they will form a dual or triple vortex tornado.

So here are my questions:
Have you read something similar to my explanation before?
While chasing storms have you observed a storm moving above another storm? Moving above a mesocyclone? I think that the key to see what happens above the mesocyclone is to observe it from the direction shown by the green arrow in this picture (original by Vanessa Ezekowitz - Wikipedia), but 10 to 20 kilometers far away:
fig6-direction.png
Finally, is it possible to simulate this scenario with computers? If it is too complex, it would help to reduce the simulation to just the strong updraft inside the mesocyclone to determine if the vortex descends or not.

Thanks.

 
I think that the idea that tornadoes spawn from mesos is think is like where a person spins a top....that persons wrist being the meso and the top being the tornado however I believe that your thoughts are very plausible
 
If by "high altitude storm" you mean strong upper level winds, then yes strong upper level winds have been well correlated with severe weather. Divergent flow aids the storm to vent and strengthens the updraft, this supports your theory. However, tornados and I believe a few strong tornadoes (could be wrong) have occurred in the absence of strong upper level flow. I also remember seeing some research done viewing the tops of supercells from airplanes, I did a quick google search and couldn't find it, but that may be of interest to you. I have also heard of some research that correlated the collapse of anvil tops with tornados, this would probably counter your theory. In my opinion the key factors of tornadogenesis lay in microscale processes close to the ground.
 
I recall you posted this under another handle a few years ago. This is not a theory - and as others have noted it is incorrect.
 
No.

This is going to sound mean, but this is just plain wrong. I may not be the world's leading authority on how tornadoes form, but I know enough to be able to shred this theory to pieces. You seem to have demonstrated that you lack sufficient understanding of the applied physics that relate to meteorology as they pertain to thunderstorm and tornado formation.

Generally, you were much too generic in the way you explained the theory. How a tornado forms is not simple, and it takes way more than 5 or 6 simplified large-scale graphics with a few hundred words of text to explain it with sufficient specificity as to survive a thorough vetting by scientists. Also, if I understood what you said, then you are describing in a somewhat simple and inadequate way something called the "dynamic pipe effect," which I recommend you look up.

Specifically, what you refer to as a "high altitude storm" is completely bogus. First of all, that is a very ambiguous term that you made no effort to define or describe, and your drawing of it in the schematic doesn't resemble anything actually observed in nature. Secondly, it's easy to prove that such an entity is not needed for the production of tornadoes. Look at a visible satellite image looking down at the top of a cumulonimbus cloud that contains a tornado under it. The major feature you'll see is a flat white sheet representing the top of the thunderstorm (the top of the anvil) with perhaps a bubble or two poking out above the top, maybe even with a short shadow depicting the overshooting top. Since you can see that on satellite, it's clear that there is no "storm" above the top of the cumulonimbus cloud. Furthermore, such a storm cannot even exist...it's physically impossible. The reason it cannot exist is because of the same feature that causes thunderstorm tops to be where they are - the tropopause - a layer separating the troposphere from the stratosphere characterized by absolutely stable lapse rates. The updraft of a thunderstorm cannot penetrate very far into the tropopause before the air parcels lose their momentum and sink back to the equilibrium level. Therefore, there can be no violent upward current of air in the tropopause.

Also, you need to make sure you are using scientific terms properly. As an example:

A mesocyclone is a big updraft

This is not a complete description of a mesocyclone, and the text and image that follow do not complete the description. A mesocyclone is a rotating updraft, not just any old updraft with a width of O(1-10 km).

Your language is also misleading:

Also consider that a narrow vortex will produce stronger winds than a wide vortex.

A vortex doesn't really produce winds. A vortex is the structure of the wind vectors, and it is not always true that a vortex with a narrow diameter will contain faster wind speeds than one of a larger diameter. Based on your statement, there should never be a hurricane with winds as strong as any tornado, since hurricanes have widths of O(100 km) and tornadoes have widths of O(1-1000 m), yet a category 5 hurricane can have wind speeds in the eyewall exceeding 150 mph, and an EF1 tornado will have wind speeds not exceeding 110 mph.

These and many other aspects of your theory would not survive peer review. Therefore, I would not recommend anyone take it seriously. National Geographic articles are also not a legitimate source of information to describe how tornadoes form in the sense of developing a new theory.

