Last month, reports emerged US President Donald Trump had asked a flurry of national security officials about the possibility of using nuclear weapons to destroy hurricanes. According to news website Axios, Mr Trump asked why the US couldn’t drop a bomb into the eye of the storm to stop it from making landfall. The US President has denied ever making the suggestion, however, it makes for an interesting question: Can you nuke a hurricane?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said using nuclear weapons on a hurricane “might not even alter the storm”.
It also added the “radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas”.
The difficulty with using explosives to change hurricanes, it says, is the amount of energy needed.
According to NASA, during its life cycle a hurricane can expend as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs.
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Even though the mechanical energy of a bomb is closer to that of the storm, “the task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would be formidable”.
NOAA said: “Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn’t promising either.
“About 80 of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin but only about five become hurricanes in a typical year.
“There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop.”
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Stan Holdenberg and Hugh Willoughby at the science agency further explained why nuking hurricanes is not an option: “Now for a more rigorous scientific explanation of why this would not be an effective hurricane modification technique.
“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 5 to 20×1013 watts and converts less than 10 percent 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 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20 percent of the power of a hurricane.”
Despite recently gaining attention, the concept of nuking a hurricane isn’t new.
During the late 1950s, scientist Francis Riechelderfer, head of the US Weather Bureau, floated the idea of using nuclear explosives to “modify hurricane paths and intensities”.
And nuking hurricanes isn’t the only outlandish idea on how to stop these powerful storms.
In 2017, one Facebook event called for US gun owners to “shoot down” Hurricane Irma with bullets and flamethrowers.
The event attracted 55,000 people to sign up and was taken seriously enough by one Florida sheriff that he issued a stern warning on Twitter reading: “You won’t make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effects.”