Sunspot group AR1890 takes direct aim at earth

May produce a dangerous X-class flare that could directly impact Earth

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Steve Davidson writes:

Right now, today, one of the largest sunspot groups of Cycle 24 – AR1890 – is pointing nearly strait at Earth.

AR1890 has already produced a large X-class Level 3 solar flare Monday. from Spaceweather.com:

X3-CLASS SOLAR FLARE: Earth-orbiting satellites have just detected an X3-class solar flare from big sunspot AR1890 (Nov. 5th @ 2211 UT).

Here is the X-ray event recorded by the satellites: 

X-flare_AR1890

And here is video of the AR1890 group burping out an M-Class 3.8 flare yesterday:

UPDATE: Close up movie of AR1890

Long-term, everyone knows we are inching into an extended quiet period of solar inactivity.

Today, and the next couple days, are a very notable exception.

[Let's hope AR1890 rotates away from Earth with no indigestion while it has us in it's sights. Monitor spaceweather at WUWT's solar reference page - Anthony]

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78 thoughts on “Sunspot group AR1890 takes direct aim at earth

  1. It is not just a flare that should worry us but the magnetic activity of the sun when the emitted plasma hits Earth’s outer atmosphere. If the magnetic activity is very weak at that time then Earth and Sun’s magnetic field lines may again combine as they did last March 17. Then larger amounts of plasma will be channeled into the upper atmosphere and would heat the stratosphere at the north pole. Fortunately the AO is sitting at around +2 at present. If it suddenly dives to -4 or worse then we will know this has happened with cold consequences for the northern hemisphere.
    Another possibility is a very strong X class flare aimed straight at Earth. This could cause a “Carrington” type event, which would be catastrophic for communications, electricity supply and much more.
    Keep your fingers crossed that it behaves itself for the next couple of days.

  2. This is exactly why I bought a lead-foil hat. (Available at Walmart-$39.95. The tag says made in China, but that is just to fool the border guards. They are really made in China….)

  3. Just cus there are almost no sunspots left, during this peak, it doesn’t lead to them being more likely to kill our satellites or electric grid, does it ?
    Knocking on wood as I post this :)
    (does particle board count as wood?).

  4. M.C. Kinville says:
    November 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm
    >>>>>>

    Okay, First–NOBODY lives at the North Pole, unless you are Santa. Second, NOBODY living in Alaska would be out photographing the Northern Lights in winter. Third, NOBODY would be following “this” pretty closely.

    So, either you are joking us, or you are the real Santa.

    (Can I have a new Toyota Tundra 4WD pickup for Christmas?)

  5. Well this explains Super Typhoon Haiyan….
    (Two can play the game of spin baby spin especially with the calm mild this fall)

  6. geran says:

    November 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm
    =============
    I guess you’ll find out x-mas morning, won’t you :)
    Don’t get your hopes up, those Toyota’s melt his workshop.

  7. If it does burst a Carrington class Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) then before it hits UNPLUG EVERYTHING & Disconnect from the grid.

  8. Mark: ““… sunspot … is pointing nearly strait at Earth.”
    —————————————
    We’re in dire straights!”

    It’s the eye of Sauron. Weep hobbits, and quiver!

  9. Gail Combs says:
    November 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm
    Well this explains Super Typhoon Haiyan….
    (Two can play the game of spin baby spin especially with the calm mild this fall)

    —————————-

    You might be on to something. We have had 4 significant space weather events since the 25th of last month. Energy is energy in the end.

    Where is Werner and JTF ?

    We must have some model that can handle 93,000,000 mile smoothing on global climate somewhere> sarc

    On a more serious note: We have not had the opportunity to literally stare down the barrel of a Sun gun as we do today with the tools we have. We should see some very good data come from SDO and STEREO, SOHO, and others, near term.

    http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/

  10. David L. Hagen says:
    November 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm
    If it does burst a Carrington class Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) then before it hits UNPLUG EVERYTHING & Disconnect from the grid.

    If I do so, how will I know when it is safe to plug stuff back in and reconnect to the grid? Shall I wait 3 days and do so. Then what will happen?

