Dr. Timothy J. Lang

Friday, October 16, 2009

Richard Heene et al. (2008)

Richard Heene, the father of "Balloon Boy" Falcon Heene, was the lead author of a study published in National Weather Digest, entitled "Electromagnetic Fields Recorded in Mesocyclones" (sorry, NWD does not provide online links to articles). While the non-existent balloon journey of Falcon is now potentially a hoax, I thought it would be interesting to examine his father's sole scientific publication to date.

Richard Heene is a proponent of an electromagnetic explanation for atmospheric vortices such as tornadoes, dust devils, and tropical cyclones. This is in contrast to the predominant view within the scientific community, which favors a fluid dynamics explanation (i.e., air pressure changes, inherent spin or vorticity of air, etc.). For example, in the Vortex 2 tornado-chasing campaign last summer, no electromagnetic observations of any kind were made. The scientific community does not need to invoke electromagnetism because, based on numerous experiments and observations, as well as theoretical modeling, fluid dynamics is seen as an adequate explanation for tornadoes. The same goes for things like dust devils and hurricanes. In essence, the electromagnetic folks have a "solution" in search of a problem. We already understand tornadoes pretty well in the context of wind, pressure, and temperature. We don't need to add electricity and magnetism to the mix.

In the paper, Heene and his colleagues show some magnetic field measurements near dust devils, rotating thunderstorms, and a hurricane. Unsurprisingly, they find enhanced magnetic fields near these phenomena. This is because we already know from decades of research that dust devils, thunderstorms, and hurricanes can be electrified. Due to winds in these storms, the electric charges move, thereby creating a magnetic field. What Heene et al. fail to show is that the magnetic fields have anything to do with the formation of the vortex phenomena they studied. The main problem is that they don't demonstrate that these magnetic fields are strong enough to cause vortices on their own. This has been a constant problem for electromagnetism proponents for decades.

Electromagnetism proponents like Heene and colleagues need to first demonstrate the weaknesses of fluid dynamics theory in explaining tornadoes, etc., and then they need to demonstrate how electromagnetism can fill those holes. Demonstrating that storms can have magnetic fields, and properly describing those fields, is scientifically interesting. But there is very little evidence to support the idea that magnetic fields cause tornadoes and like phenomena, especially in contrast to fluid dynamics.