Fact-Check: Did Donald Trump Suggest Nuking Hurricanes?

During a segment on climate change in the first presidential debate, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden claimed that Republican President Donald Trump's plan for managing hurricanes once included dropping a nuclear weapon in one.

"Look how much we're paying now to deal with the hurricanes," Biden said. "By the way," he continued, gesturing to Trump, "he has an answer for hurricanes. He said, 'Maybe we should drop a nuclear weapon on them."

"I never said that," Trump retorted. "He made it up."

In August 2019, the news website Axios wrote that sources who heard the president's private remarks in recorded comments in a National Security Council (NSC) memorandum claimed to have heard Trump asking top national security officials to "consider using nuclear bombs to weaken or destroy hurricanes."

The site wrote that during a hurricane briefing, which occurred early into the first year of Trump's presidency, Trump allegedly said, "[Hurricanes] 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?"

"You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting," the source told Axios. "People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, 'What the f*ck? What do we do with this?'"

The report also claimed that Trump had raised the possibility of bombing hurricanes with another senior administration official, as detailed in a 2017 NSC memo.

However, Trump called the site's story "ridiculous" in a tweet, adding, "I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!"

Donald Trump nuke hurricane nuclear bomb debate
During the first presidential debate, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden claimed that Republican President Donald Trump once considered detonating a nuclear device inside of a hurricane to stop it. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. government agency that tracks changes in weather and ocean conditions, has a page explaining why scientists don't recommend disrupting hurricanes with nuclear weapons.

"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," the page states. Needless to say, this is not a good idea."

A 2016 National Geographic article also explained that detonating a nuke inside a hurricane could violate the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union (now Russia), possibly increasing the arms race tensions between the two countries.

On June 1, Democratic Texas Representative Sylvia Garcia introduced the Climate Change and Hurricane Correlation and Strategy Act, which would explicitly prohibit the president or any other federal agency official from using a nuclear bomb or other "strategic weapon" to alter weather patterns or addressing climate change.

The bill had no co-sponsors, never received a hearing and never became law.