  11. We are going out to friends to play fireworks to celebrate his birthday this evening so I will try to get a rocket into space to see what is going on, although going on past experience they all explode into stars and noise shortly after take off.
    My supplier doesn’t say they are space worthy but they are very good.

    http://www.kimboltonfireworks.co.uk/

    James Bull

  12. Are we really going to have an alarmist post every time a sunspot approaches the center of the sun? Nobody will ever leave their fallout shelters. With alarmist friends like this, who needs alarmist enemies?

  13. It seems I read (here) that previous low solar cycles have produced some CME events that were surprisingly strong.

  14. You call that puny thing a sunspot? You should have seen the sun back in the 90s, when we had a REAL solar maximum – and Global Warming (probably because of it).

    We survived that, and we’ll survive this. Next: will a long-overdue Supernova wipe out all life on Earth?????!!!!

  15. Gail Combs says:

    November 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Well this explains Super Typhoon Haiyan….
    (Two can play the game of spin baby spin especially with the calm mild this fall)

    And the halt in Arctic sea ice area increase.

  16. Kelvin Vaughan says:
    November 8, 2013 at 1:33 am
    >>And the halt in Arctic sea ice area increase.<<
    yeah, I am struggling to see why its stopped – as the mean temps are still quite low – unless its just wind/wave action stopping ice formation? (or maybe satellite data correction! LOL!)

  17. geran says:
    November 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm
    M.C. Kinville says:
    November 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm
    >>>>>>

    Second, NOBODY living in Alaska would be out photographing the Northern Lights in winter.
    What else is there to do in Alaska in the winter?

  18. Kev-in-Uk says:
    November 8, 2013 at 2:13 am
    Kelvin Vaughan says:
    November 8, 2013 at 1:33 am
    >>And the halt in Arctic sea ice area increase.<<

    It's interesting to note in the ice area records how the blips in the graphs often line up year on year, give or take. I'm not sure to what extent this is down to geographical features ( e.g.once a basin is full of ice, excess will flow to warmer regions and be washed away), or climate states due to the angle of the sun and therefore the location of pressure zones. Suggestions on a postcard to….

  19. >>And the halt in Arctic sea ice area increase.<<

    To the north and east of Svalbard it looks as though it has been compacted by the wind/currents? South west you can see the gradual increase in ice concentration 10%, 40%, 70%, 80% – 100%

    To the north and east it now goes straight from 0 to 100%, that was not the case a few days ago.

    Similar has happened but to a lesser degree in the Kara:-

    Always worth taking a look at:-

    Where the daily changes are somehow more visible.

  20. We don’t use overhead power lines in the UK except for the main grid. Everything local (power, phone, etc) is underground. Are these safe from induced EMF?

  21. David L. Hagen: “If it does burst a Carrington class Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) then before it hits UNPLUG EVERYTHING & Disconnect from the grid.”

    While your imagination is in gear give us your estimate of the voltage and current we can expect at our homes. Alternate or direct current? Are you sure you have thought through this correctly?

    The way I understand after reading on this subject is that the problem back in 1859 or the more recent Montreal problem with the huge transformers with CMEs is not induced voltage locally, like in your computer or cell-phone, the magnetic flux is simply too small. It is what is happening to the Earth itself. If you have a generating plant in New York connected many hundreds of miles to another plant it is the difference in the “ground” that is the problem, the Earth itself then has a voltage induced across different latitudes or large distances and since nearly everything uses the Earth (the ground) as one of its returning legs that is where the very large D.C. currents get involved that can literally burn out large grid-scale transformers. Since this is D.C. currents, or very slow varying A.C. (≈1/10 Hertz at best), that is not going to be passed through the grid to your home, but you would then lose power though if the big transformers overload. Modern large transformers are very unforgiving to large D.C. flows or so I have read.

    But a local plant a few miles from your home? Shouldn’t have a problem.

    So, I think you sounding the alarm is a bit overblown. Danger to the long hauls in the grid if not direct current protected, yes. Danger to satellites if not static protected and shielded, yes. Danger to your personal home equipment, I would doubt it unless your home is so rural that it is a long haul from the nearest connection point, maybe then.

    Possibly long telephone lines might be a larger concern.

