It's been a good year for me as an Evil Overlord. Lots of princess kidnapping turned into sizable ransoms, several of my Doomsday Devices were sold for high prices at auction, and my Minions have been working harder than ever. In fact, I'd like to think I'm moving up the Evil Overlord ladder.

To capitalize on my profits and cement my position in the world, I've decided to construct an Evil Tower somewhere in the world. It's going to be ~500 meters tall, and I've got the blueprints more or less figured out, but it doesn't quite scream "evil". Yet.

To guarantee that everyone knows exactly who they're messing with, I'd like to have a persistent storm cloud hovering above my tower.

Goals:

  • At least half a kilometer high and a kilometer in diameter, ideally floating a few hundred meters above the top of my tower

  • Must be stable and persistent under most weather conditions. This will depend on the suggested location, but the cloud should be present at least 90% of the time

  • The cloud does not need to be composed of the normal H2O molecules, but answers using more common and less environmentally disruptive substances will be preferred

  • Ideally, the cloud will not produce large quantities of rain but some precipitation (less than 1 meter per year) is acceptable

  • The cloud is dark grey or black (none of those cute sheep-looking cumulus clouds)

  • The cloud occasionally discharges lightning bolts to carefully positioned lightning rods in the top of my tower

How can I engineer my Evil Tower or the surrounding environment to fulfill the above requirements?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – James Sep 25 at 20:34
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    Consider asking Gannon and why does Death Mountain have such cloud halo around it during bad times :) – DarkCygnus Sep 26 at 17:54
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    "less environmentally disruptive substances will be preferred" - are you sure you are evil? – bukwyrm Sep 27 at 7:18
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    Speaking as a Dark Lord I'm OK with the area around my HQ being stormy and miserable, but the actual HQ itself had better be fabulous with comfortable temperate gardens, parks and walks and a place for the jazz trios to play in - can't be having rusty pianos. I like to eat lunch outside too. So I'd rethink that whole "stormy" motif. Storms are for other people. – StephenG Sep 27 at 10:18
  • Did you master the art of black magic or do you require a mundane solution? – Philipp Oct 1 at 9:02

14 Answers 14

Ash cloud.

ash cloud with lightning

Your tower is hollow, and the interior is a conduit to the underworld - perhaps the column extends straight down through the underworlds of K'n-Yan, Yoth and N'Kai all the way to the hellish interior. Strong winds and gouts of charged ash emerge from the black cloud which plumes forth from the apex, and as with volcanoes the cloud crackles with charge which comes to ground as lightning.

The tallest thing around is your tower. If you are ok with all the lightning striking your tower, great. If not you might need to sheathe your tower in rubber. Which has benefits too - lots of dark lords have evil towers and storm clouds but you do not hear as much about rubber towers. A lot of cat hair might stick to it, which could be a cool evil look.


image source: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/187828/napoleons-defeat-waterloo-caused-part-indonesian/ But it is hard to find from the article where that volcano is! One might reasonably conclude it is in Indonesia. But googling the photographer and "ash cloud" I found this - it is from a volcano in Chile.
https://twitter.com/britanniacomms/status/959254134963744769?lang=ar

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    Ash cloud is a great answer. I just wanted to add that there is science behind volcanic thunderstorms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_thunderstorm Also, rubber is not a particularly good insulator at the voltages typical of lightning. You would be better off with some lightning rods and a Faraday cage to protect you: weather.gov/safety/lightning-myths – WaterMolecule Sep 25 at 2:11
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    By placing your tower over an ash vent, you could also harness the hellish energy to power your evil experiments. – B540Glenn Sep 25 at 17:03
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    Not knocking the answer, but are you sure that picture isn't manipulated? Those lightning bolts look peculiarly purple and orange and smooth. – jpmc26 Sep 26 at 3:46
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    Reiterating WaterMolecule that the rubber suggestion mars an otherwise-superb answer. Rubber will not help, and most likely you’re just going to end up with globs of molten rubber running off your tower, at a guess. Plus damage to the tower itself, depending on its construction. The question’s suggestion of lightning rods, WaterMolecule’s suggestion of a Faraday cage, those are vastly superior suggestions. If you insulate everything, then insulated or not it’s still the path of least resistance. You need to include conductors to give the lightning a better place to go. – KRyan Sep 26 at 14:26
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    Assuming this tower is meant to be a long-term fixture permanently shrouded in storms, ash cloud is probably a bad idea - a permanent volcanic eruption will eventually fill the atmosphere with ash, and/or cover the ground in it. Ash doesn't just disappear you know! – talrnu Sep 26 at 14:46

