We’re deep in hurricane season, which means anyone living in coastal areas should be prepared. For one east-coaster, though, preparation looks a little different than just amassing candles, batteries, and bottled water. According to an exclusive report released Sunday by Axios, President Donald Trump has proposed using nuclear weapons on hurricanes to make them dissipate before they reach the United States.
It’s an ambitious proposal, but unfortunately, the science is not on his side with this idea.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration addressed this idea 17 years ago, and the answer to whether we can nuke away hurricanes was a resounding no.
“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.”
In the Axios report senior Homeland Security and national security officials told the outlet that during briefings on hurricanes, President Trump had asked about the possibility of using nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes before they reach the US:
During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” according to one source who was there. “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?” the source added, paraphrasing the president’s remarks.
Aside from the fact that nuclear fallout would likely cause a generation of cancer for people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it almost sounds like a decent idea: Just blow away the storm clouds!
But as Landsea points out, the physics simply don’t work out.
“A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind,” he wrote in 2002.
“The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.”
In other words, a hurricane generates so much more energy than a nuclear weapon that dropping a nuke into a storm would be little more than a burp in the wind.
President Trump, for his part, denied the story, calling it “FAKE NEWS.”
Whether or not he ever really suggested this plan, or whether he was serious when he said it, the response makes it pretty clear that he won’t pursue the nuclear option in response to a hurricane.
At least not this year.