How do you get away from a nuclear detonation?
Offer to show it your vacation pictures.
My focus on this blog is fantasy, sci-fi, and silliness, so it’s hard to give real advice and have it taken seriously. Despite the usual tone here, I promise the following is real.
But it’s not a “serious” post either. That’s not what I do. I don’t think nukes are about to rain from the sky or that you should start drilling on how to escape them. However… for a short period in my life (long ago), I sat through many briefings and hearings on the subject. A bit of advice from a RAND group stuck with me, and I thought I’d share—mostly because the physical and social science aspects were so fascinating.
So here we go—what to do in case of a nuclear detonation.
First off—the following only applies if you are not caught in the initial explosive blast radius (the shock wave). If a nuke has detonated, you’re still standing 30 seconds later, and you can see the mushroom cloud (even if only through binoculars), do the following:
Get on your bicycle and ride away from the blast perpendicular to the direction of the plume.
Let’s break it down.
Get on your bicycle:
All roads will become impassable to motorized vehicles pretty much instantly. Believe it. Your road/neighborhood/town/wherever will not be an exception. Getting into a car is useless.
Bicycles will be essential for getting anywhere fast. Accept no substitute unless you live in very rural area—and I mean a one-stoplight town with no other towns nearby (even that is questionable).
Your bicycle won’t run out of gas, and you can carry it across or over most obstacles. If you’re worried about flats, get a repair kit.
You can’t carry much with you on a bicycle, but if you can see a mushroom cloud, saving material possessions is the least of your worries.
That’s not to say biking will be easy. Most people will try to drive, and it won’t be pretty. They will be on sidewalks, in yards, plowing through any open space they find, and some will not hesitate to run over those in their way. But most of that will be over within a few minutes, and then it’s either running or pedaling.
What about motorcycles? Nope. It might be tempting—you can squeeze through tighter spaces—but they are even less adaptable to various terrains than cars. You can carry a bicycle over or around a crashed car or a stream bed, but not a motorcycle (unless you’re a roid monster; if so, go for it).
Big four-wheel-drive trucks? Only if you live in a very flat, very rural area. Even then, you need to put your bicycles in the back, because it won’t be long before you come to a gulch, wall, stand of trees, or clogged road you can’t get past.
I’m trying not to go fantasy/sci-fi in this post, but it should be noted that bicycles are also the best option for any disaster that causes instant mass panic, including:
I love The Walking Dead, but I always thought the least realistic aspect of the show was the easily drivable roads and the lack of bicycles (and everyone’s super sexy hair).
Ok, back to nukes. I’ve mentioned that very rural areas are a qualified exception to the bicycle rule, but here’s the rub—if a nuke detonates in a sparsely populated area, there are only three explanations. 1) It’s a targeting mistake (unlikely), 2) A dashing/resourceful government agent captured a nuke from the bad guys and drove it out to the middle of nowhere for detonation (also unlikely) or 3) the attacking power is targeting your country’s known nuclear weapon arsenal or launching everything they have (likeliest). If it’s number there, then that’s the end of the world, and I wouldn’t worry too much about it 🙂
Ride away from the blast perpendicular to the direction of the plume:
What is the mushroom cloud? When produced by a nuclear detonation, it’s the contents of the bomb, water vapor, and all the debris from the ground that is vaporized by the supercritical reaction and churned up into the air. Highly radioactive dust and water, essentially. If you survive the shock wave, this is the stuff you’re running away from.
The problem with the mushroom cloud is that it doesn’t stay mushroom-shaped for long. The wind blows the plume one way or the other. Watch to see which way it leans (don’t wait for that to start biking, just keep checking over your shoulder).
When the wind changes direction, it most often does so on a 180-degree axis. If it’s blowing due north, a switch would blow due south. Not always, just most of the time.
Your instinct will be to ride the opposite direction that the plume leans. But if the wind changes direction, it’s going to blow it back on top of you. So when you can tell which way it’s leaning, go perpendicular to that. If the cloud leans north, go east or west.
Is there any scenario in which you wouldn’t try to get away from a nuclear detonation? Only if you have a fully underground, airtight shelter with its own filtration system and lots of supplies. But I’m guessing if you have one of those, this post isn’t for you.
That’s it! Sorry if this was a bit morbid, I didn’t mean it to be so. I’ve always been fascinated by nukes (not in a good way, just interested). Now I return to much lighter topics—the impending transformation of humans into a different species through bioelectronic modification.
*I wonder if the “showing someone vacation pictures is annoying” joke even works these days. That’s sort of all we do now, right? If you’re under 30 years old, trust me, this used to be a thing.