President Trump refuted reports Monday morning that he wants to bomb hurricanes. “The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous,” he tweeted in the third person. “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!” The billowy heirs of Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, and Irma can brief a sigh of relief.
On Sunday, Axios reporters Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev published the “scoop” that President Trump plans to unleash nuclear weapons on the weather. “President Trump 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,” they wrote.
Axios went on to acknowledge that “Trump didn’t invent this idea,” and “the idea keeps resurfacing in the public, even though scientists agree it won’t work.” As early as 1935, after a hurricane ripped through the Florida Keys, a group of chamber of commerce executives suggested bombing storms as a preventative measure. The U.S. Weather Bureau broached the question again in 1950 but with the Cold War underway warned the public not “to waste bombs on hurricanes.” A decade later, U.S. Weather Bureau chief Francis Reichelderfer announced plans to study the effects of bombs on storms, but high costs and uncertain fallout halted the experiment.
Of greater interest than the President’s private remarks are the sources who relayed them, and perhaps therein lies the key to this bizarre story. The report presents three distinct political possibilities. President Trump claims the reporters or the sources made it all up. The mainstream media have fabricated stories about the President before. But in this case the reporters “stand by every word in the story.” They even gave the White House press team nine hours to respond.
The second possibility is that President Trump really wants to nuke a hurricane. But if that were the case, why would he deny it? President Trump tends to stand by even his most outrageous ideas, as when he suggested last week that the U.S. buy Greenland from Denmark. Would the President really run away from the suggestion of a measly warhead or two over the Atlantic?
The third possibility seems most likely: that Trump raised the strange idea to ferret out leakers. For years the President has inveighed against leakers as “traitors and cowards,” vowing to “find out who they are!” How could a disgruntled staffer resist spilling news of a prospective nuclear attack on storm clouds? Just this past February, the White House suffered its worst leak yet when a staffer sent the President’s private schedules to journalists. Is it mere coincidence that Axios broke that story as well?
The President has a leaker on his hands. Perhaps his nuclear rhetoric targets, not any seasonal deluge, but the steady drip, drip, drip of damaging press.