President Trump denies suggesting that nukes could be used to disrupt hurricanes

A satellite image in October 2018 of Hurricane Michael off the Gulf Coast
A satellite image in October 2018 of Hurricane Michael off the Gulf CoastNOAA/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump on Monday morning denied a stunning report on Axios.com that he had floated the idea of dropping nuclear bombs to disrupt hurricanes.

Axios reported Sunday that Trump had suggested numerous times to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they should explore the idea.

Axios said its reporting was based on sources who had heard Trump’s statements and been briefed on a National Security memo that recorded his comments. One source told Axios, “People were astonished” after hearing it.

Trump denied the comments Monday morning, saying the story was “ridiculous.”

Axios said it stood by its reporting.


Critics said the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on a hurricane was bizarre and showed the president’s ignorance.

But what Trump reportedly suggested, while it is now discredited, is not unprecedented and even appears to have been seriously considered in the past.

The Washington Post traced the idea as far back as October 1935 in Florida, saying Florida business leaders hoped to protect their coasts using bombs. After the first use of atomic bombs in World War II, the mayor of Miami Beach wrote President Truman asking him to look into it.

In a 1961 speech at the National Press Club, Francis Reichelderfer, the head of the US Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service), revealed that the agency planned to study whether bombing a hurricane would stop it in its tracks, the Post reported. The National Geographic has reported that one government researcher proposed in the late 1950s taking a submarine to the eye of a hurricane to set off nuclear bombs.

But the current scientific thinking is that it it’s a non-starter.

In an FAQ section on its website, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it comes up every year.


“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea,” the writeup said.

“Hurricanes produce so much more energy than a single bomb,” Corene Matyas, a professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Geography, told USA Today. “The scale is a huge mismatch.” She said it would take upward thousands of explosives before having an effect on a storm’s wind speed.

John Morales, meteorologist at WTVJ (Channel 6) in Miami, said in a tweet that the nuke idea was “futile and obviously dangerous.”

NOAA included nuking hurricanes in a list of ideas for stopping them that wouldn’t work, including using icebergs to cool the warm ocean waters, placing a substance on the ocean to prevent the warm water from evaporating, and absorbing the storm’s wind energy with wind turbines.

“As carefully reasoned as some of these suggestions are, they all share the same shortcoming: They fail to appreciate the size and power of tropical cyclones,” the NOAA website said, suggesting that such interventions would have to wait for a faroff, sci-fi future.

“For example, when Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, the eye and eyewall devastated a swath 20 miles wide. The heat energy released around the eye was 5,000 times the combined heat and electrical power generation of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant over which the eye passed. The kinetic energy of the wind at any instant was equivalent to that released by a nuclear warhead. Perhaps if the time comes when men and women can travel at nearly the speed of light to the stars, we will then have enough energy for brute-force intervention in hurricane dynamics,” NOAA said.


Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.