Trump Has Repeatedly Asked Advisers Why We Can’t Just Nuke Hurricanes

President Trump continues to have an odd obsession with nuclear weapons.

Axios reports that President Trump has apparently asked his advisers why the United States can’t simply use nuclear weapons to disrupt hurricanes headed toward the United States:

President Trump has suggested multiple times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they explore using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States, according to sources who have heard the president’s private remarks and been briefed on a National Security Council memorandum that recorded those comments.

Behind the scenes: During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” according to one source who was there. “They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” the source added, paraphrasing the president’s remarks.

  • Asked how the briefer reacted, the source recalled he said something to the effect of, “Sir, we’ll look into that.”
  • Trump replied by asking incredulously how many hurricanes the U.S. could handle and reiterating his suggestion that the government intervene before they make landfall. 
  • The briefer “was knocked back on his heels,” the source in the room added. “You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, ‘What the f—? What do we do with this?'”

Trump also raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration official. A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it does not contain the word “nuclear”; it just says the president talked about bombing hurricanes.

  • The source added that this NSC memo captured “multiple topics, not just hurricanes. … It wasn’t that somebody was so terrified of the bombing idea that they wrote it down. They just captured the president’s comments.”
  • The sources said that Trump’s “bomb the hurricanes” idea — which he floated early in the first year and a bit of his presidency before John Bolton took over as national security adviser — went nowhere and never entered a formal policy process.

White House response: A senior administration official said, “We don’t comment on private discussions that the president may or may not have had with his national security team.”

  • A different senior administration official, who has been briefed on the president’s hurricane bombing suggestion, defended Trump’s idea and said it was no cause for alarm. “His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad,” the official said. “His objective is not bad.”
  • “What people near the president do is they say ‘I love a president who asks questions like that, who’s willing to ask tough questions.’ … It takes strong people to respond to him in the right way when stuff like this comes up. For me, alarm bells weren’t going off when I heard about it, but I did think somebody is going to use this to feed into ‘the president is crazy’ narrative.”

The Guardian has more:

Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on more than one occasion that the US military should bomb hurricanes in order to disrupt them before they make landfall.

According to US news website Axios, the president said in a meeting with top national security and homeland security officials about the threat of hurricanes: “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?”

“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?”

Quoting unnamed sources who were present at the meeting, Axios report that the response from one official was “We’ll look into this.”

Axios reports that Trump isn’t the first American official to raise the idea and that it was raised, and rejected, during the Eisenhower Administration for reasons that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) addresses on its website:

A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 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 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.

If we think about mechanical energy, the energy at humanity’s disposal is closer to the storm’s, but the task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would still be formidable. Brute force interference with hurricanes doesn’t seem promising.

In addition, an explosive, even a nuclear explosive, produces a shock wave, or pulse of high pressure, that propagates away from the site of the explosion somewhat faster than the speed of sound. Such an event doesn’t raise the barometric pressure after the shock has passed because barometric pressure in the atmosphere reflects the weight of the air above the ground. For normal atmospheric pressure, there are about ten metric tons (1000 kilograms per ton) of air bearing down on each square meter of surface. In the strongest hurricanes there are nine. To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around.

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 5 become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop. If the energy released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released in a hurricane, it’s still a lot of power, so that the hurricane police would need to dim the whole world’s lights many times a year. 

Additionally, National Geographic addressed the issue last year:

The idea of nuking a storm was also on the minds of Texans that same year, after the state was struck by a Category 5 hurricane that caused more than two billion dollars in damage.

“Could Hurricane Carla have been broken up, or greatly modified, or its course turned back to sea, by nuclear bombs?,” asked an editorial in the Longview Daily News. “The suggestion that man-made explosions may effect [sic] hurricanes cannot be dismissed with the same degree of certainty on the basis of energy comparisons as was possible with earlier atomic weapons.”

In other words, America now had the hydrogen bomb, which was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that had been dropped on Japan. Couldn’t this energy be unleashed as a hurricane killer?

Jack W. Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia Laboratory, thought so. In fact, he came up with the idea while studying the atmospheric effects produced by America’s first detonation of a hydrogen bomb, which had lifted a massive column of air more than 20 miles into the sky.

(…)

In his paper, Reed speculated that a submarine could travel underwater to penetrate the eye of a hurricane, where it would launch and detonate one or more nuclear missiles. The ensuing explosion would loft most of the relatively warm air in the hurricane’s eye high above the storm into the stratosphere. The warm air would then be replaced by colder, denser air—reducing the wind speed and weakening the storm.

