Never mind why there's a perpetual hurricane. This is about the vehicles going into and out of it.

Let's say that there's a perpetual hurricane that constantly "hovers" in one location - say, over northern Africa, if that's relevant to the question. It's been there for 2 million years, if that's relevant either. It doesn't have an eye, if that's relevant either. Yes, I know it's not a normal hurricane. No, that does not matter.

There are a bunch of alien artifacts embedded into the ground within this hurricane. Some of them are too large to move out of it - we're talking "skyscraper-sized".

This means that, in order to research these things, people must go into the hurricane.

Air travel is certainly going to be riskier than land or sea travel, and since the hurricane is entirely over land, sea travel (via something resembling a submarine, probably) is not viable.

Take into account the following conditions:

  • Flying vegetation, rock chunks, sand, etc. - if it can be blown, it's flying around in there, and statistically speaking it'll hit something eventually. Sure, most of it was stripped away during the first few thousand years of the hurricane, but occasionally the hurricane pulls some vegetation out of the swamp region, or desert winds funnel sand into the low-pressure region it occupies, or it chips off a chunk of rock, or someone looses a glove, etc.

  • Constant wind that ranges from "breeze" (outlying areas) up to 250 kilometers per hour (core). It always blows counterclockwise, if that's relevant.

  • Visibility that rapidly decreases the closer to the core you go.

  • 100% humidity, all the time, every time, unless you're in the outlying regions and not the hurricane itself.

  • High air temperature.

  • Potential tornados embedded in the hurricane.

  • Constant, constant, constant torrential rainfall; even the outlying swamps see rain on a daily basis.

  • Potentially very lumpy (if physically smooth) terrain towards the core where rock formations have been exposed.

What would be the design features of a ground vehicle designed to operate inside this environment?

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    $\begingroup$ What does the terrain look like? Pretty flat, I imagine, after 2my of hurricane-force winds picking up any loose material. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ Does this hurricane continuously produce torrential rain in the area? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the area would look like a giant swamp covered in low, dense mats of vegetation. Kind of like a jungle, but with lower light and a high barrier to large plants. Or else the whole thing would have become a shallow sea, as the land wore away to nothing. There would be little actually blowing around, as those things that could move would be long ago blown away. Submarines/semi-submersibles for the sea, and a sort of airboat/walker machine for the giant swamp. Incredible potential for wind farms. Hurricanes are bad because they are unpredictable. This isn't. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ If it is a dry hurricane, it will have scoured the land and caused significant (wind blown dust) erosion. That will make the land forms very unpredictable. Where rocks are more resistant, there will be canyons which funnel the winds even more and lee side dust / sand piles. Visibility will be nearly nothing and radar will have to contend with dust causing echoes. Any vehicle will need to have a very abrasion resistant shield. I don't know how to pull together a vehicle that will have proper wind dynamics yet can traverse such a terrain. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus While the first dust and sand will have blown out, the rocks will still flake and break when they move. So, the wind will create new sand and dust. When the wind is strong enough, it can both move rocks and break them against other rocks. (An F5 tornado can pull the pavement up off of roads.) Many hurricanes have embedded tornadoes. There will also be a wind speed differential where the winds in the middle will be going faster creating more dust. While a hurricane has a steady wind speed, there are also gusts. So, places where dust has settled can get mobilized again. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 23:55

6 Answers 6



[tunnel1 https://www.earthmech.com/projects_cut_and_cover_tunnels.php

Your engineers will make a cut-and-cover tunnel from an entry site to a place near the large artifacts of interest. The tunnel will be dug and then covered with precast concrete forms which will be brought through the already-covered section. In the dry desert (as you specify) it will be easy to dig a trench and the concrete should resist wind abrasion for decades. Once covered the tracks will be laid and next stop, alien artifacts!

The covered tunnel will allow safe travel back and forth and also the safe retrieval of large artifacts. And a tunnel through the storm is very cool and full of potential for a fiction. It is very different in the tunnel and in the storm outside.

