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An Exercise To Model a "Solar Radiation Katrina"

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the transformer-fires dept.

Earth 225

Hugh Pickens writes in with an update on the warnings we discussed a year back about the dangers of a "solar Katrina." Now NPR is reporting on a tabletop exercise mounted in Boulder, Colorado by government workers attempting to model the effects of a worst-case solar electromagnetic storm. " exercise held in Boulder, Colorado, has investigated what might happen if the Earth were struck by a solar storm as intense as the huge storms that occurred in 1921 and 1859 — a sort of solar Katrina — and researchers found that the impact is likely to be far worse than in previous solar storms because of our growing dependence on satellites and other electronic devices that are vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation. 'In many ways, the impact of a major solar storm resembles that of a hurricane or an earthquake,' says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, except that a solar Katrina would cause damage in a much larger area — power could be knocked out almost simultaneously in countries from Sweden to Canada and the US. In the exercise, the first sign of trouble came when radiation began disrupting radio signals and GPS devices, says Tom Bogdan, who directs the Space Weather Prediction Center. Ten or 20 minutes later electrically charged particles 'basically took out' most of the commercial satellites that transmit telephone conversations, TV shows, and huge amounts of data we depend on in our daily lives. But the worst damage came nearly a day later, when the solar storm began to induce electrical currents in high voltage power lines strong enough to destroy transformers around the globe, leaving millions of people in northern latitudes without power."

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A question (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31314822)

How will this affect the polar bears?

Re:A question (0, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314920)

As usual: Gore will blame it on the human co2 emissions.

Re:Causality or coincidence? (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316738)

Could get colder, or not. Maybe France gets a new Sun King?

Re:Causality or coincidence? (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316804)

I think you got that backwards, Son.

Since when? (0)

peragrin (659227) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314858)

Since when did solar flares change tides and throw debries around to cause massive flooding, and random destruction.

If a major flare hit. Sure gps would fail but major diasters would be relativly limited. It would be more like the northeast blackout of 2003 as opposed to Katrina. People stuck in elevators. Minor traffic accidents, maybe a ship or two run aground.

Also the areas affected would be dependant on the current tilt of the earth and which side is facing the sun as it hit. The other half would be mostly unaffected.

Re:Since when? (2, Funny)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314934)

Any excuse for them to play with their tabletop Transformers roleplaying kit. I thought Megatron had given up on trying to harvest the power of the sun anyway?

Re:Since when? (-1, Flamebait)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314952)

White people lose electricity.
World ends.

Re:Since when? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315056)

Asia lose electricity world sows to a snails pace for 5+ years. North America loses power we recover 80% in ~6 months and 100% in 3 years. Europe loses power almost nothing happens. Africa or South america loses power deaths increase. Antarctica loses power scientists die. Oceania loses power sydney is destroyed.

Re:Since when? (3, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316106)

Asia and Africa lose electricity and there goes all those lovely cell phones, or any phones. Asian cities lose power to keep those sewage plants and water supplies running and disease starts taking hold in a big way. Asia loses electricity and you can't even use trains very effectively because you use electricity to control traffic, so food and medicine supplies are diminished.

Thinking this would only effect white people in Europe and the Americas is racist nonsense. Thinking that people in Asia and Africa don't depend on electricity and petroleum as much as Europeans and people in the Americas is potentially dangerous delusion.

Re:Since when? (5, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315002)

Um, 100 million people without power for a few months is a much bigger deal than a few tens of thousands who chose to live below sea level, or chose to stop insuring their house when they no longer owed any payments on it.

The key problem about the flare is the rate of production of transformers -- it would be literally months before much of the northern part of the US and Canada got power back.

If that happens during the winter, you're talking a LOT of people freezing to death.

Re:Since when? (1)

Walterk (124748) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315136)

If that happens during the winter, you're talking a LOT of people freezing to death.

Buy stock in petrol, natural gas and coal companies now. Perhaps in Honda as well (electrical generators).

Re:Since when? (3, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315304)

or chose to stop insuring their house when they no longer owed any payments on it

Although this doesn't affect your main point, it's worth mentioning that a lot of the folks who got no or a minimal insurance payment were insured against flood damage, but the insurance companies found creative ways not to pay. An example of the kind of thinking that was employed: your neighbor's house crashing through your living room isn't water damage, so we don't have to pay the flood policy on that damage. But because the incident in question was caused by a flood rather than a fire or tornado, we also don't have to pay the regular homeowner's policy. Therefore, you get only payment for cleaning up the water damage. Another common tactic was to refuse to pay unless the homeowner could provide documentation for their policy, which was of course lost in the flood.

In short, insurance offered very limited at best protection for New Orleans homeowners.

Re:Since when? (3, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315452)

My own experience says otherwise.

Flood Insurance isn't the Insurance Company's money - it's federal dollars. So the insurance companies had very little incentive to not hand it out like candy.

I got a much larger payout on my flood insurance than on my regular homeowner's insurance, even though the water damage wasn't really all that severe on my house.

