Compared to the Sun's power, we are a fly speck on an elephant's butt

Note: A number of people sent this to me. This is a fictional account of what might happen if we get a large solar event, such as a Coronal Mass Ejection, pointed directly at earth.

Artist rendition of a CME, Earth is larger than actual scale

Artist rendition of a CME. Click for a large image. Earth is about 10x larger than actual size, and the 1AU Sun-Earth distance is obviously not to scale.

Given that we are truly an electric society, the havoc it would cause would be monumental. Few systems are hardened against an event like this. It would be like a nuclear EMP event, except worldwide.

When the ejection reaches the Earth as an ICME (Interplanetary CME), it may disrupt the Earth’s magnetosphere, compressing it on the day side and extending the night-side tail. When the magnetosphere reconnects on the nightside, it creates trillions of watts of power which is directed back toward the Earth’s upper atmosphere. This process can cause particularly strong aurora also known as the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis (in the Northern Hemisphere), and the Southern Lights, or aurora australis (in the Southern Hemisphere). CME events, along with solar flares, can disrupt radio transmissions, cause power outages (blackouts), and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission lines.

Bye bye modern society. While the sun is quiet now, don’t discount the potential for something like this to happen. The likelihood of such an event is far greater than that of an asteroid strike. If it does happen, the only electronics likely to be working afterward are  tube radios, and a 57 Chevy or earlier  automobile. (no electronics, just electromechanical). – Anthony

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

From the New Scientist 23 March 2009 by Michael Brooks

IT IS midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.

The projections of just how catastrophic make chilling reading. “We’re moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster,” says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report.

It is hard to conceive of the sun wiping out a large amount of our hard-earned progress. Nevertheless, it is possible. The surface of the sun is a roiling mass of plasma – charged high-energy particles – some of which escape the surface and travel through space as the solar wind. From time to time, that wind carries a billion-tonne glob of plasma, a fireball known as a coronal mass ejection (see “When hell comes to Earth”). If one should hit the Earth’s magnetic shield, the result could be truly devastating.

The incursion of the plasma into our atmosphere causes rapid changes in the configuration of Earth’s magnetic field which, in turn, induce currents in the long wires of the power grids. The grids were not built to handle this sort of direct current electricity. The greatest danger is at the step-up and step-down transformers used to convert power from its transport voltage to domestically useful voltage. The increased DC current creates strong magnetic fields that saturate a transformer’s magnetic core. The result is runaway current in the transformer’s copper wiring, which rapidly heats up and melts. This is exactly what happened in the Canadian province of Quebec in March 1989, and six million people spent 9 hours without electricity. But things could get much, much worse than that.

Worse than Katrina

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

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

Though a solar outburst could conceivably be more powerful, “we haven’t found an example of anything worse than a Carrington event”, says James Green, head of NASA’s planetary division and an expert on the events of 1859. “From a scientific perspective, that would be the one that we’d want to survive.” However, the prognosis from the NAS analysis is that, thanks to our technological prowess, many of us may not.

There are two problems to face. The first is the modern electricity grid, which is designed to operate at ever higher voltages over ever larger areas. Though this provides a more efficient way to run the electricity networks, minimising power losses and wastage through overproduction, it has made them much more vulnerable to space weather. The high-power grids act as particularly efficient antennas, channelling enormous direct currents into the power transformers.

The second problem is the grid’s interdependence with the systems that support our lives: water and sewage treatment, supermarket delivery infrastructures, power station controls, financial markets and many others all rely on electricity. Put the two together, and it is clear that a repeat of the Carrington event could produce a catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen. “It’s just the opposite of how we usually think of natural disasters,” says John Kappenman, a power industry analyst with the Metatech Corporation of Goleta, California, and an advisor to the NAS committee that produced the report. “Usually the less developed regions of the world are most vulnerable, not the highly sophisticated technological regions.”

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people (see map). From that moment, the clock is ticking for America.

First to go – immediately for some people – is drinkable water. Anyone living in a high-rise apartment, where water has to be pumped to reach them, would be cut off straight away. For the rest, drinking water will still come through the taps for maybe half a day. With no electricity to pump water from reservoirs, there is no more after that.

There is simply no electrically powered transport: no trains, underground or overground. Our just-in-time culture for delivery networks may represent the pinnacle of efficiency, but it means that supermarket shelves would empty very quickly – delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.

Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites – but only until their fuel ran out. For hospitals, that would mean about 72 hours of running a bare-bones, essential care only, service. After that, no more modern healthcare.

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169 thoughts on “Compared to the Sun's power, we are a fly speck on an elephant's butt

  1. Hmmm, another catastrophe for the ruling classes to scare us with and tax us to help prevent such things.

  2. “The Cellphone, the Laptop, the Wi-Fi, the I-Pod, the Tivo, those who navigate by the GPS, the Bloggers and all who surf the Internets.. they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning Coronal Mass Ejection.”
    Rev 21-8

  3. LOL, a fly-speck on an elephant’s butt? What is the scientific term for this? A Gorse fly?

  4. Regrettably, when you become aware of the force of electromagnetism, and aware that the Sun is the most powerful source of electromagnetism in the Solar sytem, you realize that in many ways, Man is just along for the ride.
    We are spectators; we may watch with increasing comprehension, but Man will never restrain the Sun’s energy. Should circumstances converge at some point in the future where the Sun emits a direct burst of intense electromagnetic energy at the Earth…it may be time to bend over and kiss your ___ goodby.

