Doomsday: Nuclear War

Warning Time: no warning to minutes. There will likely be signs weeks in advance like attacks on satellites, invasions, etc.

Likelyhood: Extremely likely - one use of nuclear weapons has already occurred since their creation in 1945.

Possible Effects: Hundreads of millions, if not billions of people dead immediately. Long-term cancer deaths skyrocket. "Nuclear winter" impacts food crops so many die from starvation.

Prelude to Nuclear War

Doomsday Clock - How close are we to nuclear war.

You are probably aware of the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis. The Soviet Union puts nuclear missiles in Cuba capable of reaching the Southeast US, our spy planes spot them so we send a fleet of Navy ships to blockade Cuba. Our ships could have fired on incoming Russian ships had they crossed the blockade, and Russian nuclear submarines in the area would not have to have waited for authorization to fire. Should we have invaded Cuba, it is known now that Russian soldiers also had tactical battlefield nukes to decimate our invading troops. With the US and the USSR on the brink of war, and nuclear weapons from both sides pointing in every direction most people think this was the closest we have ever been to nuclear war.

But there was another time. It's Sept 1983 and I'm in the Air Force at a “Northern Tier” Strategic Air Command (SAC) base working on B-52s. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was really the closest we have ever been to nuclear war. [*] In a nutshell we were having military exercises, and the distrustful Soviet Union was misinterpreting our communications as the beginning of a nuclear attack, and they were getting ready to launch.

Every day in the Air Force I knew I had target on my target on my back. I went up to the “alert pad” weekly to service the electronic equipment I specialized in, I saw “briefings” about nuclear war and once even touched a loaded nuke – I was at ground-zero. Then one time I was at a special school on a different base, just walking around when then Klaxon sounded and had the sound pattern that on my base would have meant “put your head between your legs and kiss your *** goodbye.” It was weird watching others just walk around as I expected a blinding flash to be coming in seconds. The point of all this is just to say I have a little insight into nuclear war.

Risk assessment

Along with a massive solar storm, or a global pandemic, a nuclear doomsday is one of the top most risky events.

Probability - In 70 years since we've had nukes there has already been one war where they were used. Since then, the world has developed the more powerful theronuclear weapons, and there are enough of them to destroy the planet a number of times. On top of that unstable "rogue states" like North Korea either have, or are seeking to have nuclear weapons. As the number of nations with nukes increase, so does the possible of their use.

Risk - Maybe the next nuclear war will be limited such as India and Pakistan lobbing nukes at each other, in which there may only be tens of millions dead. But then again, there could be full-on global nuclear war in which case billion could die.

The 'Fall-Out' of a Nuclear War

Initial Blast - A likely .5 megaton nuclear explosion would obliterate everything within about 1.5 mi. Out to 2.5 mi houses are flattened. Even 15 mi away from ground-zero all the windows in your house shatter, and these shards could come flying at you. At 31 mi if you are still alive, there is a chance your ear drums have burst and you can't hear.

Thermal Radiation - As bad as the shockwave from a .5 megaton weapon would be, the casualities from the thermal effects extend out much farther. Out to 6 mi away from ground-zero skin is charred with 3rd degree burns. Less than that...well...people are likely on fire.

Fallout - This is a medium to long-term effect. I haven't mentioned the initial effects nuclear radiation because anyone close enough to ground-zero to receive an immediate lethal dose of radiation has already died from the blast and heat. But long-term nuclear fallout could still be life-threatening. This is hard to predict, but based on wind direction / speed and terrain, pockets of highly radioactive could form which should be avoided. A gas mask, radiation suit and geiger counter should help you navigate around these obstacles.

Nuclear Winter - This could be a very long-term effect of the burning of cities and other targets. Smoke and ash would be carried up and around the world by the jet stream blocking the sun. The temperature in the northern hemisphere could drop by 54F for decades (the last Ice Age was only about 10F cooler). No sunlight, and freezing temperatures results in worldwide crop failures - billions die from starvation.

Things to know

  • Russia has 8,500 nukes, 1,800 of which are ready to fly. The US has 7,700 nukes, of which 1,900 are ready to fly.[*]
  • Although nuclear weapons have been built with yields in the tens of megatons, the average current size is .5 megatons - this is still 25 times the yield of "Fat Man" which was 20 kilotons.

Survival Plan

Obliviously, your best bet of surviving the initial phase of a nuclear war is to live far away from any city, military base, or infrastructure assets - these are all ground-zero.

If you are living near coast and are close to a city, a military base, or some vital infrastructure asset, you won’t get a warning of incoming nukes. A nuke launched from a sub off the coast can reach its’ target in under 5 minutes – that’s too little time for the nuke to be detected, identified as a nuke, a message to be sent up the “chain of command,” a decision made on how to respond, messages sent back down the chain of command and finally for the public to alerted.

Inland, you "may" get a few seconds warning of a nuclear attack. ICBMs take a bit longer to reach their target, so there’s a chance you could hear the national emergency broadcast system warning – a slim chance, but it’s a still a chance.

If you are 10 to 15 miles from ground-zero but have survived so far, try to get indoors and stay put as long as possible. Radiation decays exponential over time, so longer you can stay indoors the more the radiation has decreased. When you do finally go outside move away from ground-zero as quickly as possible and note which way the wind direction which is carrying nuclear fallout. Hopefully you are at home and have prepared by getting a gas mask, geiger counter, radiation suit and potassium iodine - now is the time use these. Remember, there could be multiple waves of nuclear attack that will target industrial and population centers so your goal is to avoid these areas too.

Great - you've made it through the intial blast. You have moved away from any potential targets, high-radiation zones and are out in the middle of nowhere (possibly your bugout location) - now what? You're are going to have use your judgement on whether you continue to stay here, or make your way to the southern hemisphere. Its likely that most of the war took place in the northern hemisphere so the jet stream will carry the smoke, soot and fallout around this half of the globe first. This is where any nuclear winter will start, so you'll have to decide if you'll be able to stay here long-term or if you should try to head "down under."

Prepper Supplies Needed

  • Long-term bug-out shelter: Air supply should probably be filtered to keep potential radioactive ash/dust out of your living area, and be aware that outside water sources may become contaminated. Stay here as long as can but know that you may need to move south if nuclear winter occurs.
  • Geiger Counter: Know your levels of radiation exposure and use a geiger counter to help you avoid "hot" areas.
  • Gas mask: Good multi-disaster item to keep near your bug out bag. In the case of nuclear war, a gas mask will help filter out radioactive ash and keep it out of your lungs.
  • Radiation Suit: Better than gas mask, a radiation suit will help protect you from radiation. But just because you have one, doesn't mean you are totally safe. This suit will only "help" to limit your radiation doses.
  • Lots of uncontaminated water: You will need to wash down if you've been outside in radioactive dust. Ideally, your bugout shelter has multiple rooms too! Then you can setup the entry room as a decontamination area.
  • Potassium iodine for thyroid -


Federation of American Scientists: Worldwide nuclear stockpiles

Yields of various nuclear weapons: Lists of nuclear weapons

Online Nuclear Blast Calculator (enter 550kt for an expected yield): Nuclear blast map

Effects of a nuclear blast: Tables of nuclear weapon effects

More detail on effects of a nuclear blast: In depth survey of nuclear blasts