Re:Since when? (2, Informative)

gartogg (317481) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315884)

Insurance adjusters were set up after the event; because of limited capacity on the insurers part, a lack of insurance adjusters in the market, and legal limitations on waiting on claims, they had tables with people writing checks for the full value of the houses in many cases, with visual confirmation of destruction, or in some cases based purely on the location of the house in an area with massive damage. Insurance companies, in many cases, paid out more in total than they expected to ever pay out for an event. Their rates were too low to cover events of this magnitude, because they hadn't seen it happen before and didn't rely on models properly to understand worst cases losses. You may hate them because they make money, but they got killed on Katrina, almost all lost significantly more than anticipated.

Disclaimer: I work in the industry, and have spoken to adjusters and catastrophe modelers who were involved in the post-event insurance cleanup. I wasn't there, but neither were you.

Re:Since when? (2)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316548)

I most certainly was there. I never saw any of what you describe. My family lost two fully insured homes, neither ever got paid for.

Re:Since when? (2, Insightful)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316834)

But... but... government bad! Regulation bad! Insurers good! Private industry good!

Why can't you understand this???

Re:Since when? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315336)

> a few tens of thousands who chose to live below sea level

Your casting this as innocent vs willing is completely ignorant. Why don't those, "um, 100 million people" whom you more sympathize with just "choose" to live off the grid? Problem solved.

Re:Since when? (2, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316128)

Don't be absurd. You can choose to live above sea level without significant hardship.

Re:Since when? (1, Insightful)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315418)

You would not be without power for months. This is not some cheap 2012 disaster flick. Canada's grid was up and running in 9 hours. A big outage would be days in parts at most. It won't "destroy" transformers outright... merely "disrupt" them (ever heard of rewinding). Many would be fixable in a reasonably short time.

The idea that everyone would just sit around twiddling their thumbs for months without power is totally laughable. That they would sit around waiting to freeze to death is plain stupid.

Re:Since when? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315930)

(ever heard of rewinding)

That would work great if all utilities keep enough spare transformer wire and insulating paper on hand to rebuild most of their transformers, and they train their staff to do the highly technical work required to safely assemble a high-powered transformer.

However, what are the odds of that amount of foresight happening in the real world? Just about nil.

Re:Since when? (2, Informative)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316160)

So whats in the transformer in the first place? Rewinding uses the same windings. Not new ones... well new insulation. But this already changes the "months" thing. We don't need a raw supply of new transformers for the whole grid. Just as Canada didn't, even in the areas affected.

The approximately DC surge from a CME saturates the cores, this leads to high currents that can over heat just about everything within the transformer. However breakers etc will still protect many transformers from this type of failure, and all local ones are not on big enough loops to be at risk. The idea that it will completely burn out everything is not based on fact.

The UK report I read, was about a week without power for the worst (isolated) parts. But intermittent power could be supplied to all cities with a day. This was consider poorly prepared. And the use of building generators to give temporary power was not considered.

Re:Since when? (3, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316458)

Rewinding uses the same windings. Not new ones..

Yeah, I'm sure that electrical arcs and overheating don't damage copper wires at all. They'll still be able to handle thousands of amps. Just reuse it!

Considering that big portions of power grids have crumbled like dominoes on their own just because of minor instabilities in normal generation, I don't think its safe to say that safety systems would work in a worst-case solar storm.

BTW, I saw manufacturing power transformers on one of those "how they make it" shows. It wasn't exactly a simple process. They used special machines to precisely arrange the rather thick, inflexible "wires" (more like thin bars) around the core. This isn't a toy train set.

Re:Since when? (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316608)

What happened to the breakers...We are not talking about a totally borked transformer!

The grids went down (in the US) because the breakers protected all the transformers and other expensive equipment. Other grids around the world are in fact better maintained... but still have breakers.

When did i suggested it was a friken train set. We are talking national level emergency here. There are lots of options, including but not limited to fixing a chuck of infrastructure that's not badly damaged.

Re:Since when? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316766)

When did i suggested it was a friken train set.

When you said "Just rewind it!" like you could stick the core on your dad's drill press and give it a spin.

Like I pointed out, the wires won't be reusable. More wire will have to be found, national emergency or not.

Re:Since when? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31316442)

Rewinding large power transformers is a real pain, and something done as a last resort.

They are sealed units, normally full of oil containing nasty chemicals and in inaccessible places. Also, the coils are replaced as a single unit, it's very rare to actually find the correct wire and 'rewind' one. In the big units the wire is sometimes more like copper pipe.

After the transformer has been repaired it needs to be extensively tested and then reinstalled.
There are only a few places that do this, as the normal practice is just to replace the whole unit.

Re:Since when? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316092)

While I agree they're blowing it all out of proportions, sensationalizing it you might say, I don't believe you understand the magnitude of the referenced geo-magnetic storms. They were orders of magnitude worse than the storm that downed the power in Canada. There will be widespread damage to substations as well as damage done to our satellite network, if such a significant event happens again. And it will.