    Got better non-alarmist info about the physics involved with CMEs, let me know. Some estimates of the milli or nano Tesla and Hertz involved would be some great info so some calculations can check this out thoroughly.

  22. With a little luck the magnetic pulse will totally destroy every computer that has anything to do with Obamacare. All traces of the horrible mess will be gone and they’ll have to start over with something sensible that works. It would be nice if Obama’s teleprompters are fried too.

  23. “Sunspot group AR1890 takes direct aim at earth”
    “May produce a dangerous X-class flare that could directly impact Earth”
    “Right now, today, one of the largest sunspot groups of Cycle 24 – AR1890 – is pointing nearly strait [sic] at Earth.”

    Great, more alarmism.

    So is it “directly” or “nearly strait [sic]“?

  24. steveta_uk says:

    November 8, 2013 at 3:02 am

    We don’t use overhead power lines in the UK except for the main grid. Everything local (power, phone, etc) is underground. Are these safe from induced EMF?

    Not true! Most country areas are fed by overhead lines. It’s only in towns where they are underground.

  25. Should the date of this article be added to to first paragraph so it doesn’t look alarming in perpetuity? Just a little editorial niggle of mine regarding articles that become dated but don’t have a date. The “posted on…” doesn’t always show up in Bing and Google.

  26. “We don’t use overhead power lines in the UK except for the main grid. Everything local (power, phone, etc) is underground. Are these safe from induced EMF?”

    Power surges are a result of the Earth’s magnetic field suddenly moving which induces a current to flow in conductors. The amount of surge depends on the length of the conductor, so I would conclude that the UK, being a small island with comparatively short power lines would fare better than continental power carriers such as Canada and the US.

  27. There was a problem with the railways in the early days when signal men were getting electric shocks. This was found to be due to long sections of track isolated from the ground on wooden sleepers, and since significant voltage differences could occur over long distances the track could be at quite a different potential than the ground. Since then, tracks have earthed regularly to prevent the build up.

  28. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of OED’s first noted instance of the use of “impact” in the sense of “affect.” It seems that people who couldn’t keep “affect” and “effect” straight avoided the problem by resorting to this sloppy use of “impact.” Now the sloppiness–accepted and encased in concrete–comes back to bite us old fuddy-duddies as what is for us the correct meaning of “impact” makes for a rather alarming headline: “May produce a dangerous X-class flare that could directly impact Earth.”

    Then again, it takes more than metaphor to wipe out our short wave communication. I’ll stay inside and read the dictionary. –AGF

  29. @wayne

    Kudo for the injection of common sense.

    I’m no expert in the field but AFAIK the problem is that distribution network does not or sparsely implement serial compensation (capacitor). Also big distribution transformer are masterpiece of optimization, they operate at near “perfect” efficiency & the slightest amount of DC make them saturate & destroy.

    Sun induced magnetic variation are (the best we know) only of very long wavelength (low frequency), then are significant ONLY to loop of considerable internal area (km). Nothing similar with EMP that have very fast changing rate, thus capable of inducing large current in small loop.

    Take an airplane, make it do a U-turn in flight, does the complete reversal of magnetic earth field in a couples of seconds make it suffer electric problem? Of course not even if its still lot more dphi/dt than a Carrington style event…

    Those very long wavelength have no problem penetrating conductive (non-ferrous) soil at a great depth, so burried transmission line won’t offer more protection than overhead line.

    Aa a funny side note: I’ve heard from people working for Hydro-Quebec that the 1989 blackout event had the result that major electricity client(s) (USA) put pressure on Quebec to implement stabilization measure & isolate its “shoddy” network from client using gigantic DC-DC converter (DC ties) (I visited one that was offline for maintenance and its look like the reactor of a space ship but much bigger). The result was that during subsequent unstability catastrophy like blackout of 2003 when region of northeast US & Ontario all had fallen to darkness, those measures protected Quebec’s network from their “shoddy” network.

  30. M class? We don’t care about no stinkin M class.
    Call me when we get some decent X20+ action happening.

    u.k.(us) says:November 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm
    Just cus there are almost no sunspots left, during this peak, it doesn’t lead to them being more likely to kill our satellites or electric grid, does it ?
    Knocking on wood as I post this :)
    (does particle board count as wood?).

