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Top 10 US Cities Most Likely To Be Targeted In A Nuclear War

Artist's representation of a nuclear blast at a distance

Ever since the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan during World War 2, the possibility of nuclear war has been a persistent threat. While no one knows for sure what the actual priority targets would be for our enemies with nuclear capability, I have compiled this list of almost sure bets.

1. New York City, NY

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that New York City is going to be one of the most likely targeted cities in the US for a nuclear attack. New York City is also a large economic hub for the United States, so destroying it can lead to economic depression or a lack of resources for many parts of the US.

While studies have shown that not all of New York City would be destroyed by a typical nuclear attack, that would only be the case if the bomb was as or less powerful as the Tsar Bomba. With a population of 8.5 million people, hitting New York City with a nuclear bomb could kill a significant portion of the United States population.

An image of a ferry at downtown new york city with statue of liberty
New York is a prime target as a symbol of America.

2. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles would be a prime target as it is a tourism and people hub on the west coast. However, if smaller nuclear bombs were to be used, Los Angeles will fare better than many east coast cities, as it is more spread out than cities like New York or Chicago.

If Los Angeles were to be hit by the biggest nuclear bomb ever tested, the effects would be devastating. The effects of the blast would reach San Bernadino. Los Angeles itself would be destroyed, and a large percentage of its 3.85 million residents would perish.

Related The 16 Safest US Cities From Nuclear Attack.

3. Chicago, IL

Chicago is another prime target for a nuclear attack. The city has 2.7 million residents, but along with that, there are 4 nuclear power plants surrounding the city. If a nuclear bomb were detonated in the area, it would likely destroy at least one of these plants, making the situation even worse.

Along with this, O’Hare International Airport is one of the largest airports in the country, and destroying it would cripple travel throughout the northern part of the US for a time.

4. Dallas, TX

There are two reasons that Dallas, TX, would be a target of a nuclear bomb. It has a population of well over a million people, and there is a large military presence in and around the city.

If an 800-kiloton bomb were detonated in Dallas, nearly 200,000 people would die, and the fallout from the bomb would likely reach Fort Smith, AR. Fortunately, a bomb this size wouldn’t hit other major Texas cities like Fort Worth or Lewisville. However, it would be a long time before Dallas could even begin recovering.

Aerial View of Downtown Dallas on a Summer Day

5. Houston, TX

Houston is another major target for the same reason that Dallas is a potential target. However, while Houston has fewer nearby military bases than Dallas, it has a higher population of over two million residents.

If that same 800-kiloton bomb were dropped on Houston, it is estimated that 210,000 people would die in the explosion, and the radioactive fallout would spread across southeast Texas and into Louisiana. The actual fireball from the bomb would take out most of Houston, stopping just short of Pasadena and the William P. Hobby Airport.

6. Philadelphia, PA

While Philadelphia only has about 1.5 million residents, it is one of the most likely targets of a nuclear bomb because of how densely populated the city is and because of how the wind would carry the radioactive fallout.

If a nuclear bomb were detonated in Philadelphia, estimates show that 212,000 people would die in the city, and the fallout would be carried northeast toward other large and important cities.

Cities that the fallout from Philadelphia would hit include Trenton, New Brunswick, Yonkers, Patterson, and New York City. Along with this, nearly all of Philadelphia will be destroyed, with just the southern edges potentially making it through the blast.

Related The 16 Most Likely Russian Nuclear Targets in the US.

7. Washington D.C.

It should come as no surprise that Washington, D.C., is one of the main targets for any sort of nuclear attack, as it is the capital of our country. A nuclear bomb going off in Washington, D.C., would have much more devastating effects on the leadership of the country than any other city would.

Still, it is estimated that over 400,000 people would perish in the blast and the fallout, as the wind would blow radioactive materials throughout the city and into massive cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia. The blast would take out many important people and buildings, including the Pentagon, the Capital building, the White House, and many monuments.

8. Kitsap County, WA

This is likely a city that most people haven’t heard of. However, it is a very likely target for a nuclear bomb because of one main reason: the 3 military bases located in the surrounding areas.

A bomb dropped in this area would take out all 3 of these military bases, and while only about 26,000 people would die in the blast, it would be a very damaging blow to the naval power in the Pacific fleet. Ships docked there would be destroyed, and all of the work done there would have to be moved to other bases throughout the rest of the west coast. Of course, if a nuclear war happened, it is possible there wouldn’t be anyone left to do the moving.

For more, check out The 12 Safest US States From Nuclear Attacks.

9. San Diego, CA

San Diego will be another prime target of a nuclear bomb if those who sent it want to deal damage to both the population and military, as there is a large naval presence in and around the city.

The blast and nuclear fallout would likely end up killing 160,000 people, but the larger effect would take out all of the military bases, slowing the Pacific Fleet and taking out many ships at the same time.

Distant view of downtown San Diego at dusk

10. Honolulu, HI

If Honolulu were to be hit by a nuclear bomb, the vast majority of the city would likely be destroyed, and over 200,000 residents of the city and the island would potentially perish.

Honolulu would be attacked for the same reason Pearl Harbor was attacked in World War 2. The Pacific Fleet has a very large presence in the city, and by destroying it, it would take out many ships, but more importantly, it would take out a vital port for the US Navy.

Final Thoughts

To help visualize the safest and least safe areas of the US, I created this relief map. Read more about it in this article.

United States Nuclear Target and Safe Zone Relief Map
United States Nuclear Target and Safe Zone Relief Map.

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