Re:Since when? (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316342)

No i know that it would be a very big deal. But months without power? Much of the other infrastructure would still work. Like airplanes can and will still fly, trucks can still drive. Gas will be far less disrupted and still capable of heating. We would adapt for the short term until and to help things get restored. Remember that local grid infrastructure would be far less affected, hence local generation and grid use could be set up reasonably easily.

I lived in the Central area of Auckland NZ when they had blackouts. Its was disruptive. But it wasn't the end of the world.

But hay I come from a place where people help each other with things go a little pear shaped.... rather than some disturbing things i have seen from another country.

Re:Since when? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316498)

I agree -- I think we're on the same page. It would be weeks before everything was back to some sense of "normal". It might take months to replace all the damaged infrastructure; but, there's enough redundancy and overlap to keep most things running.

Re:Since when? (1)

rhsanborn (773855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316656)

Blackouts in a local area is a completely different animal from widespread blackouts. Planes will not fly unless they keep those generators fueled so air traffic controllers can guide them. That will be very difficult when the fuel trucks are delivering their fuel to hospitals, and other essential infrastructure, all of which will be difficult to reach with no traffic signals, doubly difficult with most of the gas stations offline because they too don't have power. People can't pay for things because we all use credit cards for everything. These are all things that can be handled by areas outside the affected blackout zone in limited blackout situations (Think of the Northeast US blackout of a few years ago). When more than half the power grid goes offline, expect a certain amount of chaos. We are completely dependent on the computers and electrical infrastructure we all take for granted right now.

your false complacency s worse than false alarmism (5, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316346)

nobody is going to be rewinding transformers like macgyver. that's a serious buttload of skilled work, with equipment and supplies that is not easily at hand

furthermore, the canada disruption you are referring to is tiny in comparison to a carrington effect-level event. it won't be days at most, but weeks at a minimum. we simply haven't invested in the transformers protection or backup or the transformer repair skill/ capacity

and no one is saying people will just be sitting around twiddling their thumbs. in fact, some will be emphatically looting. and the police cruisers will soon run out of gas since most stations use electric gas pumps. nevermind that after the generators die in a few days/ hours, communications will be down across radio, television, and internet, so the police, and the population, will be left to guess what is going on and when everything will be back to normal. throw in a little hysteria, and you can imagine the results in major cities

people WILL freeze to death, simply because they will NOT just sit around, but panic and venture out in the cold out of complete ignorance and fright

do you consider me alarmist? out of intellectual honesty, i will say it is possible i am straying too far into alarmism in my comments

however, to whatever degree i am straying into alarmism, you are straying much further and much more dangerously into complacency on this issue, that is for sure. in other words, your complacency here is far more dangerous than my alarmism

Re:your false complacency s worse than false alarm (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316424)

I'm really glad i don't live in your country... Having been in a few natural disasters, and even persistent blackouts. I can say people don't behave like that where i live. I was hoping the US type news stores were blowing it out of proportion.

Any excuse to be an asshole eh.

And if you really don't have power for months. Why the frak wouldn't repair some transformers...?

i see (2, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316596)

only americans are guilty of and prone to simple human weaknesses, like hysteria

"i can say people don't behave like that where i live"

i'm glad that you are ethnocentric. this blindness would perhaps be a wonderful way to describe your nationality, if i were to ascribe to this sort of prejudice, which i don't. but you do. and if this is how you inform your assumed sense of superiority, who am i to judge? after all, i'm just an asshole american

"And if you really don't have power for months. Why the frak wouldn't repair some transformers"

i'm glad your dad showed you how to wrap copper wire and build a rudimentary radio when you were seven years old. based on the vast technological and engineering and organizational acumen this experience invested you with as to declare the repair of thousands of power station transformers at the same time without functional communication or electricity source, please do us the favor of contacting your local power authority and instructing them as to how easy it is to do

but thank you for correcting me: i can see that your problem isn't a false sense of complacency. it is instead a smug sense of condescension and superiority, combined with simple ignorance of the factors involved

Re:i see (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316736)

Sorry, by US news story... I don't mean US news only about the US. I mean US news media... in particular I was Referring to the recent earth quake... not in America.

But in all seriousness. I have been in this situation twice. Everyone pulled together, not apart. And though huge amounts of property and money was lost. We all carried on just fine.

Also I think you are over estimating the importance of electricity. It really isn't the end of the world not having power for a bit. Hell some rural areas a reliable grid is a joke.

but that's exactly my point (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316898)

third world/ rural areas would do fine: they are used to no power, and their lives have been set up to function just fine without power

but an entire modern large city? the entire northern hemisphere? without power on the scale of weeks?

you can't possibly be trying to honestly compare the occasional power outages of some sleepy prairie town that is used to it, to a weeks long power outage in a modern major city

nevermind the entire northern hemisphere. you honestly can't imagine that the scale, length of time, and various dependencies we have taken for granted in modern life in a modern city on electricity has meaning that renders your complacency completely wrong on the topic?