    The Carrington event happened in a relatively quiet period. Think earthquake. A lot of stress built up and released at once or a little at a time. Which has the bigger impact? The sun may or may not operate in this fashion (over to you Leif).

  31. Jeff Alberts says:
    November 8, 2013 at 7:51 am
    “Sunspot group AR1890 takes direct aim at earth”
    “May produce a dangerous X-class flare that could directly impact Earth”
    “Right now, today, one of the largest sunspot groups of Cycle 24 – AR1890 – is pointing nearly strait [sic] at Earth.”
    Great, more alarmism.

    Jeff,
    When you’re staring down the bore of a loaded cannon that is aimed directly at you and may fire at any moment, it is not ‘alarmist’ to express concern for your continued health.
    MtK
    PS: Given the Dire Straits we’re in, it may be time to go Down To The Water Line
    Enjoy!

  32. wayne says:
    November 8, 2013 at 4:24 am
    EO Peter says:
    November 8, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Wayne and Peter,
    Thanks for the perspectives, Gents!
    MtK

  33. The WUWT’s solar threads thrive on controversy:

    Joachim (Jimmy) Raeder Professor of Physics Space Science Center & Physics Department University of New Hampshire
    “For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north. Such a CME should open a breach and load the magnetosphere with plasma just before the storm gets underway. It’s the perfect sequence for a really big event.”

  34. vukcevic says:
    November 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm
    Joachim (Jimmy) Raeder Professor of Physics Space Science Center & Physics Department University of New Hampshire
    “For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north.

    It is not only ‘not fully understood’, it is also wrong.

  35. lsvalgaard says:
    November 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm
    …………….
    Hi doc
    If you say that Joachim (Jimmy) Raeder Professor of Physics Space Science Center & Physics Department University of New Hampshire
    is wrong, I conclude ‘no consensus’ in the solar science either.
    Perhaps the good professor has a knowledge or a reason based on some kind of data not known to you, to publicly proclaim so, why else make a statement which would harm his academic reputation.
    Analysis of geomagnetic data show that he may well be correct.
    I am inclined to make further enquiries by emailing prof. Reader.

  36. vukcevic says:
    November 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm
    I conclude ‘no consensus’ in the solar science either.
    It is simpler: he just doesn’t know.
    Perhaps the good professor has a knowledge or a reason based on some kind of data not known to you,
    There is no data on this that would be unknown to me.
    The most likely interpretation is that he has simply made a mistake or that you have misunderstood what he said. In any case, your restatement of his statement is wrong.

  37. lsvalgaard says:
    November 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm
    …………….
    or that you have misunderstood what he said. In any case, your restatement of his statement is wrong.
    What I wrote is a direct quote as reported by the NASA’s website

    http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/16dec_giantbreach/

    and not my understanding of the prof. Reader’s statement.

    There is no data on this that would be unknown to me.
    Last year he (for the UNH) got grant exceeding $500,000 for a new computer system intended for (among others) the magnetic reconnection and the space weather research.

    If there are data which could corroborate his CMEs magnetic polarity statement, than the two well known events, LOD and AMO (which show good correlation with the 22 year solar cycle) might have a previously unknown contributory factor.

  38. Bishophill has apparently been targeted. The site now returns a “no such account” from a black page

  39. vukcevic says:
    November 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm
    What I wrote is a direct quote as reported by the NASA’s website
    Then the good doctor is just wrong. There is no data supporting this. There is a tendency for the magnetic field to be oriented like the sun’s dipole field, which changes at maximum and therefore is not tied to even or odd cycles. Perhaps he got that wrong.

  40. Mac the Knife says:
    November 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Jeff,
    When you’re staring down the bore of a loaded cannon that is aimed directly at you and may fire at any moment, it is not ‘alarmist’ to express concern for your continued health.

    Here is the problem. The title of the post says “directly”, the text says “nearly strait” [sic]. I see no quantification as to whether it actually WAS pointing “directly” at Earth (I suspect by this time that it’s now pointing elsewhere). Half a degree off and any flare that “may” come out of it will miss by a cosmic mile. There is such a serious lack of information here that it comes off as nothing but alarmist.