Reed calculated that a 20 megaton explosion could slow a storm with 100-knot peak winds to 50 knots.

But Reed didn’t find any takers for his idea. The research would require setting off multiple nukes at several million dollars a pop. Government officials expressed concern that bombing hurricanes would conflict with U.S. efforts to end atmospheric nuclear tests.

And, there’s also the slight problem that—in the words of Robert Nelson, a physicist who studies nuclear weapons—“It’s just wacky.”

For starters, as NOAA observes, there’s the issue of radioactive fallout, which would “fairly quickly move with the trade winds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.”

Also, it wouldn’t work. The key obstacle is the amount of energy required. The heat release from a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes, NOAA calculates. In order to shrink a Category 5hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane, you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square yard inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for an eye 25 miles in diameter. “It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around,” NOAA says.

There are other reasons why we ought not consider the idea of diverting the course of hurricanes or other storms notwithstanding their potentially destructive impacts. These tropical storms, which occur all over the world even though they are known by different names, such as Typhoons, Cyclones, or Monsoons, depending on where they arise, often play an important role in the environment of the area where they occur. The Monsoon season in India and Bangladesh, for example, is seen as crucial toward helping to maintain freshwater supplies to support the massive populations of both nations notwithstanding the fact that they often result in dangerous flooding in both nations. The same can often be true of hurricanes that hit the United States and bring with them rains that help bring seasonal droughts to an end. Disrupting these storms could end up having unintended consequences that we cannot possibly anticipate at this time. In other words, this is one of those times it would be best not to mess with the natural course of events.

I suppose if this were something that the President asked about once, it would be understandable. To someone who isn’t a meteorological or nuclear weapons expert this might sound like something that makes sense. What’s weird is that the President apparently has brought it up on more than once despite having it explained to him why this is clearly not a good idea. Of course, this is just one example of Trump’s seemingly bizarre obsession with nuclear weapons and the idea that they could be used without consequence in a number of situations.

In addition to that, Trump has displayed astounding ignorance about the issue. Nack in December 2015 at one of the last debates among Republican candidates for President before voting actually began, talk radio host and Law Professor Hugh Hewitt asked Trump about the components of America’s nuclear arsenal. This was a standard question that Hewitt had asked all of the candidates who had previously appeared on his show, and which even now remains an important question given the fact that the Defense Department is in the middle of a review of the state of the U.S. nuclear arsenal that is expected to address issues such as the state of the so-called ‘nuclear triad,’ which refers to the combination of land, sea, and air-based launch system that the U.S. relies on to ensure the existence of a viable nuclear deterrent. As I noted at the time, Trump’s response to Hewitt’s question was glaringly incoherent and demonstrated the fact that he was essentially ignorant about one of the most important aspects of future nuclear weapons policy. Several months after that, during a Town Hall broadcast on Fox News Channel, Trump was similarly incoherent when asked a question about his nuclear deterrent strategy. At other points during the campaign and in a few interviews since he took office, Trump has also made controversial comments about nuclear proliferation that seemingly encouraged the idea of a nuclear arms race among the powers in the Middle East and in Asia in response to the North Korean threat. Another incident occurred in August 2016, when MSBNC reported that a foreign policy expert who was briefing the Trump campaign that at one point Trump asked him why the United States can’t use nuclear weapons. Given that this is an area where the President has virtually unfettered and unchecked authority, Trump’s ignorance and willingness to consider the use of nuclear weapons is, to say the least quite worrisome.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Military Affairs, Natural Disasters, Politicians, Science & Technology, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    This is what comes of watching Sharknado too many times.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    The guy I’m really mad at is the guy who said “sir, we’ll look into that” rather than responding “sir, you are out of your cotton-picking MIND!!!”

    Trump is an idiot. It’s people who pander to his idiocies who are the real problem.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This is what happens when you give a boy a toy and then tell him he can’t play with it.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is the guy that Guarneri and Paul L., and others like them, think is a genius.

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  5. Bill says:

    @CSK:

    This is what comes of watching Sharknado too many times.

