Image via NOAA & Wikipedia
The headline above sounds like something out of a disaster movie doesn’t it? Only it isn’t fiction. It is a real threat and we are not prepared to deal with the potential outcome of such an event.
If you think back a few years ago to August 2003 when the great Northeast blackout hit much of the East Coast and parts of Canada, it was a real wake up call to what would happen to us in the event of a major power outage.
55 million people were affected when the power went out in over 8 U.S. states just after 4 pm. It was at the time, the second most widespread electrical blackout in history.
I was in New York City then and I can tell you that it will be something I never forget. There were no functioning street lights, no power to any buildings, no elevators, no restaurants or stores functioning properly, and food melting in freezers where people had them. Toilets would only flush until they ran out of water..same thing for water faucets, and the water stopped flowing pretty fast. Hotels were jammed and people were forced to sleep on sidewalks or in buildings huddled together for security if they couldn’t get to a permanent domicile. I had to climb 15 flights of stairs until I made it to one of the only hotel rooms left in my hotel.
Mass transit systems were stopped in their tracks. Cell phones had no signal, with the exception of Verizon service which amazingly was operating, and even that service was sporadic as the communication system was overloaded by panicked people trying to call someone.
Even police radios were not functioning.
If you could get a cab to stop, and you got in, you risked potential injury from an accident (both as a passenger or as a pedestrian) as the city lights were out and you were riding in pitch black with people wandering the streets in the darkness trying to figure out how to get home. In short, it was absolute chaos at best. And it was not just for a few minutes. It ended up being hours. Nearly 24, and it wasn’t completely restored until much longer than that. Nighttime in New York City that period was truly dangerous.
55 million people were affected when the power went out in over 8 major cities just after 4 pm.
So could it happen again? Yes. Did we make changes to prevent this type of scenario in the future? No.
NASA has been warning us of an impending solar event since at least 2008. If NASA is worried about this we should be too. They know their stuff. In fact, they warned us to prepare for a “once in a lifetime solar storm event” and those warnings were updated as recently as June 2010.
Hear the interview and see the videos:
NASA Scientists Warns of Awakening Sun
Solar Flare Could Paralyze Britain
Dr. Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics division in a June 2010 interview with the NY Daily Post, the Daily Telegraph (UK), and other major newspapers said that “It’s very likely in the next 10 years that we will have some impact like that described in the National Academy report”.
Who is Dr. Richard Fisher?
Here is a link to a few of the articles:
NY Daily News article
U.K. Telegraph article
The report Dr. Fisher is referring is entitled “National Academy of Sciences, Severe Space Weather Events” and it was issued in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences, a highly regarded international organization of scientists and thinkers.
In the report, it talks about the potential danger to the U.S. power grid in the event of a space weather event (such as a geomagnetic disturbance that can come from a solar event). Concerning the U.S. power grid, it says that it not only has the potential for large scale blackouts, but also the potential for permanent damage leading to “extraordinarily long” restoration times. This might mean weeks, or months, or worse.
NASA article on latest Sun activity
Why are the warnings coming now? It is all about cycles. The Sun goes through cycles of activity every 11 years. We just emerged from a Solar Minimum cycle (one where the activity is low and few sunspots are created which have the potential for creating mayhem with the satellite constellations). We are now starting Solar Cycle 24, which is a Solar Maximum cycle – one in which the solar activity becomes intense and reaches maximum levels, many with potentially disruptive capabilities. This cycle is not expected to end completely until 2015 (see the chart at the upper left of this article ).
So what could happen if such an event were to occur and be sustained over a period of time?
Not possible you say?
Wrong. It has already happened at least once, in 1859 with global implications and in 1989 but confined to Canada.
At that time a solar storm of tremendous geomagnetic force hit the Earth during a Solar Maximum period. It was called the Carrington Flare, and it burned out the telegraphic wires in the U.S. and Europe and caused severe disruptions to communication and navigation capabilities across the globe. There was only 18 hours warning and no one realized the impacts.
That was in 1859. No cars then (1885), no electric lighting. No computerized systems.
And it also happened even more recently but with a less severe affect in March 1989 when a geomagnetic storm hit Northeastern Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid collapsing it in 90 seconds and leaving millions of people without electricity for up to 9 hours and again in 2003 when a solar flare hit South Africa and knocked out 14 power stations, temporarily crippling their power grid.
Now imagine what could happen 152 years later…..
Chaos, severe social and economic disruptions and a return to life before electricity.
In a society that has evolved from hunter gatherers to one in which we expect to just pop down the street for dinner or to pickup groceries, the effects could be catastrophic.
- Mass transportation issues – The power to pump gas would be gone, so no transportation capability. No trains, buses and very few cars would be working. In 1859 this was not a problem. In 2011-2015 it would be.
- Food – without transportation, access to fresh food would be limited. Grocery stores would not get shipments of stock. Refrigeration would be gone. Food would need to be sourced from local farmers and for many, access to those people would be limited.
- Economy – Beyond anything we could imagine, local and national economies would be impacted as jobs that survived by electronics would need to reinvent themselves. bank’s would not function nor would there be records of any transactions as they would have been destroyed in the Solar EMP.
- Crime – Rampant and potentially uncontrollable except through vigilante force. It would be everyone for themselves as people in a sustained event, would be desperate to secure food and water.
- Power – No lights during the darkness, no A/C, no heat, no water (the pumps work on electricity)
- Government – With no power, little to no communication capabilities initially. Government would revert to local authorities the potential for individual militias could develop.
I think this is enough to think about for now…
Next up…..the hole in the Earth’s Magnetosphere and why we are even more vulnerable to a Solar Event then at any time in history…..