It needs to be hot, at least the top of it does. If you create a constant low pressure zone over your tower, by heating the air around the top of it so that said air rises, this will create a condensation zone over the tower and, due to the convective system set up thereby, a perpetual thunder cloud with all the storming you could need. Lightning will naturally seek the shortest route to ground so your lightning rods need only exist and be more conductive than the rest of the tower to get all the strikes you want.

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    Sauron's fiery eye thing is probably fairly hot. How do you explain lack of thunderstorms above it? – OganM Sep 24 at 20:25
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    @OganM Barad-dûr is in a desert, so there's not much moisture to condensate. – EldritchWarlord Sep 24 at 20:55
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    As a nice added bonus you can also get the symbolic of it getting hotter the higher you climb (and subsequently the closer to the evil penthouse you get), making your tower some sort of Dante's Inferno metaphor. – AmiralPatate Sep 25 at 9:28
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    @Jannis You seem to be under estimating how much energy there is in a couple of cubic kilometres of 600°C+ rock. – Ash Sep 25 at 15:59
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    @Jannis You're not using a Van De Graaff generator to create the lightning. You're adding extra heat to humid air to make it rise and nucleate into clouds, and allowing the pseudo-naturally resulting lightning to strike the Tower. With consistent enough lightning and a powerful capacitor, you may even be able to harvest it as electricity... Starting the process may take a lot of power, but a well design system will mostly power itself – Chronocidal Sep 25 at 16:27

The tower is normally invisible and can only be seen during storms.

This is bending the requirements of the question a bit, but may serve for the purposes of your storytelling. Let's say that, being a villain, you are hiding your terrifying lair in plain sight. An invisible skyscraper in the Seattle area, maybe. Something about darkness and high winds and lightning makes it become visible -- hence, it is only ever seen in a storm. This is a self-defense solution, as heroes can only approach under the absolute worst conditions.

Solution #2

Alternatively, your tower may be built on Jupiter.

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    The first solution was fracking awesome! +1 From me! – PerpetualJ Sep 24 at 21:20
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    heroes can only approach under the absolute worst conditions That's assuming they don't know where the tower is. The one tower in the world that seemingly blinks in and out of existence, you can bet it'll have a wikipedia entry with its exact location. – AmiralPatate Sep 25 at 9:22
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    Next question: "How can I ensure my evil tower is only visible during a storm?" – Captain Man Sep 25 at 14:57
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    @CaptainMan A cloaking device with poor EMP shielding – Pilchard123 Sep 26 at 9:14
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    Not if you're evil enough, I guess... – Joe Sep 27 at 17:32

Position a cloud-disguised Zeppelin on the top of your tower

  • At least half a kilometer high and a kilometer in diameter, ideally floating a few hundred meters above the top of my tower

You can mostly make an airship of any size. You will have to position some unnoticeable ropes tying it to your tower, but given the distance, that won't be a big problem.

  • Must be stable and persistent under most weather conditions. This will depend on the suggested location, but the cloud should be present at least 90% of the time

As it is not really a cloud, it will persist at most weather condition. Unlike other answers, here you may face problems when there are real storms that could damage the fake one (in such case, you may land the fake cloud on the top of the tower and rely just on the normal weather).

