Give me control of the magnetosphere and I'll show you who's boss.

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

The most serious space weather event in history happened in 1859. It is known as the Carrington event, after the British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, who was the first to note its cause: "two patches of intensely bright and white light" emanating from a large group of sunspots. The Carrington event comprised eight days of severe space weather.

There were eyewitness accounts of stunning auroras, even at equatorial latitudes. The world's telegraph networks experienced severe disruptions, and Victorian magnetometers were driven off the scale. [...]

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people. [...] The truly shocking finding is that this whole situation would not improve for months, maybe years: melted transformer hubs cannot be repaired, only replaced. "From the surveys I've done, you might have a few spare transformers around, but installing a new one takes a well-trained crew a week or more," says Kappenman. "A major electrical utility might have one suitably trained crew, maybe two." Within a month, then, the handful of spare transformers would be used up. The rest will have to be built to order, something that can take up to 12 months.

Even when some systems are capable of receiving power again, there is no guarantee there will be any to deliver. Almost all natural gas and fuel pipelines require electricity to operate. Coal-fired power stations usually keep reserves to last 30 days, but with no transport systems running to bring more fuel, there will be no electricity in the second month.

With no power for heating, cooling or refrigeration systems, people could begin to die within days. There is immediate danger for those who rely on medication. Lose power to New Jersey, for instance, and you have lost a major centre of production of pharmaceuticals for the entire US. Perishable medications such as insulin will soon be in short supply.

Hurricane Katrina's societal and economic impact has been measured at $81 billion to $125 billion. According to the NAS report, the impact of what it terms a "severe geomagnetic storm scenario" could be as high as $2 trillion. And that's just the first year after the storm. The NAS puts the recovery time at four to 10 years.

Previously, previously.

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10 Responses:

  1. dasht says:

    Cheery thought.

    Which is more likely, space storm or 300 RPGs?


    • strspn says:

      Rocket propelled grenades or role playing games? I think we got more than 300 of each already. Good thing hardening against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is the same defense and we've been doing that on long line infrasttructure since the cold war. Who knows how well it will work, but the last time a sunspot took down more than ordinary radio frequencies and maybe some high-attenuation micreowaves was a while now.

  2. mooflyfoof says:

    Oh goody, a new potential apocalypse scenario for me to wank over!

  3. azul_ros says:

    Wow. Talk about a poor prognosis! I think I need to share this data to alert others.

  4. insomnia says:

    "Perishable medications such as insulin will soon be in short supply."

    Sure... but once they finish cleaning out their suddenly defrosted freezers, eat the family pet, and then move on to scrounging for local vegetation, they might find they no longer need insulin...

    Isn't that wonderful?!

  5. kou says:


    At the rates that oil and gas are being depleted, we had better have a decent renewable grid before 2012. There are many possible scenarios, natural disasters, terror, political, that can affect our precious electricity that we depend on. A diverse set of self-driven electricity sources is highly apocalypse-resistant.

    Forget the candles and disaster kits - get PV cells (and spare fuses!). Also can be recovered from EMP pulses, will survive zombie pandemic. Available from your local installer.

    I've lived in a disaster-risk area before; prep and coordination are better than you'd think. And ironically, it's these "risky" places that will likely come out ahead in a crash.

  6. tiger0range says:

    ...Is granting us the miracle of global climate change. When this thing arrives, we won't have to worry about freezing or electricity because the green zone will extend to Canada. We will have banana plantations in Maine.

    We'll all be chilling out with our newly thawed dinosaur buddies, enjoying mai tais and God's perfect fruit and the whole light show in the sky.