    Clouds forming, may cause 40 day flood….

  41. Its a moving target – Steve Davidson
    —————————————-
    Jeff Alberts says:
    November 8, 2013 at 7:51 am

    “Sunspot group AR1890 takes direct aim at earth”
    “May produce a dangerous X-class flare that could directly impact Earth”
    “Right now, today, one of the largest sunspot groups of Cycle 24 – AR1890 – is pointing nearly strait [sic] at Earth.”

    Great, more alarmism.

    So is it “directly” or “nearly strait [sic]“?

  42. lsvalgaard says:
    “There is no data on this that would be unknown to me.”

    Leif,
    Get real. This statement is beyond bold. Let’s not let ego overwhelm rational thought. Take care that you do not become ‘a legend in your own mind’.

  43. Jim, I didn’t see his statement as anything but a fact. No ego involved. My grandparents were good friends with Walter Brennan and often repeated his movie line, “no brag, just fact”. I appreciate statements of fact and see them as entirely separate from such things as ego, modesty, or humility. I would categorize Leif’s statement under the category of “no brag, just fact”.

  44. Pamela Gray says:
    Anyone who says there is no data about a given subject of which they are not aware is being, at the very least, quite presumptuous. I am not questioning his analysis or conclusions, at least not on this subject. I would not argue with, “I am not aware of any such data”. Can you think of a subject about which you would claim to be aware of ALL the data that exists about said subject? I, personally, cannot, as there is always the possiblity of new data or old data, for that matter, of which I am not aware. Argue with the data or its interpretation when presented, fine. “No brag, just fact” fits well with something one has done, something one can do or something one will do, but does not cover omniscience. But then, I am just an engineer taught in the old school of skeptical science.

  45. Pamela Gray,

    Try this: It is not possible to know about things of which we are not aware therefore to claim there are no such things of which we are not aware is patently illogical, even if there are none, we cannot know it. Such a claim, not logical, is suspect as to causal factors.

  46. It’s disturbing to find so many posters here crying “Chicken Little”. If there is uncertainty and misinformation about the possible effects and scope of a solar flare, the people to blame our our national governments, who have kept this information from us. There can be no doubt that every nuclear power in the world has done extensive experiments on the EMP effect since its discovery.

    And since the US intelligence services have been successfully spying on everyone in the world, it follows that the US government has all of the results (unless, of course, it is really the US intelligence services that control the government of the USA). These are the only two possibilities.

    Given the lack of candor, it is senseless to ridicule ordinary citizens without access to this information from speculating on the basis of scant and sometimes contradictory tidbits gleaned from the popular press.

    It is even more senseless to cry “alarmist” because in the past some alarms have been false. Were Fukushima, the German E. Coli scare, and Chernobyl “alarmist” propaganda? It would be far more logical and reasonable to question whether men have landed on the moon…

  47. Michele says:
    November 8, 2013 at 4:40 am
    @lsvalgaard

    “….The biggest group ever observed….”
    6 April 1947 ?

    Again, Jupiter, Venus, Earth and Mercury….
    ————

    Is there a near equinox (shifting inflow) relationship involved also in this somewhere?

  48. Thank you, Mark and two cats and agfosterjr.

    “It seems that people who couldn’t keep “affect” and “effect” straight…”

    Or strait, perhaps?

  49. Since this is a sun topic, Two chart I put together today, you decide if the sun and activity controls the Temps on Earth, Shows up better in the Arctic because of the low humidity levels so the air can heat or cool faster with the sun spot activity.

  50. Second chart Temps above 80 N and this years sunspot data, 90% of time the decreased or spike in sun spots show up on the charts at the surface.

  51. From http://www.spaceweather.com/ today,

    “”YET ANOTHER X-FLARE: As predicted, sunspot AR1890 has unleashed another strong flare, an X1-class explosion on Nov. 10th at 05:14 UT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a bright flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation from the blast site:
    This is the third X-flare from AR1890 since Nov. 5th, and all three have something in common: brevity. AR1890 tends to produce impulsive flares, peaking sharply in a matter of minutes or less. Often, brief flares do not produce coronal mass ejections (CMEs), but this one could be an exception. A movie of the flare shows a plume of material lifting off the sun shortly after the UV flash. That could be the beginnings of an Earth-directed CME. Stay tuned for further analysis.””