Here are some more accurate and more important aspects of tornado formation:
-tornadoes can form in the absence of a mesocyclone. This is a hint that upper-tropospheric processes like you described are not a necessary condition for tornadoes to form since mesocyclones are a manifestation of deep vertical wind shear.
-the difference between scenarios that include a tornado in a supercell and those that do not include a tornado in a supercell can be very minute. Model studies have shown many times that even a very small change in the vertical profile of temperature, humidity, or wind can make the difference between tornado or no tornado even though the parent thunderstorm in each case may appear very similar (i.e., on reflectivity or cloud water mixing ratio images). I'm pretty sure I can find a study in which the same initial conditions are used, but different cloud and precipitation microphysics schemes are used, and one simulation contains a tornado while the other does not. Cloud microphysics deals with processes occurring essentially on the molecular scale, which means the existence of a tornado could come down to extremely small scale differences.
-tornadoes are strands of very strong vorticity. I saw no mention of the term "vorticity" and no reference to the vorticity equation in your expose. The vorticity equation is based on the fundamental governing forces of the atmosphere and thus should be regarded as a pretty strong source of guidance in any theory that attempts to explain tornado formation. In most cases, tornadoes are a column of strong vertical vorticity (although when a tornado twists in shape, possibly attaining horizontal segments, technically the vorticity is horizontal at that point, but that's usually long after the initial formation). The strength of vertical vorticity needed to form a tornado is not naturally present in the atmosphere outside of thunderstorms. It must be generated and then converted, almost always from horizontal vorticity. The size (width) of the tornado should correlate to the width of the strand of horizontal vorticity that gets tilted and stretched into the vertical. With that in mind, horizontal vorticity with widths of O(1-1000 m) are probably the source of tornadic vorticity. The magnitude of synoptic scale vertical wind shear needed to generate strong enough horizontal vorticity on this scale is probably much higher than the amount of shear that actually occurs. This means that a combination of internal storm processes and storm-scale processes are the likely sources for the tornadic vorticity. The dynamic pipe effect is one potential internal storm process that can lead to tornadogenesis, but it does not happen the way you theorize.
-Observations of tornadoes suggest some develop in a "bottom-up" process, meaning that they initially form very near the ground and develop upward from there. So your theory is strongly at odds with those observations. The dynamic pipe effect is better at explaining "top-down" formation processes.

Finally, this theory sounds awfully similar to one I heard about that was presented by someone at the 2015 AGU meeting in December. Unless you were a coauthor on this work or have explicit permission from the authors of that work, then I'm suspicious you have stolen their ideas and are trying to present it here for whatever reason. If this is not the case, then I'm sorry for being accusatory, but the parallels are peculiar. In either case, your theory is highly likely to inadequately explain tornado formation and I personally reject it.
 
Realize a Mesocyclone is a radar signature. The towards/away signature in a pattern to indicate rotation, not just convergence or such. The radar is seeing the circulation formed by the updraft. The updraft is rotating. You seem to seperate mesocyclone and updraft. The mesocyclone is part, or all, of the updraft.

With veering direction of wind with height you generate helicity in this flow. I think of helicity as the amount of 'spin' in the air. Thousands of tiny tiny tops spinning along if you will. :p If you put a tissue paper, or tiny pieces of tissue paper, in between your two palms, and move one palm up and left and the other up and right, this should make the tissue curl into tiny balls. Now an updraft seems to ingest or accumulate this helicity in the air next to the surface. Lowest 1km or 2.

Without this helicity, SRH, or Storm Relative Helicity, the updraft doesn't curl over, rotate, spin, and hence small chance of any significant tornado.

Of course there's a multitude of other ingredients. Buoyancy or CAPE, jet stream aloft speed to push the rain away from the updraft, and even storm motion that takes it into favorable air, and not across a cold front into stable air. etc etc etc and about that many more etc we aren't quite sure about.
 
@Jeff Duda clearly did a great job of explaining why this is preposterous. But, every time one of these theories about tornadoes pops up I just have to wonder, why do they ignore so much? Just the smallest amount of research into tornadoes, and you'll find that they also occur with low-topped convection. So shouldn't that automatically make you question your "high altitude storm" theory?? Like, where is the high altitude storm in this brilliant photo taken by an ST member from the 11-16-2015 tornadoes in Texas? There are so many tornadoes that occur in storms that have EL levels that aren't "high altitude"...and these low toppers don't really have the CAPE to make overshooting tops.
nov-16-2015-tornado-1-jpg.10837
 
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I'm pretty sure that our understanding of every thermodynamic system in the universe is completely flawed if warm air has to "force" it's way through cold air that is above it. I can disprove that assumption, arguably the key assumption made here, with hot and cold water, food coloring, and a fish tank.
 
Sorry, I just don't see this as plausible.