  • The cloud does not need to be composed of the normal H2O molecules, but answers using more common and less environmentally disruptive substances will be preferred
  • The cloud is dark grey or black (none of those cute sheep-looking cumulonimbus clouds)

This cloud is not composed of H₂O. It isn't environmentally disruptive. Some of the best theater experts will ‘happily’ collaborate in designing a credible dark cloud.

  • Ideally, the cloud will not produce large quantities of rain but some precipitation (less than 1 meter per year) is acceptable

There is no need for it to produce rain.

  • The cloud occasionally discharges lightning bolts to carefully positioned lightning rods in the top of my tower

You can use from flash powder to "normal" lamp designs to produce your lightnings (a bunch of light coming out of your cloud is all that people will care). Sound can be easily fabricated, too.

This design has the benefit that you can program the different lightning to happen at the right points of your speech. You will no longer be interrupted by your own thunder.

Put it on the windward side of a mountain range's rain shadow. (You can imagine it being reasonable that there would be much thunder and lightning when there are so many clouds and constant rain.)

enter image description here

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    I'm a man who loves science but for some reason this phenomenon has completely left my memory since High School. I'm happy it's here as an answer. – The Anathema Sep 24 at 19:28
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    @TheAnathema who can remember everything (except my ex-wife)??? – RonJohn Sep 24 at 21:26
  • For the best effects use a tropical shield volcano island (high humidity and temperature, constant sea wind, lava). Then you can serve any adventurers that get to you poisoned cocktails and laugh as they sunburn to death. – Joe Bloggs Sep 25 at 7:29

For the lightning: use a van der Graaf generator.

van der Graaff generator

Note that it comes already conveniently shaped as a tower.

Since you need to have some terminals to trigger the electric discharge, those can be placed on insulated arms protruding out of the main building.

These arms, paired with diffusers on the main central body, can also be used to release colored smoke (water vapor, dry ice, other substance) around the top of the tower.

Bonus:

To make it scream EVIL, just put these four letters on it:

L

I

V

E

Whoever is at the bottom of the building will invariably read them from bottom up, while their gaze climbs the majestic building.

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    I'm sorry... I would see 'LIVE' on that tower... – FreezePhoenix Sep 27 at 13:08
  • @FreezePhoenix, that's done on purpose... backward things have a long relationship with live.. ahem.. evil... – L.Dutch Sep 27 at 13:18
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    You need to spell it top-bottom, with each letter neon-lighting up in sequence. – Shawn V. Wilson Sep 27 at 19:39

It's gonna take cotton candy, lots of cotton candy. (And possibly glitter)

Now before you go all "but I'm an Evil Overlord" consider this: Being an Evil Overlord is one thing, being considered an Evil Overlord by your subjects and peers is someting different all together. Times have changed for evil. Kids today grew up with the likes of The Joker or Zorg, and worse, they grew up with the Addams Family and the Nightmare Before Christmas. So your faux-gothic, doom and gloom evil lair is not gonna cut it for you, unless your goal is to be the most popular house on the block to go trick or treating. What you need is edge, you need to display the "I don't give a you know what" attitude that people today expect from their evil overlords. And nothing says "I don't give a you know what" like perverting the innocent things we associate with childhood. Ask Pennywise. Ask Gozer.

Besides that, there are practical matters to consider. You are going to build a 500 meter tower, so it's gonna be windy. Not the "evil storm" kind of windy you are after, but the "mind your hat" kind of windy all buildings of a certain height deal with. What does this mean in practice? It means that any and all gas-based solutions are going to blow away (sorry guys). Vulcanic ash? Blows away. Stage effects? Blows away. Water vapor? Blows away. What you need is something you can anchor in place, a solid that looks like a gas, ie: cotton candy. Now you might say: "Cotton candy is also gonna blow away", but that's only if you use normal cotton candy. You're gonna need reinforced cotton candy which of course is a thing.