Re:your false complacency s worse than false alarm (1)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316860)

<i>nobody is going to be rewinding transformers like macgyver. that's a serious buttload of skilled work, with equipment and supplies that is not easily at hand</i>

Keep in mind also that the transformer-winding factories will themselves be out of power. I'm sure transformers aren't made in caves using elves and magical power. It's kind of a chicken-and-egg scenario but I imagine that making transformers also requires electricity. So whatever the transformer-production capacity is now, consider that the production capacity after a transformer-pwning solar storm would be much, much lower. Which means it take much, much longer to re-transformer our whole power grid than you might think at first.

Re:Since when? (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316634)

Strange that the experts disagree with you.

Or perhaps not so strange?

Re:Since when? (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316808)

I was basing this on reports I have read by some experts. Admittedly one was referring to nuclear induced EMP blackouts. But the mechanism is the same. I can't find the reference right now.

As for the level of disaster. Its not like it doesn't happen. Its not going to kill everyone and the experts *do* say that. You know not having the internet/phone etc for a few weeks is not the end, though I can understand why some my feel this way.

Re:Since when? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316472)


A: New Orleans had a population of about 300 thousand. not tens of thousands.
B: There were over 3 million people severely affected by hurricane Katrina. The radius of destruction was over 200 kilometers.
C: The problem was not people who were uninsured. It was people who were insured and the insurance company refused to pay their rightful claims, delayed payments for years or attempted to pay less than they owed.
D: We were literally told by insurance companies that they were not going to pay because then they wouldn't have enough money to cover the next disaster.

Re:Since when? (3, Insightful)

jibjibjib (889679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315018)

The "Katrina" metaphor is comparing the impact of the disasters on our society. A big solar storm could be much more widespread and damaging than previous blackouts, and end up killing quite a few people. Nobody's suggesting that it will literally cause floods and random physical destruction.

Re:Since when? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315442)

But I'm certain the New Orleans levee maintenance boards haven't properly maintained their levees for a solar storm, so we can blame them for damage to their city due to the solar storm.

Re:Since when? (3, Insightful)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315044)

So if only a quarter of the planet is left powerless for weeks or months during the winter, this would somehow be less severe than a single city getting flooded?

Re:Since when? (1)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315836)

The logistics of modern society are extremely complicated, and highly interdependent. Think of how important power is in food production, for example. There's more than a few steps involved after harvesting grain before its turned into bread, breakfast cereal, or many other consumer food products. Many of them dependent on electricity. Food supplies in cities will be a signifiacnt issue. And even if the food gets in, how will banking work? Sure you can bypass the ATMs, but bank branches will struggle to know how much is in your account, even if they get a petrol generator running locally. I bet those things become pretty damn expensive, very fast indeed.

I'm sure there's many other issues that I haven't thought of, also. All of these could be worked around individually (mass distribution of banknotes to employers, paying employees cash-in-hand, greatly simplifying our diet, etc.) ... taken together, it's a clusterfuck.

Re:Since when? (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315962)

What we need is a planetary Faraday Cage!

Re:Since when? (2, Informative)

Chicken04GTO (957041) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315170)

"Also the areas affected would be dependant on the current tilt of the earth and which side is facing the sun as it hit. The other half would be mostly unaffected." These storms dont last a few minutes, they last days.

Um, no. (5, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315206)

You're mixing up two effects. You're correct that the direct EM radiation would affect largely only the sunlit portion of the Earth. However, the "second punch" of these events is the large burst of protons that arrives the next day -- it's the solar wind, but several orders of magnitude larger than usual.

These protons are affected by the geomagnetic field, and (to simplify a lot) rain down in large regions generally centered around the magnetic poles (cf. the auroral ovals [] ), where they induce very large currents in long conductors like power lines, leading to general power failures that could not be easily repaired.

This wouldn't be your garden-variety blackout -- it would require physical replacement of massive equipment for which there are no spares readily available -- at least not in the quantities needed. Large numbers of people -- entire provinces and states in North America, and likely entire nations in northern Europe -- would be without power for months while new equipment was manufactured and installed. This would lead to mass migrations out of these areas, which would lead to social disruption and significant loss of life as critical systems, whose backup generators and other emergency systems were not designed for such an extended outage, failed.

I was in south Florida for Hurricane Wilma [] , and I can report to you that the social structure of the region almost broke down during the week or two the region was without electricity -- and this was a natural disaster, albeit a severe one, that people understood and had largely prepared for. Power was restored relatively quickly then, because (a) the causes, downed power lines, were easy to find and repair, and (b) there was a massive influx of utility workers from the rest of the country to help out. In a solar flare scenario, the cause would be much harder to fix, and there would be a much larger affected area (and, consequently, a much smaller unaffected area from which to draw support).

Re:Um, no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31316290)

Power companies have put in place these amazing things called "breakers" that are there to make sure big expensive things like transformers don't get damaged.

Why? This has happened before. []

Do you honestly believe power companies don't protect their multi billion dollar investments?

As the North eastern power blackout has shown, the grid will go down before critical infrastructure is damaged.

Re:Um, no. (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316890)

Because of course nothing could ever be more powerful than that event. Never mind that this is a phenomenon we've only been able to observe for little over a century and a half, which is a nanosecond compared to the age of the sun. We don't really know where the uppermost end of the scale is with regard to this phenomenon. For all we know, the sun could punch us with an event two or three times stronger than previously recorded scenarios and we'd never see it coming, much less have designed equipment to survive those parameters.

