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When Space Weather Attacks Earth 176

Posted by timothy
from the nature-black-and-cold-and-harsh dept.
Lasrick writes "Brad Plumer details the 1859 solar storm known as the Carrington Event. Pretty fascinating stuff: 'At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe...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.'"
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When Space Weather Attacks Earth

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  • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:38PM (#44270451) Journal
    I suppose you've also heard about plague, AIDS and the measles, but if you've never been affected by them, then it must be a lot of made up rubbish, right?
    1) Smaller solar flares have affected the grid before. It's not unthinkable that a big one as mentioned in TFA can break a lot more stuff. Stuff that isn't exactly off the shelf in quantity. Might be a rare event, but if we can plan against it, maybe we should? Beats sitting in the dark for weeks.
    2) Speaking of Y2K... the reason nothing happened is because companies took action. I've been involved in Y2K work at the time, and while a lot of it was bullshit ("Make sure the coffee machines are Y2K-ready or we're doooooomed"), the power plant and telco I worked for would have been severly affected by Y2K if nothing had been done. Some of that was simply being prepared for any disaster; their systems had never been offline completely (only parts of it), and there was no procedure for a cold restart.

    In other words, when doom is called, consultants scramble to grab a piece of the hyped pie, companies take rational stock of their own situation and apply fixes as needed, and the general public scoffs as the event passes as another non-event, because of preparation and planning
  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @01:43PM (#44270467)

    9 hours no electricity? what a catastrophe. I've done that for 9, 18, 24 or so hours, it was called camping

    Depends. If your oxygen concentrator doesn't run for 9 hours or you can't keep your insulin cold for 9 hours, yeah it could be a catastrophe. If you have lederly parents to care for or young children, yes it could be a problem. But if you are just thinking of no light bulbs or tv, yeah, then it probably isn't a big deal. OTOH, no subways, elevators, mass transit, gasoline heating or cooling (depending on the time of the year and your location), no emergency response or telephones to even contact them. Would that be a catastrophe? For some it could very well be.

  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brad1138 (590148) <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:04PM (#44270569)
    It isn't uncommon to lose power for about a week with storms in this area. We loose power for about 9 hours probably once a year or so and for a week about once every 10 years. We all manage to survive. You can't stop the storms, so you deal with it. I don't see these solar storms as any worse and they are MUCH less frequent.
  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 (899206) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:07PM (#44270579)

    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.

    Nine hours was the relatively minor 1989 event. Something like the Carrington event could be much, much more damaging.

    I'll leave it to your imagination how it might be to live and work in major urban areas with a severely damaged grid.

  • Fuses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:10PM (#44270603)

    Or we could start protecting our central power infrastructure the same way most homes are protected - by having it switch off rather than blow up when overloaded for any reason.

  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:22PM (#44270673)

    You sort of missed the point. A full-blown Carrington Event, like in 1859, could result in many months or perhaps a year without electricity. It's relatively easy to sit out a few hours or perhaps a week without power, but I think that you would find it a different story with out power for half a year or year (or tightly rationed power for that period of time). Like, perhaps you wouldn't have a job, and there would be signficant food shortages...

  • Re:Infrequent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VitaminB52 (550802) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:24PM (#44270685) Journal
    'Once every 500 years' is not equal to 'with 500 years interval'. The next Carrington Event could be tomorrow.

    Worse, even events less powerful than the Carrington Event occur more frequently than the Carrington Event and can cause significant damage to our high voltage infrastructure.

  • Re:Fuses (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fnj (64210) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @02:34PM (#44270745)

    Of course, large power transformers can be damaged by electromagnetic storms even when fully disconnected from the grid...

    Bull.

  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ancientt (569920) <ancientt@yahoo.com> on Saturday July 13, 2013 @04:36PM (#44271461) Homepage Journal

    It's a long article, I can understand why you might not have gone through it. Here's some snipsthat might be important to note and that caught my attention when I was reading up on it previously.

    ...if even 20 transformers in the Northeast were knocked out, the logistical challenges would be "extremely concerning."

    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.

    ..."That's a key vulnerability," Smith says. "If you had a really big solar event, there just aren't enough replacement transformers available. It can take up to 12 months to build new ones."

    ...One problem, says Chris Beck of the Electric Infrastructure Security Council, is that many of these technologies are expensive and could make the current grid slightly less efficient in its day-to-day operations.

    "We've designed our power lines to work efficiently under perfect conditions - long transmission lines, high voltages," Beck says. Unfortunately, those characteristics make the grid particularly vulnerable to a solar storm. So there's a trade-off.

    So yeah, Lloyd's of London and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission disagree with you for good reasons.

  • Re:OMG 9 hour... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday July 13, 2013 @09:26PM (#44272873) Journal

    basically a global EMP

    I was starting to think I was on the wrong website, I had to read down this far before someone finally understands the threat is more than a just a mess of power line knocked down in a storm. Sure humans were built to survive without electricity, but not in the vast numbers created by our invention of civilization. The numbers supported by a civilization are directly related to its technology level. Without electricity we will be metaphorically back in the 1920's with 7X the number of people on our little rock requiring food and shelter.

    If the damage takes too long to fix civil war and mass migration is a likely outcome, which will be hard to believe for people who think that drought [scienceblogs.com] has nothing to do with the Syrian war.

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