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    $\begingroup$ great idea but note one problem will be ventilation, you can't have open sections like in the image because the wind will fill it with sediment and debris. and given the winds most of the time you will be digging through rock since there is unlikely to be much soil. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ If the ventilation shafts open counterclockwise, nothing will flow in. The hurricane will even suck air from the outside-hurricane area so you don't have to build ventilators. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ While tunneling may be the best solution, cut and cover is a terrible idea. You need cranes to place the blocks over the ditch, and you are attempting to construct something while exposed to high winds. The ditch will flood or fill up with debris, the machines will be rendered useless. It could take decades to build a few kilometers under such conditions. $\endgroup$
    – jwdonahue
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @John the lift would be subject to instability due to the winds. The load would have to be rotated into place. Not impossible, but very difficult. Also, hydraulics and gritty dust don't get along well. Anyway, it would be much easier and safer to use boring equipment. No exposure to the weather until you get to the destination. $\endgroup$
    – jwdonahue
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @jwdonahue keep in mind the lift is only exposed to the wind at the advancing end of the tunnel, since you are not moving spoil out out through the tunnel you can move material in through it. the lift is going to face far less instability than a crane. Industrial hydraulics and dust is not actually a big deal, we use hydraulics in mining all the time. By starting with a trench you can just dump spoil on the leeward side of the trench instead of transporting it for miles. boring is far far slower than cut and cap even with delays, if your goal is speed boring is the wrong choice. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 15:16

tread vehicles.

Erosion is going to leave you with little beside rock and gravel, possibly mud in places with water and vegetation. So you are driving over rough rocky ground or muddy swamps. So you need vehicles that can handle slick soft terrain and hard debris fields with equal success. At the same time you want something heavy enough to not be bothered by high wind. That means tread vehicles or at least something like a Stryker with many sets of wheels. they are the only thing that can drive freely over such ground.

enter image description here

preferably something designed for maximum mobility like one of the early trench crossing tanks or the snow vehicle above. It does not need armor or a gun so you can reduce the weight a lot, but you can't make it too light, it needs weight to resist tornado strength winds.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ This. Something like a modern tank but without the turret. Maybe even an armoured recovery vehicle. Tanks have a lot of mass relative to their surface area, so they won’t get blown away. The low center of gravity means they won’t get thrown over either. Armour means they can easily withstand thrown trees or rocks. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael armored recovery vehicles are good choice can't handle rough terrain quite as well as a high tread but it can push or drag debris out of the way or even the artifacts themselves. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 20:43

What is the substrate?

The terrain under the hurricane will have a lot more to do with what your vehicles look like than the winds themselves. If the hurricane has worn away all the land, then you'll have shallow seas (with wide shallow barges, or semi-submersibles since you said no submarines). Boats may even push themselves along with long poles to provide both push and traction. If the whole thing is a waterlogged mess, then large airboat-like vehicles will predominate (so the weight slides over the surface) with either swamp wheels or some kind of similar thrust (again, poles might be useful). Rocky, worn aeolian landscape means large all-terrain wheeled or tracked vehicles like big tanks. Expect lots of traction to be needed regardless, so a vehicle consisting mostly of wheels is possible. I could even imagine a large walker vehicle consisting of a double set of large pads that alternately lift and move forward he heavy body of the vehicle.

Your hurricane is predictable, so the worst part of a hurricane is gone. Predictable high winds always coming from a predictable direction will simply be the default. Your vehicles will be HEAVY, regardless of what the local conditions look like. Mass will mean they can move when they want, and sit still when they want. In fact, electric vehicles with wind turbines (robust to withstand abuse, but predictable high winds mean even clunky turbines can make power) would be perfect. They run, and if the charge gets low, they stop until they recharge.

Predictable high winds could even mean that early intrepid explorers have gone before, with ultra-robust sails propelling vehicles using the same rules that apply to sailing ships. I imagine a Romanesque barge with sails resembling the head of a plow resting next to your ruins, where ancient explorers went well before modern times (perhaps there are even ancient accounts of such expeditions to entice modern explorers with hints about the relics).

  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, I have no clue what the landscape would look like. All I know is that it might have originally been a big lake: insider.si.edu/2010/12/… $\endgroup$
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Boats may even push themselves along with long poles to provide both push and traction." Punting is generally harder than rowing. Mostly it's a good idea when there is limited space, so you cannot put oars out. You also need to stand up to get the angle of the pole with the boat right, probably wouldn't be very stable in high winds. $\endgroup$
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is one case where the heaviness of electric vehicles (due to the batteries) would actually be a good thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 16:01

Large inflated tyres to cope with the surface ... and a variety of sails, right down to a small folding sheet metal sail for the inner core region.

The forces of sailing dictate a wide track to keep the vehicle upright (and constant vigilance on the sheets in gustier conditions : see image below) ... probably adopting the common terrestrial three wheel form to suit.

