Can you nuke a hurricane? Scientists weigh in

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) actually has a page on its website dedicated to using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes.

BY DAN SWEENEY
SUN SENTINEL/TNS

FORT LAUDERDALE – The online news site Axios reported on Aug. 25 that, according to memos from Homeland Security and National Security Council meetings and people who had been briefed on the memos and/or were in attendance at the meetings, President Donald Trump has asked at least twice why the United States can’t simply drop a nuclear weapon into the eye of a hurricane to disperse it over the Atlantic Ocean before it reaches our shores. 

Trump, in a Twitter posting Monday in which he referred to himself in the third person, called Axios’ reporting “fake news” and denied suggesting it. 

Putting aside the debate over whether Trump said it, if you’re wondering whether the nuclear option could work, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) actually has a page on its website dedicated to the hypothetical question — with the conclusion that this would be a very bad idea. 

‘Not a good idea’

“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms,” meteorologist Chris Landsea writes on that page. 

“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.” 

More explanation

If you want to get deeper into the science, NOAA continues: “The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of (50 to 200 trillion) 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.

“According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of (10 trillion) watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.” 

That’s not to mention the diplomatic issues. Nuking hurricanes would appear to violate a few international treaties, including both the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1976.

The Axios report relies on sources from separate Homeland Security and National Security Council meetings, and also quotes a supporter from within the administration who acknowledged Trump’s nuclear proposal but added, “His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad.”

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