What would happen if we nuked a hurricane?
Proposals for stopping such extreme weather events before they make landfall are as common as rain every hurricane season. In 2017, officials in Florida even had to remind residents not to shoot their guns at Hurricane Irma.
This year may be no exception, as U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly suggested to national security officials: “Why don’t we nuke them?”
Tweeting on Monday, Trump denied the report published by news site Axios calling it “ridiculous” and “fake news.” “I never said this,” he tweeted.
According to the Axios source who paraphrased Trump’s private remarks, he said: “We drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can't we do that?”
It’s an idea that dates back to President Dwight Eisenhower and there are plenty of reasons why, according to the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which started a “Tropical Cyclones Myths” webpage in response to such misconceptions. In a post addressing the idea of using nuclear weapons on a hurricane, Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center debunked the idea.
“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,” he wrote. “Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”
Despite the fact that we may have the ability to exert energy close to a hurricane’s power, wielding just half of that energy on the eye of the storm in the middle of the ocean is a “formidable” thought. “Brute force interference with hurricanes doesn’t seem promising,” said Landsea. “To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It's difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around.”
Some have suggested attacking tropical storms before they become hurricanes, a futile task for an imaginary team Landsea jokingly dubs “the hurricane police.” There are 80 disturbances in the Atlantic basic each year, of which only five typically end of developing into hurricanes.
“There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop,” he wrote. “If the energy released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released in a hurricane, it's still a lot of power, so that the hurricane police would need to dim the whole world's lights many times a year.”
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2019
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. https://t.co/5qs8o1k4QS— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 26, 2019