Image from Wikipedia enter image description here

Small (personal transport) ones will be relatively light, such that the pilot can manhandle them round most obstacles, relying on protective gear and helmets to cope with dust and flying stones, up to about 120km/h. Using these, (even reefing the metal stormsail) at 250kph is strictly for the Hells Angels. Costumes somewhere between biker leathers, and pirates, but with medieval armour helmets...

If you're venturing into the core regions, streamlined (but somewhat sandblasted) steel hulls with armoured glass windows are the order of the day; and if you get stuck, you need every crew member in suits of armour (Kevlar or medieval) on a lever (probably a spare spar) to recover the vehicle.

Something resembling a junk rig (but smaller, and each sail panel is a steel plate) would be appropriate for the core regions, for the easiest possible sail management. Blondie Hasler, sailing Jester in the first OSTAR (single handed transatlantic race) famously spent most of the race in the cabin, leaving it only six times to adjust sail... (image from the Yachting Monthly article) enter image description here

But sail plans in the outer region will adapt to lighter winds, and the need for performance.

What makes sails logical for this job?

  • Per the terms of the question, you have a guaranteed, reliable, free power source! Why would anyone consider another one?
  • It is adaptable to varying wind speeds, by adding sail area in light winds, reefing in heavy winds, and steel stormsails in the core.
  • Lightweight engineless vehicles can be levered, pulled, dug out of trouble more easily
  • Speeds (on some points of sailing) can be several times the windspeed if terrain allows
  • Suitable for use on other planets (image from the Wiki below)
  • And of course it's fun!

enter image description here

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ these will never survive hurricane winds much less tornado winds, you won't even be able to keep them on a the ground. sail boats with no sails can go airborne in hurricanes and tornado, as can normal cars, these are just flying debris waiting to happen. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Air borne debris will almost certainly pulverize and shred your sails. $\endgroup$
    – jwdonahue
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ I love the image of a tank with a little metal mohawk sticking out of it, crawling towards the center of the storm. Fantastic. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @codeMonkey :-) that's about what it would look like with the sail reefed to 1 or 2 panels! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 20:41

Your prompt has a couple of contradicting things in it. Your perpetual hurricane would not have constant hurricane-style rainfall in your scenario. You specifically require the hurricane to be over land. Rainfall has to go somewhere, and hurricanes dump rain faster than it can soak into the ground or run off into larger bodies of water. That means the hurricane has either created a body of water under itself (meaning no land), or the hurricane isn't generating appreciable amounts of rainfall. I'm assuming the latter is the case here. That also avoids the conservation-of-mass question of where the storm is sourcing the water for the infinite rain.

To be effective in hurricane-force winds, you want to minimize your cross-section from the wind's point of view. Your vehicle would be very low to the ground, short, and would have a wide base to make it harder to flip. A rigid skirt would almost drag the ground, to minimize the amount of air that can get underneath you. If you know the direction that the wind is blowing, you can angle your top surface slightly to convert that airflow into downforce (similar to how a spoiler works). Staying close to the ground also minimizes the likelihood of being struck by flying debris.

Having a good grip on the ground will keep you from blowing away, but it also makes it hard to move. I don't know what your tech level is here, but the best way to move around in a situation like this would be with a set of stout legs built kind of like an alligator's. Each "foot" would have claws that would penetrate into and grip the ground below you. Your vehicle would slowly crawl forward. Wheel and treads wouldn't work as well; they provide provide plenty of friction in the direction of travel, but they don't do a lot to prevent the storm from pushing you sideways. Clawed feet are more like anchors, preventing you from moving in any direction. Hunkering down with a tight-enough grip can let you survive a brief encounter with a tornado.

A vehicle built like this can also make your excavation easier. Once you arrive to your destination, the vehicle lowers itself all the way to the ground. The underside of the vehicle is mostly one big retractable hatch. By opening it, your researchers have access to the ground while the vehicle provides complete shelter from the storm.

Given your visibility problems, your vehicle would need some sort of radar system. This wouldn't be too dissimilar from what many self-driving cars currently use. The pilot's screen would show an image that was a composite of a normal camera feed and an image reconstructed from radar/lidar data. You don't want a traditional windshield; glass can be shattered by flying debris.