    It has been a common theme of disaster/sci-fi going back to the 50’s, that when catastrophe looms or an invasion is under way, to shoot off a nuclear weapon or A bomb. To name a few movies- 1950s version of War of the Worlds, Armageddon, Crack in the World, The Day the Earth caught Fire, Meteor, Without Warning,10.5, Independence Day, etc etc etc. The James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me saw the use of two nuclear warheads to prevent a all out war. Japanese monster movies on the other hand haven’t featured these as well as I can recall. The reason being rather obvious.

  6. Kathy says:

    Back in the 50s, every problem seemed to have the same answer: nuke it.

    Partly this was the Atoms for Peace program from the Eisenhower era. But it’s amazing, when you look back, the notions people had. Like nuclear-tipped missiles to defend against Soviet tanks and bombers.

    Off the battlefield, nukes were proposed as a means for heavy engineering, like carving canals, or even mining. And there was the Orion space launch system, which would detonate several small nukes against a metal plate to propel a spaceship upwards.

    I think one big factor against experimenting with these irresponsible, ridiculous, propositions was cost. A nuke costs several million dollars each.

    About the only real non-destructive use for nukes, is using one to deflect an asteroid or comet on a collision course with Earth. Even then, it might not be the best solution.

    Asking repeatedly about something, IMO, indicates one of two things: 1) He’s not paying attention to the answers; 2) he doesn’t remember either the answers or asking the question.

    Unless, people keep telling him they’re “looking into it,2 and he keeps expecting a positive answer. Too bad he doesn’t have access to a device that can search the world’s largest information database and provide him with an answer in a few minutes.

  7. Slugger says:

    Guys, do not allow yourselves to be distracted by crazy statements. Trump is capable of several daily since he is clearly shameless. Let’s talk about the G-7; is America still the leader of the world? What are the consequences of our retreat? Phone call with a China eager for a new trade deal; did this actually happen? G-7 at a Trump property in 2020; is that corrupt?
    Of course, awakening Godzilla is not a good idea.

  8. CSK says:

    @Bill: Bill, those movies taught him what he “knows.”

  9. Bill says:

    @Slugger:

    G-7 at a Trump property in 2020; is that corrupt? Of course, awakening Godzilla is not a good idea.

    Of course I can the name of the movie already- Godzilla flattens Blue Monster.

  10. Joe says:

    I am going a different way on this, grumpy realist. While we are told that someone said “sir, we’ll look into that,” we are not told that any one of his fabulous staff went to their own government’s NOAA cite and came back to give him even a rudimentary explanation – “sir, our bombs are too small to be effective and the damage from the radioactive fallout would significantly outweigh any chance of this working.” If he kept asking after that, then he’s an idiot. Until that point, it’s his staff’s fault.

  11. Kit says:

    I feel sorry for the poor screenwriter who will someday be tasked with writing Trump: The Movie. How to cram all of this gold into 90 minutes?

  12. MarkedMan says:

    Just another proof of my assertion, “Yes, Trump was actually this stupid all along.”

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kit: On the other hand, if he wins a 2nd term there probably won’t be any screenwriters around to sympathize with.

  14. Michael Cain says:

    These tropical storms, which occur all over the world even though they are known by different names, such as Typhoons, Cyclones, or Monsoons, depending on where they arise…

    One of these things is not like the others. Seriously, hurricane, typhoon, and cyclone are all names for highly-organized warm-centered low-pressure tropical storm systems. Monsoons are another kind of thing entirely.

    Eg, the North American Monsoon is the broad seasonal wind pattern that causes thunderstorms over northwestern Mexico and the US Southwest in mid-to-late summer, and is the reason that Phoenix’s two rainiest months are July and August. Afternoon thunderstorms like this that dissipate over the course of the night are typical of the NAM.

    One of the largely unanswered questions about climate change is what will happen to the NAM.

  15. Tyrell says:

    I think HAARP might already be doing that.

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  16. charon says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Eg, the North American Monsoon is the broad seasonal wind pattern that causes thunderstorms over northwestern Mexico and the US Southwest in mid-to-late summer, and is the reason that Phoenix’s two rainiest months are July and August. Afternoon thunderstorms like this that dissipate over the course of the night are typical of the NAM.

    One of the largely unanswered questions about climate change is what will happen to the NAM.

    The Arizona monsoon was very abnormally late this year and did not last long.

    The word monsoon originally was the word for “wind” but I forget which language Malay or Hindi.

    Originally, it was the seasonal wind shift of the prevailing wind to the opposite direction. In India, this wind shift ends the dry season with the abrupt arrival of torrential (“monsoon”) rains.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @charon:
    It’s actually Jamaican.