Re:Since when? (2, Insightful)

aurizon (122550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315818)

I think a solar flare varies in intensity over the sphere represented by Earth's orbit.
  There is a mass of charged particles tossed out that take a number of hours to reach Earth's orbit. There is also a flare of radiation that gets here in 9 minutes.
From what I read this radiation, magnetic as well as assorted stuff from Gamma to long wave radio spreads out uniformly and is spread over a large area by the time it hits Earth's orbit.
The large lump of particles is far smaller and might miss the earth, pass close by or whack us. If it whacks us, we get these large induced currents in long lines and the peak volts associated with them, so with a solar flare known to be in transit we need to snoop it to see where the ejected material is going to hit and when. With this knowledge we can close down some transmission lines and produce a man made blackout of short duration that we can end in a controlled manner, with little or no destruction of lines and transformers. Once the flare has passed, back to the way we were. As for satellites? Possibly they can be powered down or placed into a mode that minimizes the flare damage, and then turned on afterwards, and we will suffer less destruction, but we will have the interruption of services as a lesser evil.

Re:Since when? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315828)

GPS failure is not a minor thing. The FAA is on the way towards a "Nextgen" airspace system that is getting rid of radar for flight tracking, depending instead on transmissions from airplanes (with GPS coords) for flight separation. The GPS navigation function is also taking over for all the land based systems (that have at least a little better chance of survival). ADF sites are being phased out now, LORAN just got the axe, and VORs are rumored to be next. We're well on our way to being totally dependent on those GPS satellites for commercial aviation (I suspect shipping may have the same problems). About the only people that are safe are private pilots in single engine airplanes that are not required to have flight following and can operate solely by visual reference.

No, it would end the world as you know it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31316580)

It would be more like the northeast blackout of 2003 as opposed to Katrina

They point out that not just power plants, but transformers could be destroyed. Imagine that to get your power back on someone has to replace a transformer on the pole down the street from your house. No problem, but think how long it's going to take to replace them in every neighborhood in the country - with relatively zero inventory (compared to the number damaged) - with no power to the factory that makes them - with everyone running out of fuel to transport them - and the drivers unable to find food. Widespread damage to the local grid on a global scale could kill a LOT of people.

Re:Since when? (4, Informative)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316828)

Since when did solar flares change tides and throw debries around to cause massive flooding, and random destruction.

They don't. They only take out services. Over VERY large areas, for long periods of time. Your house is safe, but it'll be cold and dark and no one will answer the phone at Dominos.

With Katrina, there was some warning, and there were safe areas 50 miles away that still had power, water, food, and communications. People could be evacuated to those areas. Katrina was a big problem over a small area, and people survived by moving short distances to areas that had services.

A solar geomagnetic storm could be a smaller problem over a much larger area. Imagine the power going out at every house north of the Mason Dixon line in the US and up into Canada. Where do you send people? Nowhere. You tell them to stay the hell home. But what are they going to eat and drink, and how will they stay warm?

The important thing is that power, water, heat, telephone, Internet, and even radio communications (including aviation navigation and shortwave) could all go away at once, and some or all of them might be out for an extended period of time. It could literally take months to restore services to some areas. And this could potentially be on a continental scale. Additionally, an X-Class geomagnetic storm can damage unshielded electronics. Your PC, cell phone, modem, etc may or may not work even if power and Internet come back. Your car may not function even if fuel is readily available. Your backup generator may not start. They may all need expensive repairs, and you'll have to wait a while because everyone else will be in the same situation.

There's no need for panic, of course, but TFA doesn't mention panic. It mentions preparedness. I think it's perfectly prudent to prepare in much the same way as you would for a hurricane or major snowstorm, because you may suffer from the same lack of readily available food, water, and heat. Except something like this cannot be predicted, so you have to be prepared all the time. Oh, and you don't need plywood, unless you plan on burning it for heat. :)

This is more of a city problem, because city services might go away in a hurry, and a dense population means more immediate dependence on common resources that will go away. The water will run out in the first week, if not sooner. Food before that, probably, but people can get by without food for a few days.

More rural folks have wells we can dip for safe drinking water, campstoves with lots of fuel we can use for cooking, and heaters that don't depend on electricity but are designed to be used safely indoors. This will be an annoyance, little more. We get power outages and major snowstorms all the time, and we don't really need to go anywhere for a while if things get bad - we'll just hunker down and start rationing out the food we canned away or put in the deep freezer.

It's simple. Take your dwelling (apartment, house, condo, whatever). Play a mental game where you have to depend ONLY on whatever you have on your property for one month. If that doesn't concern you, you're probably good, as long as your neighbors have gone through the same mental exercise OR you are better armed than they are. :)

The exercise was a waste of money (-1, Troll)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314914)

Because there's damn all that we'll do to prepare. Point at a dozen brown skinned people who managed to kill fewer Americans than are eaten by bats every day(*), and you can get as much funding and as many wars as you want just by saying "boogy boogy boo".