Then we need to think about the lightning. (This is where the glitter comes in) The thing here is that lightning leads to thunder, and thunder is loud. Really, really loud. Especially if you're in the direct vicinity, meaning on the top floor of your evil lair, which is where an Evil Overlord would reside. This is a problem, imagine monologuing to your captive (muhaha) hero audience while constantly being interrupted by loud bangs of thunder. It just won't do. This is why we are gonna use "lightning" crafted from silly putty, covered in glitter. A few well aimed strobe lights will make it look like lightning, without all the noise. Just don't use normal silly putty, use reinforced silly putty. Which of course is a thing, people don't go to college for nothing

With a lair like this, you will soon be the most awesome "I don't give a you know what" evil overlord around, guaranteed.

  • Ask Gozer the Gozerian? Are you a God? And do you need to clean your reinforced cotton candy cloud? Get rid of the bird nests and whatnot? – Xen2050 Sep 27 at 4:31

For non-perpetual, try catatumbo like areas:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catatumbo_lightning

Has more than half the year lightning storms originating from 1km high clouds.

Otherwise I would build that tower around/very near a volcano that belches a lot of smoke. If necessary, get your minions to haul up incredible amounts of materials that create a lot of smoke when burned to help the volcano get enough smoke in the air for your purposes.

  • I think you're misinterpreting what's meant by the 1km. Storm clouds usually have their base at an altitude around 1km, but their tops reach well above 10km. (the article mentions "a large vertical development of clouds", and the quoted source mentions ozone generated by lightning in upper troposphere) | IMHO a cloud of OP-specified dimensions would look rather cute :D – Dan Mašek Sep 24 at 20:52
  • @Dab Mašek I was going for atmosphere rather than perfect cloud coverage, even though the atnosphere wouldnt reach the 90% of the time criteria. The "1km or higher" mentioned in the article was just something to go off on. – Demigan Sep 24 at 21:28
  • I was going to suggest Catatumbo too. – Ruadhan Sep 25 at 8:39

In one of Tom Kratman's Carrea series books he describes a "solar updraft tower" as having a more-or-less permanent cloud over the top.

In that novel the base of the tower is heated by solar (tropical island, very evil overlordy, almost cliche) and as the air expands above the tower it will cool and form rain droplets.

Now, this isn't as cool as a permanently erupting volcano, but (a) it's not as fickle and volatile and (b) can produce POWER.

Now, if you've already got a Evil Overlord Lava Pool(tm) you MIGHT be able skip the solar collector on the bottom and use the lava flow to heat the air. You'd have to do the math on whether it's hot enough.

You can use the excess power to generate your own lightening.

However I don't know if this will quite be stormy enough for you.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

  • Wow. Solar updraft towers are... really cool. Thanks! – Dubukay Sep 27 at 0:24
  • But if it really creates lots of cloud, wouldn't they then block the solar collectors and stop the cloud creating process? – Xen2050 Sep 27 at 4:41

Build the tower in Scotland close to the sea. Surround it with a swamp and a volcano.

Let's assume something like Earth.

A maximum of 1m of rain is actually quite generous and mostly excludes the rainforest areas (South America, Central Africa, India, South-East Asia). See https://www.eldoradoweather.com/climate/world-maps/world-annual-precip-map.html.

The cloud coverage is especially low in the desert like areas (North Africa, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia) and above the poles. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_cover#/media/File:Worldclouds_2009.jpg. We exclude them too.

So we are left with Scotland for example. Not too wet and lots of natural clouds due to the close proximity of the ocean

However, it might not be evil enough. There might be a certain number of happy days with clear, blue sky. For these you probably have to use artificial means detailed in other answers. I guess for a cloud-friendly micro-climate a swamp (delivering moisture in the air) and a volcano (providing heat to produce water vapor and dust) would be favorable. Combine it with the tower in Scotland.

