What If Your Town Got Nuked? A Ground Zero Project

Fresh from last night’s viewing of Religulous, which ends with a disturbing cacophony of nuclear explosions, I found this in my RSS feed today…


CarlosLabs has posted a bit of Javascript which uses Google Maps to show the effects of various catastrophic disasters; manmade and otherwise.

According to DVICE’s Charlie White, “The deep red color means total destruction, dark red would be third degree burns, light red signifies second degree burns, and yellow means you’d get a pretty nasty sunburn.” You can get a more specific interpretation of distance related damage represented by the colored rings, here.

It’s not like I haven’t always wondered what the effects of a nuclear blast might be, so I decided to use a remnant of the Cold War – which happens to be located right here in Eldorado – as ground zero.

My target? Eldorado Air Force Station, or PAVE PAWS, as the locals still call it…

PAVE PAWS with panels in place

PAVE is an Air Force code word. PAWS is an acronym for Phased Array Warning System. Unlike older mechanical radars, PAVE PAWS is steered electronically, allowing for greatly increased speed an accuracy. The primary mission of this system was to detect the launch of Soviet missiles from submarines. PAVE PAWS radars are currently located at Beale Air Force Base, California and Cape Cod Air Station, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. [source]

Eldorado AFS was built in the 80s, and like other PAVE PAWS facilities, it was designed to “detect and characterize a sea-launched ballistic missile attack against the United States.” [source]

The mission of the PAVE PAWS radar installations involves two activities. The first activity, surveillance, is to detect and determine attack characteristics of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles that might penetrate the PAVE PAWS field of view. Once detected, the launched object is continuously tracked and its trajectory estimated. Any object that separates from a booster is also tracked as it approaches. The second activity, tracking, supports the USSPACECOM Space Surveillance Network, which involves the surveillance and tracking of earth satellites and identification of other space objects. [source]

Because of its mission, common local sentiment was that should America ever be under a nuclear attack, PAVE PAWS locations would most likely be on the first strike list; in other words, they would be mini ground-zeros. Needless to say, this caused a lot of speculation among the Eldorado community as to what might be expected in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Our PAVE PAWS was abandoned in 1995, and fortunately there was never a need to see what the effects of a nuclear attack might have been.

Operated by the 8th Missile Warning Squadron (later redesignated as the 8th Space Warning Squadron) from 1987 until 1995. The site was mothballed and all equipment sent to Clear AFS, AK to upgrade the former BMEWS to the new SSPARS (Solid-State Phased Array Radar System), which became operational on 31 January 2001. [source]

pave_paws_eldoradoPAVE PAWS after the removal of the panels

So let’s pretend for a moment that PAVE PAWS is still fully operational and a hot target. I located it on the Ground Zero Map…


…and then I chose my weapon of mass destruction.


I started with “Fat Man“, the atomic bomb that was used on Nagasaki. Since PAVE PAWS is located in such a rural area, even the “sunburn” rings fail to reach Eldorado – approximately 7 miles to the south. For that matter, they barely impact the ranch across the main highway; there are a few ranches to the east that suffer a bit, though.


Then I tried the “Joe-4“, which had a substantially wider fallout area, but still didn’t quite reach Eldorado. It definitely managed to wipe out a substantial number of neighboring ranches, however.


Then I tried the “Tsar Bomba“…and h.o.l.y crap.

This bomb not only obliterates Eldorado, it smashes Sonora (30ish miles away) and nearly reaches San Angelo – 42 miles away. The worst part? This bomb was actually detonated during Soviet testing in 1961. The idea of the destructive power contained in this type of bomb makes me weak at the knees.


But of course nothing compares to the catastrophic damage that would be done, should PAVE PAWS be hit by another asteroid similar to the one which left the Chicxulub Crater in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula.

Whether this particular asteroid impact can be credited with the extinction of dinosaurs, I will leave to scientists much smarter than me. All I can tell by looking at this simulation, is that another impact of this type would be the end of life as we know it; hopefully we wouldn’t feel a thing. :-/


So there you have it.

Are you curious as to what the end result would be if your town was nuked?

You know you are, so you might as well go ahead and look…

Link: Ground Zero | CarlosLabs

You can read more about the effects of a nuclear explosion, here.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

4 Comments on "What If Your Town Got Nuked? A Ground Zero Project"

  1. That's me; Ms. Cheerful. 😉

    I don't see how people can't wonder about this stuff, though. I mean, there is certainly enough nuclear weaponry "out there" that disasters could occur…

  2. Well, what a cheery way to start the day! 🙂 I better break out the old "The Day After" reruns.

    Shoot, I'd get conflagrated even with the wimpiest of nukes due to my proximity to a particular engine industry. Though, the tool does not of course take into account blast overpressure and secondary effects such as fallout, resulting fires and infrastructural collapse.

  3. Oh man, this kind of stuff freaks me out…and makes me want to have some kind of preparedness plan. I mean, we have one in case of zombie invasion, but haven't quite figured out our nuclear war plans yet.

  4. No one will fuck your shit up quite like Mother Nature: http://is.gd/gkbPS (hat tip @CitizenCassidy)

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