Point at the sky and say "asteroid" or "solar storm" and you're a fruitcake Pointdexter Chicken Little. It won't happen until it happens, and hey, don't worry, good old 'Merkin Know How will fix it.

Will it? It took FEMA 4 days to get water to New Orleans. If the power goes out across the whole country for half that time, there'll be nothing left to fix.

(*) Rounding.

Re:The exercise was a waste of money (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31314948)

do you mean european or north-african bats?

Re:The exercise was a waste of money (2, Funny)

spxZA (996757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315026)

laden or unladen?

Re:The exercise was a waste of money (3, Funny)

M8e (1008767) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315142)

Binladen by very small bins.

How would this affect our data? (3, Interesting)

jameson (54982) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314956)

I would expect CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs to be reasonably safe (though any reading devices might be temporarily disabled or permanently damaged.) But what about HDDs? Are they sufficiently shielded against this?

Yes, losing power is a serious issue that will cost lives and losing GPS etc. would be very bad, too. But more and more of our cultural and scientific achievements are stored primarily on magnetic drives that may or may not be suitably shielded. How much at risk are those data, or should I invest in lead shielding for my backup storage drive?

Re:How would this affect our data? (4, Informative)

jibjibjib (889679) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314982)

Solar storms will have a big effect on long wires (e.g power grids, or telegraph in the 1859 storm) and radio communications, but not so much on individual pieces of equipment. Your computer and HDDs will still keep working, assuming you can get power for them.

Re:How would this affect our data? (2, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315358)

Your computer and HDDs will still keep working, assuming you can get power for them.

Plus or minus power surges on connected, powered up equipment.

More accurately, everything on the shelves at your local computer store will be OK. Stuff thats plugged into a power outlet (ATX supplies never turn completely off), or has a long cable attached (ethernet?) maybe not so good.

Re:How would this affect our data? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316192)

That's what power filters and a (good quality) UPS are for.

Re:How would this affect our data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31314998)

Don't forget the tinfoil hat. You don't want your brain erased too.

that's bad! Really bad! (1)

sammyF70 (1154563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314968)

'basically took out' most of the commercial satellites that transmit telephone conversations, TV shows, and huge amounts of data we depend on in our daily lives.

No phone sex, no Big Brother and no pr0n feeds? OMG! We're doomed!

Re:that's bad! Really bad! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315372)

True, although I think your first problems will be no water (no power for pumps), no food (many people aren't going to be able to cook or refrigerate food), and no distribution systems (can't truck in food when there is no way to get fuel for said trucks). Oh, yeah - and even if there were stores willing to open with no power and selling canned and packaged food that didn't need refrigeration (by hand, no cash registers), you probably couldn't afford them because you have no money without your ATM card working. Worry about the pr0n later.

Re:that's bad! Really bad! (1)

sammyF70 (1154563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315400)

tell that to the guy who included "TV-Shows" in the list of things we'll be missing

And the people in southern Latitudes? (3, Funny)

spxZA (996757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31314976)

Do we not have any power transmission systems? Or just donkeys running on treadmills attached to dynamos? How will the such a solar storm affect our donkeys?

Re:And the people in southern Latitudes? (-1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315030)

Two words: zombie asses.

Re:And the people in southern Latitudes? (1)

spxZA (996757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315370)

Oh, great...So we have to wait for an asteroid to destroy New York, release the virus and infect the world just so that we can surf pr0n during and after solar storms?

Re:And the people in southern Latitudes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315160)

The sun would have to reverse the polarity of its radiation in order to affect the southern hemisphere. Everyone knows everything runs backwards down there. Duh.

Re:And the people in southern Latitudes? (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316000)

Move to Texas; they keep their electrical grid separate from the rest of the country's, and they're too far south to get the full brunt of the storm.

Pacemakers? (4, Interesting)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315048)

As a genuine cyborg, my first concern about such "electrical storm/attack" fears & warnings is their impact on pacemakers and other life-sustaining electronic devices.

Anyone have meaningful commentary thereon?

Re:Pacemakers? (3, Insightful)

tagno25 (1518033) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315124)

There would be almost no impact. The solar Storm would affect long pieces of conductive material 20+ meters in length.

Re:Pacemakers? (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315234)

The only possible effect I can think of are with the inductive coils on cochlear implants (and possibly other implants). It would depend on the number of coils on the receiver as to the effect, and could range from severe noise and inability to hear (likely) to painful volume or electric shocks (less likely).

Re:Pacemakers? (1)

rjiy (1739274) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315192)

Maybe you could get into a car for electrical shielding? You'd still need sufficient advance warning though.

Re:Pacemakers? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315392)

Do the windows not void the shielding? (Dunno the wavelength.)

Re:Pacemakers? (2, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315974)

Good point. The presence of Windows guarantees bad results.