  52. I recommend checking out the newer IRIS images.
    Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission

    Mission Statement
    Understanding the interface between the photosphere and corona remains a fundamental challenge in solar and heliospheric science. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission opens a window of discovery into this crucial region by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromosphere and transition region into the corona using spectrometry and imaging. IRIS is designed to provide significant new information to increase our understanding of energy transport into the corona and solar wind and provide an archetype for all stellar atmospheres. The unique instrument capabilities, coupled with state of the art 3-D modeling, will fill a large gap in our knowledge of this dynamic region of the solar atmosphere. The mission will extend the scientific output of existing heliophysics spacecraft that follow the effects of energy release processes from the sun to Earth.

    Comparing SDO to IRIS

  53. otropogo says:
    November 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    If there is uncertainty and misinformation about the possible effects and scope of a solar flare, the people to blame our our national governments, who have kept this information from us. There can be no doubt that every nuclear power in the world has done extensive experiments on the EMP effect since its discovery.

    Please!
    It is a gross over simplification to compare EMP effects and the effects of a solar geomagnetic storm on the earth’s electrical power grids. The induced currents from a geomagnetic storm on long conductors over poor ground conductivity terrain (as in Hydro-Québec ’89) only have a passing similarity to the E3 effects of EMP from a high altitude nuclear burst. The E1 and E2 effects of a true EMP require very different protective measures and differ substantially from the slow rise time near DC currents induced by a solar storm. The only thing they have in common is that both have the potential to damage portions of the national electrical grid. EMP would put far more of our essential systems at risk, both because of how it impacts a broader class of systems but due to its essentially zero warning time onset.

    The very slow rise time surges induced by a geomagnetic storm are orders of magnitude less difficult to protect against compared to the very fast < 5-10 nanosecond rise times of voltage surges induced in conductors by the E1 effects of EMP and the lightning like effects of the E2 component of EMP. Electrical grounding methods adequate for slow rise time surges characteristic of solar storm induced surges are entirely inadequate and essentially useless for protection against E1, E2 portions of EMP which require low impedance grounds that are effective well into the 100 mhz frequency range, and RF shielding even of very short conductors and protection from the effects of up to 50 kv/m electrical fields

    They are not the same thing and we should use caution when comparing the two. Their impacts on our infrastructure will be very different. EMP would be far more serious for our essential electrical, electronic and radio frequency systems. It would result in the near instantaneous destruction of the majority of our unprotected RF communications and computer electronics infrastructure, in addition to much of our commercial power grid critical components like control systems and power transformers over large portions of a continental sized region. It would also cripple or destroy a large fraction of all our solid state electronic systems over the affected area.

    The only similarity between the two for discussion, is that a system hardened against EMP is also most likely well protected against both direct lightning induced surges and geomagnetic induced surges. As such EMP protection is the higher threshold and best use of protective measures/funding as it will secondarily provide substantial protection against both lightning and geomagnetic storm induced damages to electrical and electronic systems.

  54. Pardon my ignorance. Just to be clear then, you are saying the CMEs do not pose a threat of electrical grid failure?

    If so, I’m afraid I’ve been mislead, or have misunderstood articles like the one cited below in Popular Science:

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-05/are-we-prepared-catastrophic-solar-storm

    (a similar report was published in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic, IIRC)., which seem to suggest we are completely unprotected.

    While it’s good to know that solar storms can’t fry my laptop or car computer, it would seem rather cold comfort to the vast majority of North Americans if the continental power grid were disabled for months or years, as suggested elsewhere.

    At best, it would give us the option of dying on the road instead of having to freeze or starve to death in our homes. So I’d like very much to believe that only an intentional nuclear EMP could produce such a disaster.

    However, other prominent posters here clearly disagree, even with the idea that solar events can’t fry electronics. Would you please cite any online reports that support your view?

