The Optical Transient Detector, an experimental NASA detector recently lofted into Earth orbit, offers hope that longer advance warnings may be possible. A group led by Hugh J. Christian of the Marshall Space Flight Center used the satellite to tally the rate of lightning flashes in large storms. One provocative finding was that the flash rate often peaks shortly before tornadoes appear.
The Optical Transient Detector also detected far more flashes than were observed from the ground--a sign that the storms that produce tornadoes create mostly cloud-to-cloud strikes. These intra-cloud bolts seem to occur primarily while the storm is building in strength, so space-based observations could help alert people on the ground to the mounting tornado risk.
Tornadoes are not yet tamed, of course--how could they be? But clever research and new technologies promise at least to take a little wind out of their sails.