As summer turns to fall and the East Coast prepares for the heart of hurricane season, it’s nice to know that President Donald Trump has a plan for how to combat these terrifying natural disasters: USING LETHAL FORCE!!!
In the latest “Wait, is this an Onion headline or is this reality” moment of a presidency chock full of them, Axios reported in late August that the President has repeatedly raised the possibility of dropping nuclear weapons into hurricanes to dissolve them before they ever endanger land.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?,” Trump reportedly asked aides during one hurricane briefing. The response to the idea was, uh, muted, according to Axios. “You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting,” one source in the room told Axios. “People were astonished.”
Trump, for his part, denied the story – using his customary third person. “The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous,” he tweeted amid the G7 meetings in France. “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!” (Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, who wrote the story, responded this way to Trump’s tweet: “I stand by every word in the story. He said this in at least two meetings during the first year and a bit of the presidency, and one of the conversations was memorialized.”)
Let’s just say, hypothetically, Trump did float the idea of nuking hurricanes because, knowing him, he almost certainly did. Might it actually work?
The answer to that question is a resounding “No.” Or so says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to the NOAA:
“Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”
That explanation not satisfying enough? How about this one – for you nerds out there:
“A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.”
So, if I’m reading that right, it means that a hurricane is stronger – in terms of energy – than a nuclear bomb. Like, way stronger.
“Over my 35 years as a meteorologist I have received calls & handwritten letters from people proposing this,” tweeted John Morales, the chief meteorologist for NBC’s affiliate in Miami, an area that knows something about hurricanes. “I gently try to explain to them that according to @NASA a hurricane can expend as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs during its life cycle. Futile and obviously dangerous.”
Now, just because dropping a nuclear bomb into a hurricane wouldn’t work, doesn’t mean Trump is the first person ever to consider doing it.
Way back in 1961, the head of the US Weather Service said in a speech that he could “imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea.”
Right around that same time, the Pentagon formed something called Project Plowshare, which was aimed at finding non-military uses for nuclear weapons. Jack Reed, a trained meteorologist, wrote an extensive proposal to Plowshare that aimed at dropping nuclear weapons into the eye of hurricanes. Reed believed that the heat produced by a nuclear explosion would, in effect, blow up the eye of the hurricane and, in so doing, derail or significantly weaken it. How would the nuclear bomb be injected into the storm? By submarine, of course!
The science community now agrees that a nuclear weapon just wouldn’t work. Plus, nuking a hurricane would be illegal! Under the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty between Russia and the United States, there are strict limits on how and when the two superpowers can use nuclear weapons of any sort.
None of that stops Trump from considering it, of course.
Nuking hurricanes is in line with his long-held fascination with and trust in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. As far back as 1984, Trump has talked about the threat and promise of nuclear power. In an interview with The Washington Post at that time, he suggested he could handle nuclear negotiations between Russia and the United States.
“It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” Trump said of his hypothetical negotiator role. “I think I know most of it anyway.”
“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump’s nuclear button might work. Just not on hurricanes.