  • I think you’ve misread the map - a meter has 1000 millimeters in it, so most places on the planet will fit the bill. I actually picked 1m because it’s the average rainfall for Seattle – Dubukay Sep 26 at 15:59
  • @Dubukay I think you're right. To save it, I kind of restructured the answer. – Trilarion Sep 27 at 10:21
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    Aye! An' if ye build yeer Dark Too'r in The Land O' Robert Burns ye c'n gain yersel' a bit o' Evil Dark Lord crrrrredibility by sarvin' the priz'ners in yer donjon a wee bit o' the haggis! (But feed 'em on'y a WEE bit o' the haggis, or ye'll be runnin' afoul o' The Convention On Prrrrroper Treetment O' Priz'ners What Be Held In Donjons Deep A'Neath The Sacred Soil O' The Land O' The Blarney Scone, which sez, in part, "Don' be wastin' the haggis on yer priz'ners! Tha's meant for the DOGS, ya boggin!") – Bob Jarvis Oct 3 at 23:28

It may be a good year for Evil Overlords, but I want you to take a moment out of your busy day to consider the welfare of those whose lives (well, OK, "existences") are not going as well as yours. There are those who are down on their luck, who wonder if they'll be there to wake with another dawn, whose lives (or whatever) have become sad and somber, with no flash, bang, and boom anymore. Yes, that's right - I'm talking about...unemployed former storm gods. City states, kingdoms, and empires rise and fall - and with them rise and fall the fortunes of those deities who started out being worshiped in some remote mountain village with nothing more for an altar than a flattish chunk of wood wedged between two convenient rocks - but who, over time, came to have thousands upon thousands of chanting worshipers, mumbling priests, sacrifices galore! - but who have now fallen on hard times. So please, Mr. Evil Dark Overlord - please consider employing one of these gods to maintain the eternal storm clouds around your tower. They ask nothing more than a little kindness - perhaps a priest to offer up the occasional burnt incense - and maybe a virgin or two sacrificed around the holidays? Is it too much to ask that they be shown some warmth of spirit and some kindness, every once in a while? So open your pockets - open your homes (well, OK, dark towers) - open your hearts, and give. Give, until it hurts (someone else, by preference).

Bless you.

Old Russian Sci-Fi (and a lot of fiddling) to the rescue.

The Air Seller

In a novel from late 20's, a big evil imperialist guy is sucking out quite some air on the planet in order to sell it later to the populace. All for the large profit margins, of course. (It seemed to be not that funny idea to modern-day Chinese populace, but I digress.)

So, as an Evil Overlord you have those huge air-sucking machines, for one or another purpose. Draining a lot of air from the atmosphere creates a low-pressure zone, an artificial stationary cyclone, basically. It rains often in those zones.

To pepper up the things, your Evil Dragon Squads could seed the clouds with silver iodide, thus forcing them to drop rain in a somewhat predictable manner.

And yes, you get a lot of liquid air for you evil planes. And you are not forced to breath volcanic ash from an elsewise perfect answer. It seems on the first glance, that you might loose a bit on the coolness factor. But you know, what is just as cool as volcanos? Giant air-sucking machines that threaten the all the air-breathing life of the whole planet. And volcanos might be cool, but not liquid air cool, duh.

Volcanic Activity

Normal storm clouds are formed by unstable air currents. This required differential heating of the ground normally, but sometimes this can also be done by deflecting air up a mountain. Now if you want consistent heating of the ground around you the best way to do that is volcanic activity. You don't need a towering super-volcano, just a couple fissures of bubbling magma should keep the air around your tower bubbling. While thunderclouds normally get there dark color underneath by blocking out the sun and remaining white and fluffy up top, volcanic activity will release dark volcanic ash that ensures your cloud is black from all angles. As a bonus, volcanic ash is incredibly unhealthy to breath, and really, magma just screams evil like few other things can.

Install a giant fridge on top.

You need a low pressure zone, because subsidence dries out the air in high-pressure zones -- meaning clear skies. So what you do is have cold air above your tower, which shrinks as it cools down AND condensates into clouds/rain/hail because cold air can hold less moisture than warm air. Your self-built low pressure zone attracts that wet, warm air from elsewhere! It also causes downdrafts making aerial attack on your fortifications more difficult.

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