No question, an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated over midtown Manhattan would destroy the city. But the warhead's sheer power is hard to fully grasp: roads so hot it's impossible to drive for days, superheated hurricane-force winds, and 100 square miles of fire.

Over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, three researchers describe the full devastation wreaked by an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead. The initial fireball would grow to a mile in diameter just one second after detonation, burning hotter than the surface of the sun. The heat from resulting fires almost creates its own deadly weather system:

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. At the edge of the fire zone, the winds would be powerful enough to uproot trees three feet in diameter and suck people from outside the fire into it.

Structures directly below the detonation would simply vaporize, creating a blast wave that makes another ring of destruction about it:

At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. 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. Throughout Midtown, the interiors of vehicles and buildings in line of sight of the fireball would explode into flames.

And there's more. Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey—none are spared. Read much more about their grisly hypothetical fates in this nuclear warhead scenario at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]

Top image: Songquan Deng/Shutterstock


Contact the author at sarah@gizmodo.com.