Oh wait, we're not talking operating systems?

the solar disruption works via induction (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315728)

that is, a moving magnetic field inducing an electric current on a length of conductive material, usually a metal wire

so unless your pacemaker features a lead which extends a couple of yards outside your chest, you'll be fine

the problem is when the induction causes the transformers at the ends of high tensions wires to blow, with no replacement available

Re:Pacemakers? (1)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315882)

Only those that require recharging from mains electricity will be in danger... for those in this category, I would suggest investing in an execise bike and an energetic minion, and hooking the bike up to a dynamo to charge yourself.

Re:Pacemakers? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316300)

I would not exactly make my life dependent on some comments on Slashdot, if you know what I mean. ;)
Everyone here thinks he’s an expert.

I’d ask someone (in private!) who actually earns money with getting your question right. :)

Governments won't do squat to prevent it. (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315060)

We can't convince them of the dangers of asteroid collisions so how the FSCK are they going to believe about this.

They didn't believe about the dangers of Solar storms in 1989 so why would they buy it now? []

Re:Governments won't do squat to prevent it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315420)

I for one vote we send our most attractive astronauts on a mission to land on the sun, plant a nuclear warhead miles beneath its surface, and destroy it.

Seriously, though: Prevent it? This is like preventing a hurricane, or a tsunami, or an earthquake. All you can do is try to be prepared and hope you covered all bases.

Katrina? (0, Troll)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315122)

What does a solar flare have to do with Katrina?

Katrina was just another boring hurricane, like all the others that hit the southern US every year, with the following exceptions:

1) It hit one of the most corrupt cities in the entire country, with the possible exception of Chicago and NYC, so none of the disaster "preparations" worked because the upper class criminals siphoned off all the funds.

2) Everyone left the coastal cities except the lower class criminals and the folks so dumb that they lived underneath sea level but "couldn't" leave.

So what does that have to do with a solar flare? It would affect entire hemispheres not just one corrupt city. Nowhere to evac to anyway.

It would probably resemble the great NYC power outage more so than any weather phenomena.

Re:Katrina? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315524)

Wow. So what city do you live in. How can you imply New Orleans is one of the most corrupt cities in the entire country? What evidence do you have? Statements like these are just absurd at best, as they are just repeating things you heard from the media. New Orleans is as corrupt as any other city in the country. Memphis, Atlanta, youu name it there are crooks in positions of authority stealiong the people's money. And while there where many people that did stay, the majority of the city and area did evacute, in spite of all the "disaster preporations not working because thethe upper class criminals siphoned off all the funds" (even is that true). The major disaster from Katrina was that it took the government so long to respond after the storm hit to help those that were stuck.

The living underneath sea level line is old also. Every area in the country is succesptible to some sort of natural disaster. Be it hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes , mud slides, snow storms etc. So are we not supposed to live in any of those areas?

Re:Katrina? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316006)

The major disaster from Katrina was that it took the government[s - city, state, and federal -] so long to respond after the storm hit to help those that were stuck.


The living underneath sea level line is old also. Every area in the country is succesptible to some sort of natural disaster. Be it hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes , mud slides, snow storms etc. So are we not supposed to live in any of those areas?

With the possible exception of mud slides, none of the above are human engineered disasters (unless you count choosing where to live). Living under sea level, you're doomed to flooding at some point, and since it took human engineering to live under sea level, it was (and still is) entirely preventable. Katrina was made so dangerous _because_ of the poor city design. New Orleans is like Galloping Gertie (Tacoma Narrows Bridge), except it's Too Big To Fail (TM).

I for one ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315132)

I would welcome a society without electricity. If only that didn't mean that I would freeze to death in my apartment...

This current solar cycle (1)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315172)

actually was originally forecasted to be a bad one and cause some serious problems and peak between 2010 and 2015. Now it's been forecasted to be milder and actually cause cooler seasons.

Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Updated May 2009 []
2012-13: NOAA predicts solar cycle 24 ”weakest since 1928” with $1 trillion damages in worst case [] . From second article:

“A new active period of Earth-threatening solar storms will be the weakest since 1928 and its peak is still four years away, after a slow start last December, predicts an international panel of experts led by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center. Even so, Earth could get hit by a devastating solar storm at any time, with potential damages from the most severe level of storm exceeding $1 trillion.”

Katrina? Really? (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315230)

George Bush doesn't care about people with electronics!

How about we called it Solargate? Solartanic? Solarpocalypse?

Re:Katrina? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315616)

That's funny, I thought 0bama was president now.

ISS Residents (1)

Neurowiz (18899) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315454)

I was curious to see if they did any projection on whether the ISS is shielded enough for a storm of that scale. This article from 2005 ( [] ) seems to indicate ISS is heavily shielded. There was nothing in the OP's articles that indicated if the modeled storm would be strong enough to cause serious radiation damage to the residents.

Re:ISS Residents (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316284)

They're also orbiting inside the Earth's magnetic field. So... They receive some protection from that.

Re:ISS Residents (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316806)

This would be at least a Category 8 Flare - meaning No the ISS is not sheilded sufficiently to protect the astronauts from it. Keep in mind that some of the shielding that the ISS uses is provided by the Earth's Magetic field as the station is in LEO (low earth orbit) which is the reason it completes its orbit is 91 minutes []

I forget... (4, Funny)

tooyoung (853621) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315586) a Republican, am I supposed to believe that scientists understand solar weather or not?