  5. I love these predicted responses to the electrical storm damage.
    “12 months to produce new transformers”.
    Yeah, and they predicted it would take 10 years to put out the Kuwaiti oil fires after Saddam blew up the wells in the Iraq-Kuwait war.
    It took eight months.
    Carl Sagan predicted a global famine from the smoke traveling throughout the world, causing a global cooling and decreased agricultural output.
    No such thing happened.
    REPLY: Large electrical power transformers of the type used at major substations are not something stocked in large quantity in this country. They tend to have long service lifespans and thus are usually made to order. Here is an example of one that failed in New York that dropped capacity by 300 megawatts and took from June to August 1999 for repair.
    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/13/nyregion/in-brief-transformer-fails-electric-capacity-cut.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/B/Blackouts%20and%20Brownouts%20(Electrical)
    Plus there are the millions of smaller pole mounted transformers to consider. – Anthony

  6. C’mon! This is a stupid article. Not the science, not the effect. But the inability of recovery. It is full of very weak assumptions. Like the one that there are only a few trained teams to install transformers. There will be a whole country full of idle and ready to do something Americans! You take those teams and have each member train and run their own team. No transformers, twelve month to build one. Hah!!! Ridiculous! Does anyone remember how fast all those oil well fires were put out in Kuwait? It was predicted it would take many years. They got it done within a year and a half. One Wiki article references a team using jet turbines to put out the fires. That is innovation! Those lost transformers would be rebuilt in unheard of “record time”. There would be crews working around the clock in the whole country, rain or shine. The most offensive comment of all “America might never recover”, what a bunch of b…!

  7. Let’s imagine we’re sitting on or porch on a clear summer’s evening, and we notice how beautiful and bright the moon is. Particularly how bright the dark side is. And we think: what lights up the dark side of the moon? Bright earthshine! and what causes that? Really, really bright sunshine!! uh-oh end-of-the-world as we know it!!!
    Larry Niven wrote something along these lines 20 or 30 years ago. Why not other sci-fi catastrophes as possible threats. Sun goes nova or supernova. Sun collapses to neutron star or black hole. Velikovsky revisited and another planet is spit out of Jupiter to whack us. Asteroid from asteroid belt or Oort cloud or intergalactic space zeroes in on us. Aliens come for us. I suppose AGW has dimished our ability to distinguish between possible and plausible.
    The odds of a plasma ball striking the earth from the distance of the sun is rather tiny. Let’s say the plasma ball is pretty big – like Jupiter! maybe 100,00 0 miles accross. That sounds big! But how big is the target. At 93,000,000 miles away the area of a sphere at 1 au is 4pi*r^2 = 108,631,440,000,000,000 sq miles. I’ve got to believe that’s worse than a million-to-one shot. The odds are probably not really this bad, since the thing will likely be bigger and more diffuse, but how much more diffuse, and how likely is it to even happen. Maybe some of the mathmaticians and astrophysicists in the crowd can give better odds (and reasons why they might be better).

  8. Lee (21:23:18) :
    The odds of a plasma ball striking the earth from the distance of the sun is rather tiny. […] I’ve got to believe that’s worse than a million-to-one shot.
    No, the CME [solar storm] is typically 50 degrees wide, and expands as it moves out. If is happens within an area on the Sun covering about a quarter of the disk, it will hit us.

  9. i am going to buy a 57 chevy…
    Reply: I drive a 1970 Bronco myself ~ charles the moderator

    REPLY:
    I think you’ll find a few transistors or diodes in there somewhere…bzzzt! – Anthony

  10. What lights up the un-Sunlit portion of the Moon is the gigantuous horde of outdoor lighting that we burn immense quantities of resources to power up. So we can sleep better at night knowing that the outdoor fires are going. Seems stupid. You might even be able to read a newspaper on the Moon at night someday. So when we go back to the moon, they won’t have to send the astronauts with flashlights.

  11. Hi Leif,
    That’s the diffusion issue, if it is spread thin enough to hit us, is it still thick enough to do any harm. So far, 100 years of electronics, minimal harm. Inverse square law can do a lot of thinning at 93 million miles.

  12. Ben Bova wrote a decent enough book about a futuristic situation where the cold war doesnt end, man colonizes the moon, and the earth from europe to asia is hit by an enourmous solar flare. Russian nukes survive the flare in underground silos and of course bomb the US back into the dark ages, leaving the moon colony the only remaining bastion of civilisation.

  13. There was a time, back in the early 70’s, when you had to be ready just after dusk to catch the Earthsine on the Moon before it set.
    Now, I can make out all the details on the Moon’s un-Sunlit portion in my scope. All the craters, mare and rays. Asia lights it up for me. Thanks.
    Forget about AGW, just turn those idiotic lights off when you go to bed.
    Maybe we should contact Al Gore and give him a new mission.

  14. It is unfortunate that our political class is obsessed with the AGW issue because this is the kind of threat that we could deal with relatively cheaply. However, instead of taking prudent measures to harden the grid will be dumping trillions in adding flaky renewable power to the grid that will only make the problem worse.

  15. Might be another plage, too. The Sun taunts us mercilessly.
    The 1859 flare was at the 1st max. peak of SC10.

  16. Leif Svalgaard (21:38:41) :
    If SEP follow the Gleissberg cycle eg McCracken 2001b and they obey a power law due to the streaming limit,would not a Carrington event be a rare possibility ?(say a 1 in 200 year event)

  17. They need to think about taking extravagant power usage offline, and keeping some spares on hand. The big transformers remind me of the mainframes that nobody thought would still be hanging around in 1975 and again in 2000.

