How hurricanes weaken and disperse

That's what happens when you drop an atomic bomb in a hurricane

  • US President Donald Trump has reportedly proposed dropping atomic bombs on hurricanes to prevent the storms from hitting the US.
  • According to the news site “Axios”, Trump is said to have asked his advisors during a briefing: “They form off the coast of Africa while they are moving across the Atlantic. We'll drop a bomb in the eye of the hurricane and stop it. Why can't we do that? "
  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this idea is not viable because there is no atomic bomb powerful enough to destroy a hurricane.
  • You can find more articles from Business Insider here.

"Why don't we drop an atom bomb on him?", US President Donald Trump is said to have asked during a White House briefing about hurricanes, as reported by "Axios".

Trump advocated a nuclear solution to the tropical storms that hit the southeastern U.S., the report said.

Sources told Axios that they heard Trump ask senior officials, “They form off the coast of Africa as they move across the Atlantic. We'll drop a bomb in the eye of the hurricane and stop it. Why can't we do that? "

The concept of influencing a hurricane with an atomic bomb is not new: at the end of the 1950s, a scientist came up with the idea of ​​using atomic explosives to “change hurricane paths and intensities”.

But an article by hurricane researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) refutes that theory. You write that it is impossible to destroy a hurricane with an atomic bomb. The available bombs are not powerful enough and the explosives would not change the ambient air pressure for more than a fraction of a second.

How do hurricanes arise?

Hurricanes are huge low-pressure cyclones with wind speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour that form over warm water in the central Atlantic. When warm moisture rises, it gives off energy and thunderstorms can form. As more and more thunderstorms occur, the winds turn up and out, creating a vortex. Clouds form in the upper atmosphere when the warm air condenses.

As the wind blows, an area of ​​low pressure forms above the ocean surface, helping to feed the cyclonic shape of a hurricane.

When any part of this weather cycle dissipates - either the warm air or the low pressure area - the hurricane loses its strength and collapses. Therefore, in 1959, Jack Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia National Laboratories, had the idea of ​​disrupting hurricane-forming weather conditions with nuclear weapons.

Reed suggested that nuclear explosives could stop hurricanes by pushing warm air up and out of the eye of the storm. This should make it possible to let colder air flow in instead. That, he thought, would cause the low pressure air to power the storm to disperse and eventually weaken the hurricane.

Reed suggested two methods of getting the atomic bomb into the eye of the hurricane. "The placement of the bomb shouldn't be a particular problem," Reed wrote. The first method, according to the meteorologist, would be airborne transport, although "a more suitable placement could be from a submarine". A submarine could “penetrate a storm eye underwater” and “launch a rocket launching system” there before diving to safety.

But according to the NOAA researchers' article, there are two problems with Reed's plan.

Hurricanes release a staggering amount of energy

Hurricanes are extremely powerful: a fully developed hurricane releases the same amount of energy in 20 minutes as the explosion of a ten-megaton atomic bomb, according to the NOAA article. That is more than 666 times more than the "Little Boy" bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima by the USA in 1945.

In order to achieve the energetic power of a hurricane, almost 2,000 "little boys" would have to fall per hour while the hurricane is still a fully developed hurricane.

Even the largest atomic bomb ever tested - a 50 megaton hydrogen bomb called the "Tsar" bomb, which the Russians detonated over the Arctic Ocean in 1961 - would not be enough.

In addition, the NOAA article states that as soon as the initial high pressure shock from an explosive moves outwards, the ambient air pressure in the hurricane would return to the same low pressure state it was in before. And the shock wave that an atom bomb creates travels faster than the speed of sound.

So if we were not able to continuously detonate nuclear explosives in the eye of the hurricane, we would not be able to disperse the low pressure air that sustains the storm.

For example, suppose we wanted to reduce a category five hurricane like Katrina (with winds around 280 kilometers per hour) to a category two storm (with winds around 160 kilometers per hour). We'd have to put more than half a billion tons of air into a hurricane with an eye 40 kilometers in diameter, according to the NOAA article. An atom bomb couldn't do that.

"It's difficult to imagine a practical way to move that much air around," the authors wrote. Also, even a category two hurricane can destroy homes and infrastructure if it hits land.

Nuclear fallout would spread

The NOAA article also suggests that if a nuclear bomb were dropped in the storm, radioactive fallout would spread well beyond the hurricane's boundaries.

"This approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would move relatively quickly with the trade winds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems," the authors wrote.

Fallout is a mixture of radioisotopes that quickly decay and emit gamma rays - an invisible but highly energetic form of light. If you are exposed to too high a dose of this radiation in a short period of time, the cells of the body and their ability to regenerate themselves can be permanently damaged - a condition known as radiation sickness.

Read also: Trump wants to stop hurricanes with atomic bombs - and causes ridicule and amazement

Land contaminated with radioactive waste can become uninhabitable. After the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986 and released toxic radiation into the air, people had to leave an area of ​​1,500 square kilometers.

If the US tried to destroy a hurricane with an atomic bomb, the fallout could spread to island nations in the Caribbean or states on the Gulf of Mexico.

“Needless to say, this is not a good idea,” concludes the NOAA article.

This article was translated from English by Lisa Fairhair.