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Forget zombies – prepare for a solar storm apocalypse!

Posted by Richard on July 13, 2013

I used to visit Spaceweather.com fairly often. I liked checking out the cool photos, keeping track of the sunspot (in)activity during the recent solar minimum, and checking for good flybys of the International Space Station (ISS) on the Satellite Flybys page. That’s how I was able to watch the spectacular flyby of the ISS being chased across the sky by the shuttle Atlantis. But I got out of the habit of visiting that site.

I was reminded of it today when I saw the /. post When Space Weather Attacks Earth, which points to an interesting Washington Post science article by Brad Plumer. It discusses how vulnerable our modern electrical and electronic systems are to a solar event like the one that happened 154 years ago:

The auroras of 1859, known as the “Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. When the particles hit our magnetosphere, they triggered an especially fierce geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky and frazzled communication wires around the world. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for hours.

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue.

That’s not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It’s a sober new assessment by Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.

A coronal mass ejection, if it hits the earth, amounts to a naturally-occurring electromagnetic pulse (EMP). While the consequences wouldn’t be as bad as what’s portrayed in the J.J. Abrams series, Revolution, they could be pretty grim.

Plumer focuses almost entirely on the consequences for the Northeast United States.  I guess that’s partly because the region is especially vulnerable, but I suspect it’s also because for Washington Post writers, nothing outside of the Northeast and California really matters. Still, it’s an interesting article about a frightening possibility. Read the whole thing. You may decide to price generators and look into stockpiling food, water, gas, …

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2 Responses to “Forget zombies – prepare for a solar storm apocalypse!”

  1. […] Forget zombies – prepare for a solar storm apocalypse! Combs … […]

  2. Rick Shultz said

    Richard: BRAVO ZULU my friend. I hope that people will read and HEED the Lloyd’s assessment. I am preparing for this as well as my budget will allow. I bought an 800 Watt 2-stroke gas powered generator, and have stored enough 2 cycle fuel with preservative in it(very important if you store fuel)to
    run it for a while. I am also storing bottled water,vacuum packed food,ammo,first aid stuff and anything else I think would be useful. I hope people understand that this is NOT a
    question of IF the shit hits the fan, but WHEN. You don’t have to spend a fortune to prepare fairly well. There are places like Harbor Freight Tools where you can get stuff at decent prices that will help you prepare(bought my generator there for $120)without going broke doing it. Check out survivalist websites. There are a number of good ones that feature techniques and lists of emergency gear that are pretty comprehensive. There are many things you can do besides sit on your middle class butt and wait for it to hit
    you.

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