  18. Lee (21:53:00) :
    That’s the diffusion issue, if it is spread thin enough to hit us, is it still thick enough to do any harm. So far, 100 years of electronics, minimal harm. Inverse square law can do a lot of thinning at 93 million miles.
    Yes it can still do a lot of harm. On 13 March 1989, the voltage of Quebec’s power grid began to fluctuate alarmingly. Seconds later, the lights went out across the entire province. Some 6 million people were without electricity for nine hours. Within two days, NASA had lost track of some of its spacecraft and the northern lights were glowing in the sky south of London. As described in the 3 February 1996 issue of The New Scientist, these events had the same cause – a monumental Solar Storm, the fiercest for 30 years. The 1859 flare was many times stronger.
    maksimovich (22:10:29) :
    If SEP follow the Gleissberg cycle eg McCracken 2001b and they obey a power law due to the streaming limit,would not a Carrington event be a rare possibility ?(say a 1 in 200 year event)
    Which can still happen anytime. And it was 150 years ago …

  19. Anthony:
    The transformer “took from June to August 1999 for repair”.
    That is true for a team of workers on union time, 9-5 Monday through Friday. As the article stated they still had power to spare so there was no immediate concern. Lets accelerat that:
    Say it took a total of 12 weeks to repair. That is 480 business hours. Working 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It would be done in 20 days working at the same pace. What if they can work faster, or add more people to the task?
    My point is also reinforced with this story:
    Remember the bay bridge collapse?
    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/05/25/california-freeway-rebuilt-in-a-new-york-minute/
    Quite honestly, where has the “can do” spirit gone? Did Obama suck it out of everyone in this country??
    REPLY: I’m all for can-do, but hundreds of failed megawatt sized transformers, plus thousands to millions kilowatt sized, isn’t small potatoes. Raw materials and parts might be the limiting factor here not man-hours or can-do spirit. Let’s say we lose five hundred or more 100-500 megawatt sized transformers around the USA tomorrow at key transfer substations. They arc-out and burn up. Do you think the grid will still operate? Do we have 500 of that size “on the shelf”. Do we have let’s say 100,000 of the multi-kilowatt sized transformers “on the shelf” ready to go? How about high current circuit breakers? How many get torched? Ho many MVA capacitor banks get whacked? Got spares for those too? Show me that we do and I’ll gladly say than “can-do can overcome”. Here is what a capacitor bank started at one substation:

    The grid works because it has safeties, but it is not designed to handle a massive EMP nationwide. A good portion of it will be well toasted. It boils down to parts availablilty more than man-hours. – Anthony

  20. Well the real problem is that once the grid drops for even a few minutes, the nuke plants auto respond to throw in the control rods ( shut it down ) and realy if there is no load on the coal fire plants, they shut down….. now all that is left is the hydro dams!
    One small thing I did not know till recent , the iron / steel plants use electric power to make anything now. think it could shut us down nicely. but it is a one in a million shot.
    BO shutting down CO2 fired plants more likely.

  21. mark
    i am going to buy a 57 chevy…
    Reply: I drive a 1970 Bronco myself ~ charles the moderator
    REPLY: I think you’ll find a few transistors or diodes in there somewhere…bzzzt! – Anthony
    I think that when and or if this occurs in the near future, if say C24 ramps up with a bang my Monty Python coconut halves will be proven to be the most reliable form of transport. Reversing is still a problem though.
    Instructions here from the Ministry of Foods, Coconut Division.

  22. Referencing the following Reply from Anthony:
    REPLY: Large electrical power transformers of the type used at major substations are not something stocked in large quantity in this country. They tend to have long service lifespans and thus are usually made to order. Here is an example of one that failed in New York that dropped capacity by 300 megawatts and took from June to August 1999 for repair.
    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/13/nyregion/in-brief-transformer-fails-electric-capacity-cut.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/B/Blackouts%20and%20Brownouts%20(Electrical)
    Plus there are the millions of smaller pole mounted transformers to consider. – Anthony
    ********************************************************************************
    The situation is somewhat worse than described. All large MVA (MegaVOLT Amp) Transformers that are installed in electrical substations, power plants(Hydro, Coal, Nuclear, Co-Gen, etc.) have NOT been manufactured in NORTH AMERICA for many years. They are imported from various overseas countries. Some low power transformers are made in Canada and Mexico but would not work on the large high voltage 115KV to 500KV electrical transmission system throughout the U.S. In addition spare high voltage transformers are few and far in between basically due to the cost. I am a retired Elec. Eng. working for the Bonneville Power Admin in the Pacific NorthWest and can testify that it took over 18 months to replace on a fast track a failed 115KV/500KV (that is a 115,000 volt to 500,000 volt) transformer on the BPA system. Magnify the failure by 10 to 100 times plus if similar failures occurring in the overseas manufacturing plants and without question we will be in the dark for a very long time!!!

  23. Out of curiosity, just how vast an area would be affected? For example, the article speaks of the entire US, while a poster above spoke of about half that area (from the east coast to Chicago). If it were centered over Europe, would its edges touch the east coast of the US? Chicago? LA? Or would it only wipe out Europe’s grids? Or only half or even a quarter of Europe? Could it affect the entire surface area of the hemisphere facing the sun? Would the far side of the world truly be okay?

