President Trump took to Twitter Monday morning to blast a report that said he had asked his national security officials to look into the possibility of nuking hurricanes. Jonathan Swan, one of two Axios reporters behind the article, responded on Twitter, writing, "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." That memorialized bit is ostensibly a reference to a portion of Swan's article where he references a 2017 National Security Council memo seen by a source that describes Trump as asking about bombing (but not nuking) hurricanes to prevent them from reaching America's shores. More:
- The idea has quite a history. The Washington Post recounts a October 1935 meeting of chamber of commerce executives from Florida. A hurricane had torn about the Keys weeks prior, and the idea they came up with to safeguard Florida from future tourism-killing storms was to try to bomb it before it got to the state. The idea went nowhere.
- Fast forward to 1959 and a Sandia Laboratory meteorologist named Jack Reed. National Geographic explains his idea for nuking a hurricane came out of research he did into "atmospheric effects" that resulted from our first hydrogen bomb detonation, "which had lifted a massive column of air more than 20 miles into the sky." He suggested a submarine could be sent to the hurricane's eye and launch the missiles there. The theory: The warm air there would be pushed into the stratosphere; the colder and denser air that took its place would slow the storm.
- Listed as an FAQ on the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's website: "Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?" The post begins by explaining that there's no guarantee it would work, and that doesn't even take into consideration the resulting radioactive fallout, which "would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems." But the biggest problem is that a staggering amount of energy would be needed; you can read the scientific explanation of that here.
- The upshot is that the energy required would far exceed the limits set by the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, a law that National Geographic reports the US signed in 1990. It caps the yield of weapons used in a non-military capacity to 150 kilotons.
- But Vox notes that the spirit of Trump's reported question isn't off base. Climate change spurs rising temps and seas that can make hurricanes more powerful, and engineers and entrepreneurs (Bill Gates among them) are looking at how we might "steer" the storms. "It involves geoengineering with giant tubes and aerosols. And it’s pretty intriguing, if still quite preliminary."
- The Post quotes advice from 1950 uttered by the chief forecaster of what is now the National Weather Service: "The real problem facing us today is not ways to eliminate hurricanes, but instead the job of educating people to take full precautionary measures when a storm occurs."
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