OverviewThe Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. You are hereHome › Features › Analysis › What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?
Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are believed to carry a total of approximately 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads that can hit the US less than 30 minutes after being launched. Your tax-deductible gift sends original and incisive analysis to readers and policymakers around the world. A missile, sometimes called a rocket, was an explosive projectile that was fired from some type of missile launcher. Thousands of warheads were fielded by both sides until the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  Unfortunately, many countries now have nuclear weapons and several more are intent on obtaining nukes or making their own.  One cannot help but wonder how many houses, farms, water purification plants and schools could have been built with the time and resources the world has put into nuclear weapons systems! November 21, 1959: Alan Freed, Originator of the Term “Rock and Roll” is Fired from His Job as a DJ! September 16, 1920: Bomb in Horse-Drawn Wagon Kills 38 on Wall Street and Injures Hundreds More!
I agree, that passage is a really powerful way to end the article and a huge take away for the reader.
It’s hard to think that even though ICBM missiles were still a missile that no one would be able to intercept it like a bomber plane.
Extremely frightening thought, I could not imagine living in a time where there was a real threat of nuclear fall out. I had no idea that nuclear warheads could be attached to artillery and fired across enemy lines.. The nuclear warheads that could be attached to artillery were a last resort because the blast range of the warhead was greater than the range the weapon could be fired.
A big thing I got from this article is how fast the world could change and how drastically from one country starting a nuclear war. The cold war was basically two superpowers fighting a verbal war and building technology to be superior to the other country.
I find the Cold War as one of the most interesting wars because of what “could” have happened!
So much more could have been built for our country instead of using all the resources to make the nuclear weapons.
PostolA physicist, Postol is professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT. Of this total, about 700 warheads are rated at 800 kilotons; that is, each has the explosive power of 800,000 tons of TNT. It must have been quite nerve-wracking to be alive during this period and not know if the world they knew would be over the next day.


It’s kind of silly to think that two global powers basically arguing who was better and trying to prove it because they felt their government was better than the other countries. What follows is a description of the consequences of the detonation of a single such warhead over midtown Manhattan, in the heart of New York City.The initial fireball. I don’t think that there is any reason good enough in this world that means we must resolve to nuclear war. It is sad to think about how much money was and is poured into the construction of deadly weapons and what that money could potentially do if put to a different use. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.
The warhead would probably be detonated slightly more than a mile above the city, to maximize the damage created by its blast wave. We’ve all seen movies where an evil genius hacks into countries nuclear bases and sets off bombs and destroys Earth and I hope these ideas stay in Hollywood! Within a few tenths of millionths of a second after detonation, the center of the warhead would reach a temperature of roughly 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 million degrees Celsius), or about four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun. A ball of superheated air would form, initiallly expanding outward at millions of miles per hour. It would act like a fast-moving piston on the surrounding air, compressing it at the edge of the fireball and creating a shockwave of vast size and power.After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter. It would have cooled from its initial temperature of many millions of degrees to about 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 4,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. On a clear day with average weather conditions, the enormous heat and light from the fireball would almost instantly ignite fires over a total area of about 100 square miles. Within seconds after the detonation, fires set within a few miles of the fireball would burn violently.
These fires would force gigantic masses of heated air to rise, drawing cooler air from surrounding areas toward the center of the fire zone from all directions.As the massive winds drove flames into areas where fires had not yet fully developed,the fires set by the detonation would begin to merge. Within tens of minutes of the detonation, fires from near and far would join to form a single, gigantic fire.
The energy released by this mass fire would be 15 to 50 times greater than the energy produced by the nuclear detonation.The mass fire, or firestorm, would quickly increase in intensity, heating enormous volumes of air that would rise at speeds approaching 300 miles per hour. This chimney effect would pull cool air from outside the fire zone towards the center of the fire at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour.
These superheated ground winds of more than hurricane force would further intensify the fire.
The fireball would vaporize the structures directly below it and produce an immense blast wave and high-speed winds, crushing even heavily built concrete structures within a couple miles of ground zero.
Patrick's Cathedral, about one half to three quarters of a mile from ground zero, light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets, burn paint off walls, and melt metal surfaces within a half second of the detonation. Roughly one second later, the blast wave and 750-mile-per-hour winds would arrive, flattening buildings and tossing burning cars into the air like leaves in a windstorm.
Any flammable material inside buildings (paper, curtains, upholstery) that was directly exposed to the fireball would burst into flame.


As it passed over, the blast wave would engulf all structures and crush them; it would generate ferocious winds of 400 to 500 miles per hour that would persist for a few secondsThe high winds would tear structural elements from buildings and cause them to disintegrate explosively into smaller pieces. The superheated, dust-laden winds would be strong enough to overturn trucks and buses.Two miles from ground zero, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with all its magnificent historical treasures, would be obliterated. Two and half miles from ground zero, in Lower Manhattan, the East Village, and Stuyvesant Town, the fireball would appear 2,700 times brighter than a desert sun at noon.
There, thermal radiation would melt and warp aluminum surfaces, ignite the tires of autos, and turn exposed skin to charcoal, before the blast wave arrived and ripped apart the buildings.Three to nine miles from ground zero. Midtown is bordered by the relatively wide Hudson and East rivers, and fires would start simultaneously in large areas on both sides of these waterways (that is, in Queens and Brooklyn as well as Jersey City and West New York). At a distance of 5.35 miles from the detonation, the light flash from the fireball would deliver twice the thermal energy experienced at the edge of the mass fire at Hiroshima.
In Jersey City and Cliffside Park, and in Woodside in Queens, on Governors Island and in Harlem, the light and heat to surfaces would approximate that created by 600 desert suns at noon.Wind speed at this distance would be 70 to 100 miles per hour. Buildings of heavy construction would suffer little structural damage, but all exterior windows would be shattered, and non-supporting interior walls and doors would be severely damaged or blown down.
Black smoke would effuse from wood houses as paint burned off surfaces and furnishings ignited.Six to seven miles from ground zero, from Moonachie, New Jersey, to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, from Yankee Stadium to Corona, Queens and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the fireball would appear 300 times brighter than the desert sun at noon. Anyone in the direct light of the fireball would suffer third degree burns to their exposed skin. The firestorm could engulf neighborhoods as far as seven miles away from ground zero, since these outlying areas would receive the same amount of heat as did the areas at the edge of the mass fire at Hiroshima. Nine miles from ground zero, in Hackensack, Bayonne, and Englewood, New Jersey, as well as in Richmond Hill, Queens, and Flatlands, Brooklyn, the fireball would be about 100 times brighter than the sun, bright enough to cause first- and second-degree burns to those in line of sight.
About 36 seconds after the fireball, the shockwave would arrive and knock out all the windows, along with many interior building walls and some doors.No survivors.
Within tens of minutes, everything within approximately five to seven miles of Midtown Manhattan would be engulfed by a gigantic firestorm.
The fire zone would cover a total area of 90 to 152 square miles (230 to 389 square kilometers). Air temperatures in the fire zone would likely average 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 260 Celsius). After the fire burned out, the street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days. Buried, unburned material from collapsed buildings throughout the fire zone could burst into flames when exposed to air—months after the firestorm had ended. Even those able to find shelter in the lower-level sub-basements of massive buildings would likely suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive as their shelters heated to oven-like conditions.The fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else.



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