  24. mark (21:45:56) :
    i am going to buy a 57 chevy…
    Reply: I drive a 1970 Bronco myself ~ charles the moderator
    REPLY: I think you’ll find a few transistors or diodes in there somewhere…bzzzt! – Anthony

    My survival car is a Fibreglass bodied Ginetta GRS Tora with a galvanised box section chassis and a Hillman Hunter engine running a magneto off the cam drive.
    My survival bike is a 1949 Matchless G80 500cc single cyclinder model. Also on a magneto. It does around 80mpg.
    SteveSadlov (20:30:03) :
    Is the current quiet, the calm before the storm?

    Ulric Lyons popped up on a solar thread yestaerday and pointed out that solar cycles following long minima have 10x the number of big solar storms.

  25. Nicholas (23:18:50) :
    Could it affect the entire surface area of the hemisphere facing the sun? Would the far side of the world truly be okay?
    The effect is strongest on the night side and can span the whole norther ‘quartersphere’ and the southern too. [I just made coined a new word].

  26. “delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.”
    “Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites – but only until their fuel ran out.”
    Its an awfull pity nobody would think of taking one of those generators to the filling station.

  27. Leif
    Is there any pattern which links CME’s to Solar Cycles ie some of the biggest seem to occur at the peak of Solar Cycle activity

  28. Leif Svalgaard (23:37:22) : The effect is strongest on the night side and can span the whole norther ‘quartersphere’ and the southern too. [I just made coined a new word].
    Leif: you’d better copyright it PDQ, people make money out of inventing new words and names.

  29. There was broadcast a series of docudrama disasters on brit TV last year, I think. One of them was of course the end of the world due to CO² but the most probable was the enormous CME. As always there was as much drama as doc but never the less it did give a reasonable insight to what COULD happen. Brooklyn was saved by a rebel power station manager who blacked out the city just in time to save the transformers.
    The threat is real and IMHO more real than Anth global warming. The other program I saw recently was just as interesting and was from the good ole US of A on eartquakes They spent the whole program saying there are no computer models that can yet predict earthquakes and gave many reasons why. It was just like listening to the guys that contribute here and at CA. Realistic intelligent thought!!!
    WOW

  30. Thank you, Anthony and Robert W.
    I still disagree.
    The current grid is built, tuned and maintianed to cope with modern societies high expectations. It uses technologies that are designed to react to the need for instant clean electricity. It is also tuned to squeeze out every last watt and survive peak loads in all kinds of extreme weather conditions/system failures etc.
    There will be no other job around except to first get a basic power grid up and running first. That kind of grid will not need to be complex. It would service essential services first. Basic services only draws a fraction of the power that the rest of our modern society demands.
    I also disagree on transformer construction. Todays transformers are huge because they are efficient, work at extremely high voltages and built to last decades. In this situation you will be trying to build simpler smaller and easier to construct units. Basic transformers ain’t rocket engines.
    I also think raw materials will not be a problem. We have all been subconsciously saving those pennies, just in case a CME hits and we need them melted into copper wires for transformers. 😉

  31. If governments are made aware of the problem then they should be able to find the funds and / or regulations to put some safeguards into place – at least in critical supply nodes.. After all, look at what they’re doing now for AGW.
    I’m no expert on power mains transmissions but my understanding of the problem is that these VLF currents will saturate the transformer cores leading to massive overheating and a melt down.
    Power grids are vulnerable by design but protection from VLF currents may be possible if you can shunt the VLF currents to earth via large inductors. The inductance needs to be high enough to avoid 50 / 60 Hz leakage and the resistance needs to be very low to effectively protect the transformers. It would be very expensive but still possible. Another solution would be to use massive switches to physically disconnect the transmission grid when large DC was detected.
    I’m sure the experts can find solutions.

  32. We have all been subconsciously saving those pennies, just in case a CME hits and we need them melted into copper wires for transformers. 😉
    Pennies in the UK are made out of copper plated monkey metal these days.

  33. As this site is normally the first to shoot down scaremongering disaster theories, I’m disappointed that this story has featured here. It has all the features that these crackpots like to include. Old stuff will be ok, funded by NASA, yet no numbers on exactly how much current is induced in the cables, no hard science at all, just ‘what ifs’.
    For some reason they seem to think that tube electronics is more robust than semiconductors. I’m an electronics engineer, and I know that modern electronics is highly resistant to all sorts of induced power currents. It’s true that the chips in modern devices have millions of tiny transistors, but also integrated onto the die, are protection diodes which conduct overvoltage currents harmlessly away. This stuff is there to protect against static electricity discharges, which are going to be orders of magnitude greater than field from the earth’s magnetosphere.
    The earth’s magnetic field is tiny, and even if it collapsed completely, the electronics in your car isn’t going to be damaged. For crying out load, the car makes hundreds of 20kV sparks every second, and yet keeps on rolling.
    As for the electricity grid, maybe there is some risk that currents will be induced in the very long runs of cable. These long runs have large loop areas, although the loops are more ior less at right angles to the earth’s magnetic field. Whatever, the power companies have protection built in. The power goes off for a while. Then it comes back on. As if it could melt the transformer?! Read what happened in Quebec. No melted transformers. http://www.spaceweather.gc.ca/se-chr1-eng.php
    If the grid can stand lightning strikes, a geo-magnetic storm is merely going to be a inconvenience.
    When you’ve got an article with actual numbers in it, and calculations showing the currents through the transformer that melt them, fair enough. But keep this rubbish in Hollywood where it belongs.

  34. “I’m sure the experts can find solutions.”
    But only if they recognise the need. After the event, even finding the plans to build new gear is going to be difficult without access to all the CAD files. Catch-22 ?