  55. Yes we are largely unprotected against geomagnetic storms and they can certainly cause damage to portions of the electrical wide area grids and especially the long lead time transformers, but the effects are much less severe than EMP and also dependent on local conditions. More importantly they are much easier to protect against and with modern satellite systems we have up to 18 hours warning time to take protective actions.

    As in Hydro-Québec ’89 the problem is more significant in areas where the local ground has poor conductivity and in more northern latitudes. It could damage some of the major transformers who are connected to long distance power lines that are running in the right direction so that they most effectively couple with the magnetic effects of the disturbance. It would how ever not totally blackout entire continental areas as EMP could. It would break up the major grids into small island grids which could only serve local areas. The adverse effects could be worked around to get power to essential services like police, fire and medical facilities and food storage refrigeration and water pumping for municipal water supply and sewage.

    That would be minor comfort to folks who depend on electrical heating, hot water and cooking, or major industrial customers who suddenly have limited power available for weeks or months, but there would at least be a boot strap power island around each power plant that could be used to recover from the damage and re-start normal operations. You would not lose all your major medical emergency power, or lose the ability to refrigerate all food and pharmaceuticals that require refrigeration over state wide areas.

    It is simply a question of degrees, a carrington class Geomagnetic storm would be a major impact but relatively minor compared to the damage caused by a well executed massive EMP attack.
    EMP would be a catastrophe with the vast majority of our electrical infrastructure destroyed or degraded, all the way down to local small electronics like your lap top and desk top computers in the most strongly affected areas. Loss of almost all commercial radio and television mass communications (no news or public information capacity) and the obliteration of a huge portion of our computer and internet infrastructure. A carrington event class geomagnetic storm would leave most consumer electronics untouched and cause major regional disruption of the major power grids but leave many local grids up and running or at least quickly repairable, although isolated from each other.

    You would at least have some capacity for local industrial use of electrical power which would make recovery at least possible although painful.

    Unfortunately the differences between the two would take a good sized book to explain, as both have unique features and impact different vulnerabilities in our infrastructure. For example EMP from a single high altitude burst could blanket an area over 1000 miles across with E3 effects but the peak E1 effects would be concentrated in a horseshoe shaped “smile” slightly south of the burst point (in the northern hemisphere) while a small area to the north of the burst point would have essentially no impact from the E1 effects. In the most strongly affected areas even small hand held electronics devices could be damaged especially those who are not designed to operate in hostile RF environments (smart phones) while some more hardy electronics like hand held police and fire radios might survive but their dispatch center would be toast. They would have local direct communication from unit to unit but no broad area communications, and due to damage to the power grid lose the ability to recharge batteries. In areas of strong E1 effects, modern car electronics systems like the engine management computers that manage fuel and spark to the engine would be fried in some cases, or knocked for a loop and require a power reset to return to normal operations. In some cases the cars electronics would survive if it was not running and parked in a partially shielded location like an underground garage, but a running car in the open would become a useless brick.

    Just be aware that there are fundamental differences between the two classes of events and they should not be lumped together without understanding what effects that they share and the differences in how they impact our infrastructure.

    • Thanks for your elaboration. Any suggestions as to how one can get a look at the “…good sized book to explain…” the differences in detail? I’d particularly like to be better informed about the effect of location on the degree of damage anticipated by both events. I don’t know whether Northern and Southern hemispheres can be simultaneously affected by a CME, nor even whether only those parts of the globe facing the sun should expect damaging effects at the time of the flare.

  56. Here are a couple references that might help you get your head around it. I know of no compact direct comparison you have to look up info on each separately.

    http://web.ornl.gov/sci/ees/etsd/pes/pubs/ferc_Meta-R-320.pdf

    http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1318/ML13183A027.pdf

    http://www.lrc.fema.gov/downloads/attack_env_4.pdf <— good quick summary
    http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/www/effects/eonw_11.pdf <– direct copy of material contained in the book "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons" S. Glasstone which was the bible of U.S. government unclassified nuclear weapons information for decades. Still a very good book if you can find the original U.S. Government office versions printed in 1962 and updated in 1979

    There are some other sources out there but some of them include some off the wall stuff along with good info, so best to get your feet wet with these so you can critically evaluate the other sources.

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