Thursday, July 31, 2014

Apocalypse without zombies

By Donald Sensing

Huge Solar Storm of 2012 Would Have Sparked Calamity on Earth

If there is any reason to be a "prepper" this is it. If this event happens to hit earth next time, it will cause massive failures of the electrical grid. How widespread can't be predicted in advance. But very potentially it could cause total failures over multiple states, if not the whole country.

Anyone want to estimate how many people would die? Refrigeration and medical equipment won't work. Patients receiving dialysis, for example, would face a terrible near future. Life saving drugs could be neither preserved nor replenished. Food stocks in grocery stores would be exhausted fast and perishable foods would, quickly. With the national transportation system system de-powered, hunger then even actual starvation would set in before long.

What I would like to know is what protective measures can be taken. A CME is not like an EMP, although it would have many similar effects. Are only active, closed electrical circuits vulnerable? Would autos still be operable if, say, their batteries were disconnected prior to arrival of the main force of the CME? What about portable or home generators? Battery-powered lights? If all these things remained operable and only connected grids got blasted then disaster assistance could be reasonable quick and effective.

And the scientists say that within the next 10 years there is a 12 percent chance we will get hit. Them's not good odds.

Update: Reader John Moore, an electrical engineer who has studied effects of both EMPs and CMEs, emails useful info, but it's grim news:

CME is easier to protect against than HEMP, because it only has one of the effects of EMP - the geomagnetic disturbance. I don't know whether HEMP or CME is of potentially greater magnitude, though.

The EMP reports discuss in detail the EMP effects and measures to protect against them. These measures are not very expensive to do a good job of protecting the electric grid, and it is a scandal that our government has done no more than study the problem.

You ask:

... would autos still be operable? Yes, most would, as a CME has only very low frequency effects. Even with HEMP, many autos would be operable.

... are only active, closed circuits vulnerable? Only circuits with long wires are vulnerable. I don't know *how* long, but we are talking pretty long - like power lines.

...portable and home generators? If they were not connected to the grid at the time, they'd still work. Even if they were connected, some would survive, maybe many.

...battery power lights? No problem.

...radios (you didn't ask)? No problem.

I think the big danger is you last statement: " then disaster assistance could be reasonable quick and effective." I suspect that the enormous magnitude of the disaster would swamp the world's capacity for disaster assistance, resulting in millions of deaths and enormous disruption. Just the destruction of the electrical grid would pretty much wreck modern society. These days, vital commodities are delivered in a just-in-time manner - there are not huge stockpiles of food or medicine. The good news is that most people can survive a month without food (when I was in SERE school, they emphasized this: stay hydrated and don't worry about eating). The bad news is that it would take months to restore the grid, due to the loss of the HV and EHV transformers that would have to be re-manufactured and then transported (which is very hard - these things are huge). As you mentioned, water systems would go out. 
In a disaster that covered most of the US, I doubt if there are enough generators and fuel to be able to even run just the water system (and don't forget its computerized controls). Communications systems (but not individual radios for the most part) would go out, due to both direct effects and the loss of power. A lot of computer systems would fail, due to both direct effects and loss of power. It would be a nightmare.
 Millions of deaths? Yes, I would say so, potentially tens thereof. What the upper limit could be is incalculable.

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