You can't rely on weight alone, because the kind of weight that can't be moved by a tornado, would be very difficult to move at all. You're going to need to be securely anchored to the surface at least some of the time, so I would use a walker with lots of legs and multiple drills on each foot. It would have a turtle like shell with a meter thick, Teflon/Kevlar coated, hard rubber exterior. It would be very heavy and nuclear powered. The vehicle could also be submersible, for traveling through shallow lakes and rivers.

Winds and debris will form laminar flows near the surface that will tend to flip over or at least lift most vehicle designs, so the outer edge of the shell would consist of retractable sections that would conform to the local surface profile and cause a laminar flow over the shell. These would also have a thick brush at the proximal end to the surface, that would help to fill-in the small scale ground features, to reduce wind and debris from getting under the vehicle. At more than a meter thick, they should provide a sufficient barrier, that a small vortex will from near the surface and around the edge of the vehicle, to direct airflow over and around the vehicle.

I would embed thousands of fractal antenna in the outer shell for communications and doppler radar. The later will be needed to detect tornados and large objects heading toward the vehicle. While it probably can't just step out of the way of large projectiles or tornados, it can at least stop, squat and anchor itself.

The vehicle can walk in any direction. It is round for aerodynamic purposes, but also so that it can rotate damaged areas to the leeward side of the vehicle. Shell blocks on the leeward side can be withdrawn into the vehicle and replaced. An internal shop provides repair facilities, particularly rubber extruders, Teflon/Kevlar coaters & antenna printers. When external conditions allow, additional sensors can be deployed as shell blocks when the vehicle reaches any artifacts of interest.

As anyone who has ever lost a boot in the bog can attest, swamps are going to be a problem for a walker. The feet will need to have a vacuum breaking compressed air supply. But some swamps are just going to be too deep even for these. This is where tracks would have to be deployed, but they don't provide anchorage. The vehicle is probably going to be heavy enough that it won't be blown over, but a direct hit from a tornado could be devastating when not anchored to the ground. That's where the doppler radar comes in handy. When you see a tornado coming, you squat down and deploy a number of large augurs, drilling as deep as possible into the muck.

You could conceivably construct a train of these walkers, each with a connecting tunnel between them. If the lead walker got into trouble, the others could help pull it out. It might also be abandoned if necessary. In fact, a train could literally form a walking circle that would eventually surround an artifact. A temporary canopy could be stretched between them, or other structure constructed, providing a shirt-sleeve environment for investigators.


Addressing @mishan's concerns regarding route erosion:

There's three ways to design a vehicle for the high winds specified by the OP:

  1. Construct a heavy/dense enough vehicle that tornados and hurricane winds cannot lift or blow it off course.
  2. Construct a vehicle capable of anchoring itself to the terrain.
  3. Rely on weight for the average conditions and use anchorage for the worst conditions.

Moving a vehicle that satisfies #1 implies a great deal of difficulty propelling the vehicle at all. The weight of the vehicle tends to pulverize the terrain beneath it. Consider that our largest tanks require specially designed transports that spread their load out, in order to move them over even our best constructed roads without damaging them.

#2 implies considerable erosion, particularly where anchor points cannot be reused.

#3 is a good compromise, as the lower weight causes less damage to the terrain in the average case, and more erosive anchorages happen at random locations, due to the nature of hurricane spawned tornados and random debris.

Tunneling would be a partial solution for the specified conditions, but is so expensive that it would not be worthwhile until you intend to have a lot of traffic on that route. The OP's scenario involves researches wanting to study immobile artifacts, within an extremely hostile environment, not heavily visited tourist sites.

The walkers don't require ideal road bed to travel over. They are designed to move through swamps and over highly variable terrain, while protecting their occupants in the face of high velocity projectiles and tornados. They should be able travel through the same areas, many times, but can also route around less favorable terrain, such as that which has been degraded by earlier trips.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with the self-anchoring walkers is they will heavily erode the surface in just one trip. It is a good solution only if you don't consider repeat traffic over the same road. $\endgroup$
    – mishan
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @mishan, I had a job once, where we designed a robot that walked inside a nuclear reactor heat exchanger by inserting a piton like gripper into the tube flanges of the vessel. If the holes are already there, a walker can simply reuse them. You also don't need to be anchored 100% of the time. The vehicle weight and shape, should keep it from drifting most of the time, so not every foot has to drill a hole for anchorage. But ya, you're not going to travel the same exact route thousands of times. $\endgroup$
    – jwdonahue
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 19:43

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