Can humans stop a hurricane with a nuclear bomb? It's a question that President Donald Trump reportedly asked of top national security officials and one that weather experts have long had to strike down.
The short answer: no.
"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."
Axios reported Sunday, citing unnamed sources, that Trump asked top Homeland Security officials whether the United States could bomb a hurricane to stop it from hitting the country.
In a tweet Monday, Trump denied the "ridiculous" report and called it "more FAKE NEWS!" Axios reported that the administration never acted on the idea.
The president would not be the first, however, to float the idea of using explosives, possibly nuclear ones, to halt the formation of a hurricane or change its course.
A blog post on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website by Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center, which Axios cited, debunks the idea and concludes, "Needless to say, this is not a good idea."
Trade winds would quickly carry nuclear radiation to coastlines, which could devastate those environments, but the central flaw of the idea is that a nuclear bomb, or a conventional weapon, simply wouldn't create enough energy to alter a hurricane's path.
A fully developed hurricane releases 50 trillion to 200 trillion watts of heat energy, according to the blog post. That's equal to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes, Landsea writes.
Matyas said most of a hurricane's energy comes from the formation of its clouds and rain compared with the energy in its winds – at a ratio of about 400 to 1. Given that and the sheer size of most storms, it would take upward of thousands of explosives to alter a storm's wind speed, Matyas said.
"People just don't understand how energy works and the scale of energy," she said.
The NOAA post also explains that the shock waves from a nuclear blast wouldn't raise the air pressure in the area around the storm.
Hurricanes and tropical storms are low-pressure systems. Landsea writes that normally the air's pressure equals about 10 metric tons weighing down on each square meter of surface. The strongest hurricanes have about 9 metric tons, he explains.
Downgrading a Category 5 storm to a Category 2 would require "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," Landsea writes.
Using explosions to prevent hurricanes from forming also proves a challenge given that so many tropical waves or depressions swirl in the Atlantic but never fully 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," Landsea writes.
According to National Geographic, scientists in the past have even suggested humans try explosives to shift storms. The head of U.S. Weather Bureau, Francis W. Riechelderfer, said in 1961 that he could foresee that possibility, and Jack W. Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia Laboratory, suggested it in 1959 at a symposium on peaceful uses of nuclear weapons.
Using a nuclear bomb is just one of many theories floated in humans' unsuccessful efforts to dominate the weather.
NOAA's website lists many other ideas that have never actualized, such as trying to harness the hurricane's energy, cooling surface water with icebergs or placing a large substance over the surface to prevent evaporation. Hurricanes' size and volatility prevent any of these from being feasible, NOAA says.
One, non-explosive theory to stopping a storm's growth that has garnered enough support to lead to experiments is cloud seeding. The idea is that humans can artificially create clouds to affect a storm system, but testing on hurricanes in the 1960s proved inconclusive, Matyas said.
In 2017, a Florida sheriff's office had to issue a warning to locals not to fire guns at Hurricane Irma after a Facebook event, "Shoot At Hurricane Irma," garnered thousands of responses.
As for Trump's handling of hurricanes, the president has faced sharp criticism after the administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017. His handling of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, though, was praised by many.
Tropical Storm Dorian is brewing in the Atlantic now and could be on course to become this season's second Atlantic hurricane.
Contributing: John Fritze and Michael Collins, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nuke a hurricane? Why Donald Trump's reported idea wouldn't work