This is what would happen if a nuclear bomb actually did detonate over Hawaii
Earlier this month, Hawaii residents received a terrifying message. The message read: "Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." For nearly 40 excruciating minutes people were left thinking this was true, wondering exactly what they should do in the face of certain death and how to look after their loved ones.
Fortunately, this was eventually revealed to be an error, and Hawaii was indeed safe. But it left many in the state shaken up, with the fear of an attack such as this spreading to the rest of the United States. But what would actually happen if this message were true?
First of all, the U.S. military and its intelligence agencies have early warning satellites that orbit the planet. These satellites would detect the location of a launch site within seconds as well as the trajectory of the missile. Air Force radars, infrared sensors and other instruments would search for heat signatures from missile plumes, and are sensitive enough to even detect short-range missiles.
This information would be sent to U.S. forces in Seoul, South Korea within minutes. They would decide whether to shoot down or not, with the option to do so from the Korean Peninsula, Japan's missile defence network, or U.S. warships, which will have various potential risks to American lives which will have to be considered. If it's a nuclear strike then the decision whether to counter-strike would have to be made by the president.
Jeffrey Lewis, a Middlebury professor and noted arms control watcher, has said that North Korea would likely launch its largest missile - an intercontinental ballistic missile that may have the power of 200 kilotons, in other words "equivalent to a few hundred kilotons of TNT". This missile is capable of covering the 11,739 km (7,350 miles) from Pyongyang to Honolulu and would have a devastating effect.
According to Nuke Map, a website tool made by Alex Wellerstein to approximate the devastation of similar attacks, estimates that this missile would wipe out 158,000 people and injure 173,000.
The damage would depend on how or where exactly it was detonated, as there are various ways in which it could harm civilians. Beyond the central explosion, there would be an air blast that could topple buildings and radiation. In Hawaii, much of the structures are made from wood so there would be widespread fires.
In addition, its isolation offers little chance for a quick evacuation and hinders efforts to provide medicine and food relief, while the local food and water sources could become contaminated.
There are various factors that could affect the overall impact of a successful attack on Hawaii, from the high winds to the mountainous terrain to the spread of radioactive isotopes, but regardless this situation would be dire. Fortunately, the message those people received was a mistake and not a real glimpse into a dark future.