There's a very good reason that updrafts come to a screeching halt when they hit the Troposphere! The Tropopause represents the altitude at which the ambient lapse rate changes radically. The lapse (temp vs. altitude) rate drops significantly and may even reverse! The net effect is that any ascending parcel, no matter how humid or warm, will very rapidly reach negative buoyancy as it ascends into the much warmer troposphere. A particularly heroic meso updraft (100+ MPH!) may manage one or two thousand feet or so (about right?) of overshoot, but after that gravity wins the battle.

As such, I don't see any way in which an ascending parcel can conceivably be sucked up / lifted any higher than the anvil top.

Given the ambient lapse rate, your "upper level storm" layer cake would need to consist of layers of very cold air separated by very warm air - a highly unstable condition. How such a thermal structure could form, much less stay 'primed' for action, is unexplained. IMO the whole structure seems highly unlikely.
 
I'm pretty sure that our understanding of every thermodynamic system in the universe is completely flawed if warm air has to "force" it's way through cold air that is above it. I can disprove that assumption, arguably the key assumption made here, with hot and cold water, food coloring, and a fish tank.

Excellent comment. Another flawed notion that meteorology stubbornly refuse to acknowledge is that moist air is actually heavier than dry air. This exposes a major assumption of the convection model of storm theory to be nonsense. (Beware, meteorologists get very emotional and very evasive when anybody throws scrutiny at their basic assumptions:

As you suggest, the thermodynamics of atmospheric flow have been completely misconstrued by a paradigm that understand statistics but does not understand physics:
http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=16582#p117060

James McGinn
 
James - since your post is all emotional and zero science, I'm not sure you should be making accusations. Your "theory" is crap.
 
These and many other aspects of your theory would not survive peer review. Therefore, I would not recommend anyone take it seriously.

If you don't have a viable model (and, let's face it, you don't) then why not consider any and all theories. What are you afraid of? (not you personally, all of meteorology)

National Geographic articles are also not a legitimate source of information to describe how tornadoes form in the sense of developing a new theory.

Our understanding of tornadogenesis is ensconced in peer-reviewed, academic superstition. Meteorologists are not physicists. Even basic assumptions are poorly considered by meteorologists. That's why zero progress has been made.

-tornadoes are strands of very strong vorticity. I saw no mention of the term "vorticity" and no reference to the vorticity equation in your expose.

Vorticity is just a word. It doesn't carry any special meaning. You can't measure/detect it. And the fact that somebody made a "vorticity equation" doesn't mean it represents reality. The fact is that we cannot explain how a votice manages to maintain such a tight, coherent structure.

The vorticity equation is based on the fundamental governing forces of the atmosphere and thus should be regarded as a pretty strong source of guidance in any theory that attempts to explain tornado formation.

Nonsense. Vorticity theory is based on math and geometry, not any "fundamental governing forces of the atmosphere."

Vorticity is just semantics. (Propaganda.)

The magnitude of synoptic scale vertical wind shear needed to generate strong enough horizontal vorticity on this scale is probably much higher than the amount of shear that actually occurs.

That would presuppose that we understood the significance of wind shear. And we don't.

http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=16329

Meterologists shun physicists because the belief that they understand what they really don't is too valuable to their public image.

James McGinn
 
James - since your post is all emotional and zero science, I'm not sure you should be making accusations. Your "theory" is crap.

LOL. Meteorologists all pretend to have some deep understanding. The truth is you have no dispute with my theory. My theory is better than what you have. And you probably don't even have a cogent theory of your own. You are a pretender.

If my theory is crap it should be simple demonstrate such. And if my theory is crap that doesn't mean that your theory isn't also crap. Right?

Could it be that your theory is just superstition. Could it be that your theory just appeals to the lowest common denominator of what people want to believe? Could it be that meteorology is, largely, a belief system and not a fully empirical science?

If you don't know what is right then how do you know what is wrong?

If your own theory was viable maybe you wouldn't be so sensitive.

Maybe you should stop being afraid of what you don't understand and top acting like have some special understanding. I am a meteorologists. I have had the same classes that you have had. I know how low are the scientific standards of this pretentious discipline.
 
I recall you posted this under another handle a few years ago. This is not a theory - and as others have noted it is incorrect.
Why are meteorologists so afraid of competing theories? Science isn't a religion. There is no reason to fear people that don't agree with everything you believe. You need to start being honest about the fact that your own theory is nonsense.
 
James - since your post is all emotional and zero science, I'm not sure you should be making accusations. Your "theory" is crap.

Maybe if your own theory (which you, undoubtedly will refuse to elucidate) wasn't crap you wouldn't be so defensive.
 
I'm not defensive at all. The President may live with #AlternateFacts but science doesn't work that way.
 
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