  35. Wow,
    That could really be a huge problem. I think it would take six or eight weeks for private companies to put it right again. Of course, if the government owns all our electric production by that point, it could take ten or fifteen years to put it right. Acorn is really not great at that type of thing but I have a feeling they would get the contract. I can hardly wait to see the results of the new census.

  36. davidq (01:09:06) :
    The current grid is built, tuned and maintained to cope with modern societies high expectations. It uses technologies that are designed to react to the need for instant clean electricity. It is also tuned to squeeze out every last watt and survive peak loads in all kinds of extreme weather conditions/system failures etc.
    Anthony is right on this, and you don’t seem to understand the scale of devastation a Carrington level CME would bring to the grid infrastructure – the pulse of DC current would be immense – and is something the grid is not in any way designed to cope with. As Robert has datailed, just to repair/replace one big transformer can take over a year, and that is in a functioning ecomony. Telecommunications and control systems would also be severely damaged. Distribution of food and fuel would likely grind to a halt, bringing hunger and social unrest. If a big CME hit Europe or North America, we would have to hope that China was spared, so that they could divert their resources to rebuilding the west.
    David XKE (01:36:39) :
    I’m sure the experts can find solutions.
    I hope so too, but my concern is that the electricity utilities are no longer run by engineers (not in the UK anyway), and the management will be more likely to put their balance sheets before grid resiliance. As for this becoming a government priority, not much hope there if the politicians continue to take their scientific advice from people like Hansen.

  37. Clearly more money needed for research on the real dangers from the sun and less for imagined dangers of CO2.

  38. There are no very large transformers in stock. They are all specific purpose, custom designed and made to order.
    Forget solar power. Solar panels will be fried by CME’s.

  39. Well, combating threat of a CME should not cost too much, tinfoil for our heads and Faraday cages around all transformers, buildings, cars, etc. And the best thing about this is that the politicos will have something to spend our money on. Now that Global Warming is slowly evaporating under the heat of actual scientific fact a new flavor of panic needs to be hyped to keep funding coming down the trough.
    Well, combating the threat of a CME should not cost too much; tinfoil for our heads and Faraday cages around all transformers, buildings, cars, etc. should do the trick.
    But the best thing about this is that the politicos will have something new to spend our money on. Now that Global Warming is slowly evaporating under the heat of actual scientific fact a new flavor of panic needs to be hyped to keep funding coming down the trough.
    Next up: The earth’s crust is splitting apart! We’re all going to be subducted!

  40. “Might be a sunspot coming in the next couple of days. Check out stereo behind.”
    Tom,
    That bright spot has been teasing us for several days it seems like. It never really seems to move…it has me baffled.

  41. Symon 02:44.
    Studies have been done and commissioned by NASA. NASA are very concerned with CME’s because they have a huge effect on their hardware and personnel in space. A direct hit from the radiation from a CME could fry an astronaut on a space walk. There are hidey holes on the international space station for the astronauts to take shelter in if radiation from a CME is heading it’s way. They get minutes notice.
    Solar panels on space craft are deteriorated by CME radiation. The destruction of the Spacelab in 1979 is thought to be attributable to CME’s.
    Read the study James Marusek I posted earlier. Its many pages long.
    There have been incidents since the Carrington Flare. if you care to do a bit of research you will find the info. Most have struck before the modern day absolute reliance on electrical power.
    Leif Svalgaard – A solar Physicist admits the threat is real. He is not one for overstatement.

  42. Possible? Yes.
    Plausible? Yes.
    Likely? Not on that scale.
    I saw a movie 20 years ago, they built a ship and shot a nuke into the sun, and made the CME shoot off on the opposite direction of earth.. Lets do that.. Since we can meddle so well in earths environment and set the thermostat with CO2, lets set the Suns thermostat.
    Crazy..

    REPLY:
    Look at the title of this post, now consider a 100 megaton nuclear device in context to the energy of a CME. – Anthony

  43. This is a fascinating and disturbing article. It is clear that such an event could cause great damage, sickness, loss of life and even social conflict and mass riots.
    The report leaves us with a question:
    “….So what should be done? No one knows yet – the report is meant to spark that conversation. Baker is worried, though, that the odds are stacked against that conversation really getting started. As the NAS report notes, it is terribly difficult to inspire people to prepare for a potential crisis that has never happened before and may not happen for decades to come. “It takes a lot of effort to educate policy-makers, and that is especially true with these low-frequency events,” he says….”
    This problem is analogous to climate change. It is an unprecedented problem, not certain that something bad is going to happen any time soon, could be enormously costly, and the cost of preventive measures can also be large. Very likely some half measures for prevention will be taken, just to make the public feel good.
    I wonder what the cost of having back up transformers for fast repair of the system at every facility would be.

  44. I wonder what will happen to:
    1. windmills
    2. solar panels
    3. satellites
    I also wonder the cause of death of “millions of Americans” as stated in the posting?