What is a Katrina? (2, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315686)

Is it like an Andrew? Because I hate Andrews. (Andys are okay, but Andrews really get my goat. Andes are right out.)
I didn't even read the summary because the title is stupid.

So what? (2, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315814)

A couple of months without electricity? I'll grab my camping stuff from the loft. Shelter, fire, water, food, in that order. I can get that within walking distance of my home, and I don't mean from a store.

I know it's almost cliche to make a joke about "not going outside" on /. but I'm sure the people who can't fend for themselves will be able to get a job aiding the repair in exchange for their vital requirements.

the carrington effect (3, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315854)

the problem is when the induction causes the transformers at the ends of high tensions wires to blow, with no replacement available

you can build circuit breakers into such transformers, but a cost-benefit-risk analysis hasn't sided yet on the side of caution, even though the cost is not great. and no, we don't have a ready supply of the right transformers sitting around

paradoxically, the poorest nations of the world will do fine, because they are less dependent on electricty and electronics, and are closer to the equator. while the electricity and electronics dependent northern hemisphere will experience severe long lasting societal shocks, involving the mass disruption of the internet, other communications, and all the vital uses the northern hemisphere has built into their electrical grid

so we're all screwed when (not if) the next carrington effect is observed, out of simple laziness and complacency. we have had plenty warning, and we have freely chosen not to protect ourselves from this threat with a simple low cost circuit breaker style set up []

On September 2nd, 1859, the Earth went mad. Auroras lit up the sky over Australia, Japan, Colorado, and even as close to the equator as Venezuela. The worldwide telegraph system, which had gone from a laboratory curiosity to the wonder of the age in the previous twenty years, went haywire--sparking operators, scorching paper tapes, and mysteriously still transmitting messages between Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine although the batteries that ran the system had been disconnected out of self-defense. At Kew Gardens in London, a set of magnetometers designed to study the Earth's magnetic field started showing "disturbances of unusual violence and very wide extent" on August 27th; by September 2nd they were literally off the charts. No-one knew what was going on, with one possible exception. ...

So equipped, Carrington was in a good position to catch an odd sight on September 1st, 1859 at 11:18 in the morning (if that seems peculiarly exact, bear in mind that the likeliest people to have precise chronometers at the time were ship's masters and astronomers). He was engaged in his usual observation schedule, projecting the Sun onto a large darkened piece of glass and measuring sunspot positions. In particular he'd been interested in an enormous sunspot cluster north of the solar equator which had appeared on August 26th. It was large enough to be of interest to astronomers world-wide, so there is at least one photograph of it--if you're trying to match it up with the chart above, remember that images in reflecting telescopes are inverted top to bottom.

He happened to be looking at the cluster when four bright points of light suddenly appeared from within it. He took a moment to check that the full strength of the Sun hadn't somehow managed to come through some hole in his equipment then, satisfied that it was actually happening on the solar surface itself, called for someone to come confirm what he was seeing. As Carrington himself put it, then "on returning within 60 seconds, [he] was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled". It disappeared entirely within a few minutes.

As bad as a nuclear war (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316144)

Really. It wouldn't be months before we got the power back on. It might be years. It takes electricity to communicate, move goods by train, get oil and coal from point a to point b. I don't think anyone has really thought through just how devastating this would be.

Why not a a solar tsunami? (1)

Dyne09 (1305257) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316152)

Americans are so weird. Why does any disaster have to be Katrina, especially when there is no comparison to the scope or nature of Katrina. And what was that quip about "leaving millions of people in northern latitudes without power"? Does the rest of the world not count? While the realities of a danger like this are something to take a good look at, I find the dialogue to be western centric and kind of out of touch. Oh noes! My data is not available to me!!!1 What about places where lack of electricity is all it takes to cripple a water purification system or a hospital?

Re:Why not a a solar tsunami? (2, Interesting)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316780)

Because the term's already been used for specific types of waves reflected through the sun:

I have reason to believe that this anonymous message in "STEREO Satellites Spot Solar Flare Tsunami" was posted by Joe Gurman, the Project Scientist for NASA's STEREO mission. (and for TRACE, and US Project Scientist for SOHO, and the head of the Solar Data Analysis Center) :

289540682618920354812781123456789 (2, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316312)

A simulation or model that does not factor Nicolas Cage into any world periling scenario is incomplete.

Crosstalk over shortwave frequencies (1)

TheHawke (237817) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316562)

The articles regarding multiple stations going over each other are intriguing. While propagation of radio varies depending on how the ionosphere reacts with sol, the question is could solar interference cause radio waves to change wavelengths? Meaning that 1440 ABC AM's broadcasts be shifted enough to interfere with 1400 or even 1350?

scifi novel "One Second After" (3, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316594)

Was about a mysterious EMP that knocked out all electricity networks and computers in the USA and difficulty of returning to pre-1880 lifestyle.

BUt how (1)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31316904)

Do i protect my hardware and CPU's?

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