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So, Here’s Why You Probably Don’t Want to Nuke a Hurricane

We can't believe we have to say this, but it's not a good idea.

by David Gilbert
Aug 26 2019, 1:13pm

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, NOAA via AP

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Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on multiple occasions to senior officials that they tackle hurricanes threatening the U.S. by detonating nuclear bombs.

Trump repeatedly suggested to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore the possibility, according to sources speaking to Axios who had either heard the comments or been briefed on a National Security Council memorandum that recorded them

On Monday morning, while at the G7 meeting of world leaders in France, Trump called the report “fake news.”

But the idea of using nuclear bombs to disrupt a hurricane while it’s forming is nothing new. It's been around for 60 years, and it usually comes up every year during hurricane season.

READ: Donald Trump had a very weird weekend at the G7 summit

“Needless to say, this is not a good idea,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says in the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website dedicated to debunking the idea of nuking hurricanes.

The report of Trump’s suggestions came as the National Hurricane Center said that Tropical Storm Dorian could turn into a hurricane by Tuesday, when it is predicted to approach Puerto Rico.

The idea was first floated back in 1959 by Jack Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia Laboratory, who suggested a submarine could travel underwater to penetrate the eye of a hurricane before detonating one or more nuclear missiles.

Reed’s idea was that the nuke would drive the warmer air in the eye of the hurricane into the stratosphere. That warm air would then be replaced by colder, denser air, thereby reducing the strength of the storm.

The idea was given a boost in the early 1960s, when Francis Riechelderfer, the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau, told the National Press Club that he could “imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea.”

Riechelderfer added that the Weather Bureau would not begin acquiring its own nuclear arsenal “until we know what we’re doing.” Given the Bureau never acquired its own nuclear arsenal, it appears they have yet to figure this out.

READ: The forgotten people living in tents 7 months after Hurricane Michael

Of course, as NOAA points out, the idea of detonating a nuclear weapon inside a hurricane has some very obvious drawbacks.

“The released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems,” the NOAA said.

Another problem is that even if someone decided that detonating a nuclear bomb in a hurricane was a smart idea, which, again, it is not, a nuke would not be powerful enough to have any impact.

The heat release of a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes, according to NOAA. In order to reduce a Category 5 storm to a Category 2 storm, NOAA calculates that you'd have to add about a half-ton of air for each square yard inside the eye, which equates to more than half a billion tons for an eye 25 miles in diameter.

“It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around,” NOAA says.

Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the media as he sits for lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, southwest France, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Efforts to salvage consensus among the Group of Seven rich democracies on the economy, trade and environment were fraying around the edges even as leaders were arriving before their three-day summit in southern France. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) // This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence on the eastern coast of the United States on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (NOAA via AP)