  45. Edward Maunder wrote:
    “In November of 1882, a monster sunspot easily visible to the naked eye, crossed the sun and when it was about halfway across, on November 17th, a very violent magnetic storm, as these agitations of the magnetic needle are called, occurred … ten years later, in February 1892, a still greater spot … appeared upon the sun, and when it had passed a little to the left of sun’s centre … a still more violent magnetic storm occurred than in 1882. This great spot passed off the sun, and returning to the eastern edge, again crossed the sun’s disc. When it arrived at the same distance from the centre of the sun, there suddenly broke out again upon the earth a great magnetic storm. Eleven years later, in October 1903, yet another giant sunspot appeared … and there was a magnetic storm but not a violent one … but a fortnight later when an important, but smaller, spot had got into the central position of the sun’s disc, a magnetic storm burst suddenly … the most violent that has been experienced in the memory of man.”
    ( ? ! )

  46. Les (03:13:43), your link to James Marusek’s paper doesn’t work – I assume this is it:
    http://personals.galaxyinternet.net/tunga/SSTA.pdf
    Symon (02:44:23) :
    Whatever, the power companies have protection built in. The power goes off for a while. Then it comes back on. As if it could melt the transformer?! Read what happened in Quebec. http://www.spaceweather.gc.ca/se-chr1-eng.php
    Marusek’s paper states that the 1989 storm did permanently damage transformers in Quebec and New Jersey, and a March 2003 storm did the same in South Africa (page 9).

  47. Did the authors of that report all live in cities? Wood stoves would keep working, backpacking water filters would keep working, some diary farms are now producing their own electricity by burning methane produced in manure digesters. As long as they weren’t connected to the grid at the time they ought to ride out the storm fine.
    Rebuilding the nation starting with a bunch of people living off the grid on wind, solar, wood, and small hydro could be a nice second chance. 🙂

  48. Oh and add this to the list of impending disasters that will wipe humanity off the face of the Earth:
    1)ICME
    2)Global Warming-runaway heating until we become like Venus
    3)Global Cooling-ice age
    4)Asteroid impact
    5)Yellowstone or some other massive vulcanic eruption
    6)Earth reversing magnetic poles
    7)Alien invasion (LOL)
    8)Sun goes supernova
    9)Sun collapses and becomes a black hole
    /sarc on
    Seriously, how can anyone sleep at night with all these impending disasters?????
    /sarc off
    I don’t have time to worry about every single unstoppable disaster that can come our way.

  49. I love SpaceWeather.com. They really are ‘rooting’ for sunspots.
    “A “proto-sunspot” is struggling to emerge at the circled location. If it coelesces (sic), its high latitude would make it a member of new Solar Cycle 24.”
    Nice to know that the sunspot is ‘struggling’ — it apparently has a ‘will to live’ and the mean old Sun is suppressing it.
    What we need to do is put a huge lead shield in geostationary orbit to protect against this new threat. It would also reduce sunlight and help the ‘fight’ against climate change. A twofer fer sure!
    Then, all we have to worry about is the occasional asteroid strike, a ‘Super Volcano eruption’ at Yellowstone, the ‘Killer Bug’ from the Amazon, ….

  50. Would it be correct to assume that the chances of an event of this nature are greater following a solar “lull” such as we are experiencing now? As far as the sun is concerned, I take it we are in relatively uncharted territory right now are we not? Would it not be prudent to prepare for such an event? Just how much more likely is this scenario versus any kind of AGW doom?
    BTW ’90 Jetta turbo diesel. I’m going to shield my spare alternator! (And break out the tin foil hats) lol

  51. This doom and gloom scenario will only effect the USA and possibly Canada. This is because of the mickey mouse electrical distribution system held together by Mc Gyver’s bit of string and chewing gum.
    Apparently, the U.S. have yet to discover things like circuitbreakers, load/voltage monitoring, fuses etc. Everytime they have an electrical problem on the Starship Enterprise, that Nuclear sub on voyage to the bottom of the sea, or in a Skyscraper depicited in those factually correct movies, there are much sparks, explosions, fires and billions of tons of CO2 emitting fire extinguishers.
    And they apparently build their houses out of wood ???
    Well, at least you have a large variety of oddball religious cults to fall back on, AGW included. (Even Leif seems to be a closet religious scientist, looking at his recent posts…..;).. )
    Don’t worry though USA, I’m sure Batman or Superman will come and save you all!!

  52. Faraday Cages Will NOT WORK!
    The problem with a large CME is not puny electric fields rapidly fluctuating — it is very large amounts of magnetic flux — fluctuating relatively slowly — these essentially DC Magnetic fluxes will happily penetrate your Faraday Shield
    There is no defense short of an “astrodome” made of superconducting material over the entire target area (quarter hemisphere) and a ground plane underneath (a sort of superconducting “tupperware bowl”) — to hold out against the persistent magnetic flux — the superconductor will need to be cooled to very low temperatures as high magnetic fields lower the superconducting to normal transition temperature
    A somewhat more serious solution — no big loops — replace all high voltage AC grids with their 100 km long elevated lines with buried low voltage DC coaxial superconducting lines interconnecting between local generation (naval nuclear and fuel cells) supplemented with superconducting energy storage and isolation switches — the good news is that if we monitor the Sun-Earth environment continuously we would have ample warning to disconnect the grid and switch to local stored energy — these CMEs move quite slowly compared to the speed of light
    If we divert the entire stimulus package to this then all physicists, a lot of electrical engineers and lots of ditch diggers will be fully employed for a few decades while the Sun is in hiatus (Dalton II?) and when things get active again — we will be ready
    As an aside — this past winter we had a rather severe ice storm in New Hampshire, Central Massachusetts, and some upstate NY — some people had no power for two weeks due to loss of wires and local on-the-pole transformers

  53. Seize the day, chaps. Beat up this threat for all you are worth! If the teat-suckers move their activities from AGW scare-mongering to mad-bad-Sun scaremongering, you win.

  54. Leif Svalgaard (20:58:06) :
    . . . The threat is real.
    Symon (02:44:23) :
    . . . When you’ve got an article with actual numbers in it, and calculations showing the currents through the transformer that melt them, fair enough. But keep this rubbish in Hollywood where it belongs.

