The president’s understanding of the natural world isn’t particularly deep. He thinks that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer. He’s called climate change a hoax and thinks that cold weather in the winter disproves global warming. He might not get how rivers work, and he definitely doesn’t understand how to stop a forest fire: Last year, he suggested a proper raking could have stalled the disastrous Camp Fire, which killed 83 Californians.
Hurricanes — or how they might react to a nuclear warhead — aren’t his forte either. According to a report from Axios, the president 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.” During one hurricane briefing, Trump reportedly offered the following solution:
“I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” [Trump said] 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.
One staffer in the briefing gave the evergreen my-boss-is-dumb response: “Sir, we’ll look into that.” As Trump continued to press the initiative, the staffer described the room as quiet, saying “You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting.”
A 2017 National Security Council memo details a second chat on the efficacy of fighting the weather: In a meeting, Trump asked if his administration could bomb hurricanes so that they wouldn’t hit the U.S. shoreline. Not mentioned, according to the report, is the political fallout of a successful hurricane attack: Rerouting a storm to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in another North Atlantic country sounds like a new chapter in Anthropocenic disaster. But one senior administration official aware of Trump’s grand idea defended its intention: “His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad,” the official said. “His objective is not bad.”
In the annals of American stupidity, Trump’s idea to fight a hurricane isn’t all that original. After a 2017 Facebook event encouraged Floridians to shoot their guns at Hurricane Irma, the Pasco County sheriff’s office had to warn citizens of the plan’s inherent dangers — specifically, that “bullets come back.”
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% 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.
On early Monday morning, Trump, who is in France for the G-7 summit, denied ever broaching the nuclear hurricane idea in the first place, which is further evidence that he did.