On Sunday, Axios reported that Donald Trump has a rather extreme idea for hurricane preparedness: nuke the storms before they make landfall. Though he reportedly hasn't brought it up since John Bolton took over as national security adviser, the president made similar comments on more than one occasion, according to sources. Per Axios:
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.
The person briefing the president replied with something along the lines of, "Sir, we'll look into that." Trump followed up by "asking incredulously how many hurricanes the U.S. could handle," which is a reasonable question since the U.S. has more than 6,000 perfectly good nuclear weapons in its arsenal gathering dust. Alternating between first and third person, Trump denied the story on Monday, tweeting,"The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!"
But Trump's not the only one to propose using nuclear weapons on hurricanes. Like some of his other seemingly wacky ideas, it originated elsewhere. (His recent fixation on buying Greenland, for example, likely stems from concerns that it will represent key shipping routes after global warming melts the Arctic.) In 2016, National Geographic published "Nuking Hurricanes: The Surprising History of a Really Bad Idea," which traced the concept back to the late 50s, when meteorologist Jack W. Reed pitched it as a potentially peaceful use for nuclear weapons.
The appeal may be in finding a non-cataclysmic use for nuclear weapons: if technology is so advanced that we can literally level cities, and we have enough bombs to end the world multiple times over, why not find something actually constructive to do with it? That was the idea behind the Plowshare Programs, a symposium dedicated to finding peaceful ways to use nuclear weapons where Reed presented his theory. Nuclear tests showed that detonating a hydrogen bomb lifted a massive column of air 20 miles into the sky, and Reed theorized that a submarine could get close enough to a storm to launch a bomb into the eye, forcing warm air out with cold air rapidly flowing in to take its place. Since hurricanes draw strength from warm, wet air, that would, possibly, stunt the storm.
Reed's theory stuck around. Francis W. Riechelderfer, Dwight Eisenhower's head of the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service), later told the National Press Club in 1961 that he could "imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an FAQ page on nuking storms to this day: "During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms," but that "would not be an effective hurricane modification technique." Somewhat unsurprisingly, the radioactive fallout would be swept up in trade winds and quickly carried across the Atlantic. The NOAA also claims that the task of directing even half of the energy needed directly into the eye of the storm is too difficult to accomplish, and popping off tropical storms before they become hurricanes is impractical because there's no way to know which ones will eventually make it all the way to the U.S. or if they'll still be at hurricane-strength when they arrive.
The Trump administration's response to actual hurricanes, most notably in Puerto Rico, hasn't been nearly as ambitious as proposing that we turn America's nukes on incoming storms. The president's interest in dealing with the hurricanes that actually do hit the U.S. seems minimal.
On Thursday, Donald Trump lied about the death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, all in a vapid attempt to score political points. Reporters charged with covering him didn’t fare much better.
Originally Appeared on GQ