    Let the debate begin!

    Anthony: Note: A number of people sent this to me. . .

    Is your email address anywhere on this site? How would we send you anything?
    /Mr Lynn

  55. If a calamity such as this were to occur, with all electrical power and most transportation wiped out in our country, does anyone really think that people are going to stay nice and polite, help their neighbor and work together to rebuild anything? Har, har! Think “Mad Max”. The violence would be sudden and intense with wide-spread rioting. First as the have-nots see a chance to have, swiftly followed by food riots with people desperate to survive. With communication and transportation largely gone, law enforcement and military will be helpless to contain it. The strong and armed will quickly overcome the weak and unarmed. Within a short time the cities will become dead zones. Millions will die the first month. Not even the survivalist types out in the country, who may be prepared for this, will be immune as groups of heavily-armed raiders in vintage vehicles find them.
    But, on the bright side, overpopulation won’t be a problem. 😛

  56. Sun going supernova – impossible, sol isn’t massive enough.
    Sun becoming a black hole or neutron star – same as above.
    Sun going nova – not for billions of years.
    Velikovsky scenario – physically impossible.
    Comet or asteroid impact – OK, this is actually possible, just highly unlikely any given year. People are working on this one.
    CME – Also possible, also unlikely any given year. Upgrade the robustness of our infrastructure over time, and we’re covered. As a side benefit, deliberate EMP attacks are also neutralized.
    Symon, can modern electronic take an EMP attack? That’s basically the effect a CME will have.

  57. Having worked as a lineman in my youth, and working exclusively on a line construction crew, I can assure you – no way is there enough “back up” transformers to replace ones currently in service. Not by a long, long, long shot. Transformers are very expensive. And, dang, are they heavy!
    To imagine a loss of ALL power plants simultaneously… Dear God! I have a task for all the naysayers. Go out and drive around. Count the transformers, repeaters, inverters, etc. you see. Keep counting. Drive around the entire U.S.A. and keep counting. Oh, be sure to visit every sub-station while you’re at it. And you’ll have to hit the switching stations, too. I think it’s nearly impossible for people to fully understand how MASSIVE the electrical grid has become. Massive.
    Years ago I left the power companies for the telecom industry. I can assure you that it is equally impossible for people to grasp the nation’s telecommunications grid either. Trust me on that. If the event mentioned in this blog were to happen, you can kiss your phones goodbye. For decades. Sure, there’d be places coming up within a few months/years, but they would be tiny isolated patches. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw a stockpile of 5ESS and DMS equipment lying around? I mean like heaps and mounds of optical carrier equipment?
    Y’all, large portions of Florida are still using T1 equipment from the 60’s and 70’s. It’s a hodgepodge already. It’d be a nightmare to reoutfit (is that a word?) all the central offices around the country. Example: St. Pete Main CO uses a huge GTD-5 with multiple 5ESS and DMS switches simultaneously. Last I was there – all the CO’s were still using D4 cards engineered before I was born. I’m 40. Heck, some of those old cards may actually have been service all that time! It’s conceivable. Say bye-bye to all that.
    And, kiddies, the final question of the day: what makes the “internet” go round and round?

  58. Just finished a book about something similar. It’s titled “One Second After” by William R. Forstchetn. It was an EMP thing in the book, but the aftermath of a CME could be similar. The book covers what happens after the event. It really provided a lot of food for thought.

  59. Soooo – if this does happen, what happens to all those nuclear reactors?
    And all those planes in the air?
    As for the repairs – with no power to manufacture anything and no transport to move anything anywere if you can get it all up and running in 12 months I’ll be amazed.

  60. I’m not worried. My tin foil hat not only protects me from cell phone radiation but also acts as a Faraday cage. I’ve tested it in lighting storms and the most direct strikes have only produced short term paralysis.

  61. Question: During the time Carrington discovered the CME, what was the condition of our sun? What was the state of sunspot cycle? Since our sun is currently very quiet does it follow that all the energy normally released during a sun spot cycle gets stored in the sun but just waiting to be released in a massive CME?

  62. The last time was 1859? Wow. Less than 80 years before I was born! This is a far more real threat to present-day global life than the endless supervolcanoes, supertornados, superearthquakes, supertsunamis and supernightmares of Nat Geo and Discovery. Yet some of the country folk living with their goats off the land just a few dozen miles from me would not feel a thing! I would be moving in with them while something remains in the car’s tank. Except no electronics = no car. Reminder to self: Tell Son-in-Law to keep the tank of his 1928 Ford filled.
    Geoff Alder

  63. *******
    David XKE (01:36:39) :
    Another solution would be to use massive switches to physically disconnect the transmission grid when large DC was detected.
    *******
    This is a question — I’m not sure how much protection this would provide. Even completely isolated transformers would still have currents induced in their cores from an EMP event, tho it would be less current than one that was connected.
    I like your inductor idea.

  64. Regardless of how many weeks it would take to remedy the electrical problem, it will be too late. If it happens in the winter, food sources will last longer. We live in a valley where a shutdown of the interstate for a couple of days due to snow means grocers’ shelves going bare. Within 2-3 days people in cities will be killing for food, how many more days before cannibalism sets in? I would bet a week at most. I guess the winter would be the best scenerio for survival of anyone, at least those who freeze to death would be preserved as food for the survivors. Our ‘civilization’ is a thin veneer indeed.
    (Sorry if this is posted more than once, I submited it 4X, got a /”page not available”, satellite can’t get through the storm (dish is clear), 6″ in one hour of AGW precip.)