    “Hey, mon, when the rain gonna start?”
    “Soon, mon, soon.”

    Thank you! Tip your waiters. I’ll be here all week!

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  18. Monala says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: A very intelligent, “hold your nose and vote for Trump” conservative I know said something very similar about the Greenland thing: “What people near the president do is they say ‘I love a president who asks questions like that, who’s willing to ask tough questions.’ …”

    Even if it’s batsh*t crazy, this guy thinks Trump’s questions are a good thing, because government is bad (inefficient, corrupt, etc.), so anything that disrupts government is automatically good.

  19. dazedandconfused says:

    ….you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square yard inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for an eye 25 miles in diameter. “It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around,” NOAA says.

    I believe NOAA suffers from a lack of imagination. What will have to be placed within the eye of a hurricane is an enormous blow-hard, and thar be one right in front of em’.

  20. Kathy says:

    You know, it would be a good idea to get him on video saying this. I’m sure if adequately provoked, he might insist it’s the bestest ever idea anyone has ever had ever!

    Then do a video explaining why this won’t work, complete with colorful CGI showing a BIG nuke going off and not affecting the hurricane much, maybe a high NOAA or Interior official appointed by Dennison providing a soundbite as well.

    It might work as a campaign ad.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    This event bodes badly for education. We may move from “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” to “what the &%$* is wrong with you? That sounds like something the President would ask!”

  22. Matt says:

    @Tyrell:Simple reality/physics says NOPE.

    https://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/D7.html

    TLDR : Total energy released through cloud/rain formation of an AVERAGE hurricane is roughly 200 times the total world wild electrical generating capacity.

    Total kinetic energy (wind) generated by an AVERAGE hurricane is about half of total world wild electrical generating capacity.

    The amount of energy an average hurricane

    Anyone claiming HAARP can create/stop or even steer hurricanes is someone who is incredibly ignorant about basically everything involved.

    https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a28816806/trump-nuke-hurricane/

    A fully developed hurricane can release the equivalent of a 10 megaton bomb every 20 minutes.

    The B83 is the biggest nuke in the USA’s arsenal and it’s only 1.2 megatons. We could drop dozens and it would have little effect on the hurricane. The radioactive fallout on the other hand….

  23. Kathy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I believe NOAA suffers from a lack of imagination. What will have to be placed within the eye of a hurricane is an enormous blow-hard, and thar be one right in front of em’.

    It looks very unlikely. But there would be no downside if the experiment fails.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: Ouch. That got a well deserved thumbs down.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Monala: He might be intelligent, but he’s as dumb as a box of rocks.

  26. Teve says:

    @Matt: anyway why would the University of Alaska Fairbanks want to try to manipulate hurricanes?

  27. An Interested Party says:

    I feel sorry for the poor screenwriter who will someday be tasked with writing Trump: The Movie. How to cram all of this gold into 90 minutes?

    No worries, it’ll be a season-long black comedy TV series…

  28. Tyrell says:

    @Matt: I remember when there was the cloud “seeding” with silver. I am not sure how that worked, but there were concerns about the supply of silver and the price going up.
    HAARP has connections with the USAF, US Navy, and private companies. They have been involved with weather manipulation projects.
    Meanwhile cosmic rays intensify as magnetic field weakens. Solar waves to hit Earth this week.
    Unbelievable lightning strikes: six people injured in Atlanta strike. In Poland five people were killed and over a hundred injured in massive lightning strike.
    Is lightning more powerful? It seems like it. Powerful electron particles from space have been hitting the Earth. Maybe that is the cause.

  29. Matt says:

    @Tyrell: Seeding clouds is simple chemistry and is still used heavily by places like china and in the middle east. One (there are several choices) of the compounds they used was silver iodide which isn’t going to use up all the silver. Whoever had concerns on cloud seeding causing the supply of silver to run out is an idiot or a hack.

    It doesn’t matter who or what HAARP is connected to because there isn’t enough power in the world for it to have any effect on a hurricane. Seeding clouds is pre-school level of weather manipulation in comparison….

    Is lightning more powerful?

    It’s not and whoever is telling you that is lying or an idiot.

    Powerful electron particles from space have been hitting the Earth. Maybe that is the cause.

    LoL you really have no clue what you’re talking about. You just love yourself some conspiracy junk no matter how much basic physics says no….