Update: President Trump has since denied making any such statement, via Twitter.
Donald Trump’s aides humored him during a recent briefing about hurricane threats to the United States, when he enthusiastically suggested dropping nuclear warheads into the middle of the storms, as a way to stop them before they make landfall on the U.S. east coast, according to a stunning new report by Axios published on Sunday afternoon.
During the briefing, according to the Axios account based on “sources who have heard the president’s private remarks,” Trump came up with the idea during a White House briefing.
“I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” he asked. “We drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it,” Trump went on to suggest. “Why can’t we do that?” he asked, according to the Axios source who, the publication pointed out, was paraphrasing Trump’s remarks.
The aide who gave the briefing about potential hurricane disasters told Trump, “we’ll look into that,” according to Axios. But the publication’s source said that the briefer “was knocked back on his heels,” as Trump repeated his proposal to use nuclear weapons against hurricanes. The source told Axios that when the meeting with Trump concluded, “we thought, ‘What the f***? What do we do with this?'”
That meeting was not the only time Trump has pressed his idea to use high explosives for the supposed purposes of hurricane control. Axios also reported that a written 2017 National Security Council memo describes a conversation in which Trump also asked about “whether the administration should bomb hurricanes.” But that memo does not specify that Trump suggested using nuclear weapons against hurricanes, saying only that Trump “talked about bombing hurricanes.”
The idea to use nuclear warheads against hurricanes is not original with Trump, however. The question is asked so frequently of government weather scientists that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has posted on the NOAA site a detailed explanation of why setting off a nuclear explosion in the middle of a hurricane is “not a good idea.”
This is quite literally the plot of Sharknado. https://t.co/EGALdrXBFJ
— Natalie Martinez (@natijomartinez) August 25, 2019
The first problem with the “nuking hurricanes” plan, the NOAA explains, would be the deadly radioactive fallout, which “would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas.” In other words, even if the hurricane were prevented from wreaking devastation on the U.S. mainland, radioactivity would.
But the NOAA also explains that a nuclear explosion would be unlikely to produce enough force to significantly weaken a major hurricane, due to the fact that shock waves from any explosion move away from the epicenter faster than the speed of sound. That means not enough air pressure would be affected inside the hurricane itself to even bring a Category 5 hurricane down to the strength of a Category 2.
This sounds like a snarky question but I swear it’s serious: who will be the first congressional republican to publicly support nuking hurricanes?
— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) August 25, 2019
As National Geographic pointed out in a 2016 report on “the ‘nuke a hurricane’ myth,” the idea of fighting hurricanes with nuclear weapons was first proposed in 1961, when U.S. Weather Bureau head Francis W. Riechelderfer told a National Press Club meeting that he could “imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea.” But he added that the weather bureau would not attempt to acquire its own nuclear arsenal until “we know what we’re doing.”