I remember reading that tornadoes disappeared from ancient Asia due to climate change, and so the memory of it is preserved in myth as dragons. Is this true?
The origin of dragons in the Eastern tradition is disputed. The leading explanation is perhaps that the dragon was originally crocodiles. However, one proposed alternative does argue that dragons (
龍) was historically a word describing tornadoes.
In Chinese scholarship, there are mainly two hypotheses concerning the essential characteristics of the dragon. One hypothesis aims to find a real prototype of the dragon. This hypothesis often identifies the dragon with a crocodile, tornado, or lightning, or even the river.
- Yang, Lihui, and Deming An. Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Abc-clio, 2005.
It has been argued that the original meaning became gradually lost and shrouded in myth as the natural phenomenon disappeared, and was eventually re-imaged as a fearsome mythical beast.
The main proponent is probably is Dr. Benjamin Chao, a former director of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He has published this idea in the Chinese version of the Scientific American magazine. Not exactly a scientifically rigorous theory, but it has its adherents.
The original article can be found here from the Academia Sinica.