  65. And, kiddies, the final question of the day: what makes the “internet” go round and round?
    OK, now I am scared
    No more arguments with Leif, no more laughs with Smokey, no more laughs at foinavon.
    We better exchange some last banter before the &*$(BZZZZZTTTT… NO CARRIER

  66. Not a problem really. We’ll simply “cross circuit to ‘B’ ” . It always worked for Mr. Spock…
    The EMP burst was the scenario that kicked off a Soviet Surprise attack. A FOBS system disguised to look like a satellite launch gone bad detonates a 100MT burst over the central US, sending out an EMP wave that takes our comm grid down across the country. At the same time a Soviet Nuke sub lying off the Chesapeake launches missiles at DC and environs that, if you see it coming out of the water you have 15 minutes to prepare, takes out the military around the Pentagon and up and down the East coast. This is followed by an ICBM launch and Bomber sorties..

  67. Richard deSousa (07:15:03) :
    Question: During the time Carrington discovered the CME, what was the condition of our sun? What was the state of sunspot cycle? Since our sun is currently very quiet does it follow that all the energy normally released during a sun spot cycle gets stored in the sun but just waiting to be released in a massive CME?

    These are approx non smoothed (actual) SS numbers recorded for dates mentioned in the Edward Maunder’s dates; see post vukcevic (04:33:35) :
    November 1892 -84 (cycle max -86)
    February 1992 – 75 (cycle max – 129 (?))
    October 1903 – 39 (cycle max – 108)
    All occurring before cycle max (on up slope).
    Dr Svalgaard may be more accurate
    This means that a number of geostationary (and any other exposed) satellites would be knocked out. Communications and GPS would be lost, and that may take a while to replace.

  68. @Larry, since the ‘Limited Test Ban Treaty’ it’s difficult to test what effect the EMP will have! According to this article, http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm, “Small, isolated, systems tend to be unaffected.” so your cell phone, car, aeroplane etc. will carry on working just fine. Also, in the case of an EMP, the article says “the greatest damage … produced is from about 3 to 8 km from ground zero.” As everything here will be destroyed in the blast wave, the EMP isn’t the biggest problem. There is mainly a threat to long cables like power distribution systems, but I would be surprised if it was any worse than a lightning strike. The rapid rise time, maybe a few nanoseconds, is the problem with EMPs, which is completely different from any effect that a CME would have.

  69. This seems like something we should have contingencies for. Manual water pumping stations, to sustain until the power to the pumps can be restored. Army engineers could be trained to hook solar panels to the water pumps to keep them going until power could be restored, hospitals can be outfitted with solar and wind to minimize the amount of time it takes to get electrical back on line. It would take far less time to go to the roof and hook power directly to the hospital than it would to build the grid. The main problem is, does this only affect a portion of the world? If it does, how does the other portion react to the helplessness of the other portion?

  70. In other news, a woman recently bought 3 live atlantic lobsters in a Vancouver region supermarket and released them in the Pacific on humanitarian ground…

  71. My feeling is that we tend to overestimate bad effects and underestimate potential to recover. Nonetheless it would be pretty darn bad if something like this happened.

  72. This report has to be a top contender for the Junk Science Award for 2009.
    Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127001.300-space-storm-alert-90-seconds-from-catastrophe.html?full=true
    And please don’t miss the obligatory editorial which must accompany this news worthy event.
    We must heed the threat of solar storms
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127003.100-space-weather-warning.html
    What a crock of donkey dust, if only there were sunspots on the real Sun! You can down the entire PDF report for free here but don’t give the NAP you real Email address as it is not needed and please use your very creative imaginations when fabricating an Email account.
    Severe Space Weather Events–Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts, Workshop Report
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12507
    I could go on at length with what is wrong with this bit of trash but I will let the following line speak for itself:
    The DOD is striving to increase the sampling of the space weather environment for the coming solar maximum (in 2011-2012) and beyond.
    Solar maximum in 2011-2012 are they kidding? It would be easy to blame Dr. Hathaway for this but they don’t even mention his name. SWPC is referenced frequently but I was unable to find any hard data from the Prediction Panel. The ham radio operators should read this a work of fiction forecasting happier days. In any case, the end-of-days true believers are happy with the report:
    BLOG: As in the days of Noah
    SPACE STORM ALERT: “We’re moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster
    http://asinthedaysofnoah.blogspot.com/2009/03/space-storm-alertwere-moving-closer-and.html
    Our taxpayer dollars at work! But then, never let a good emergency go to waist.
    Mike

  73. Some people would welcome the end of industrialization. At least until they actually had to live in a world that was trying to get back to the 18th Century.

  74. Pearland Aggie (06:31:49) :
    looks like there is a new sunspot…
    Look again…14:27 image, it’s gone already.

  75. beng (07:37:35) :
    *******
    David XKE (01:36:39) :
    Another solution would be to use massive switches to physically disconnect the transmission grid when large DC was detected.
    *******
    This is a question — I’m not sure how much protection this would provide. Even completely isolated transformers would still have currents induced in their cores from an EMP event, tho it would be less current than one that was connected.

    Could the transformers be earthed to dissipate the flux?

  76. Lee (21:23:18) :
    I’ve got to believe that’s worse than a million-to-one shot.

    And people somehow win the lottery too!

    davidq (21:12:23) :
    It is full of very weak assumptions.

    Not so very weak as this sort of event HAS happened before.
    Now I admit that the odds are slim, and I also believe that we could get through it (painfully, but successfully), but I don’t really think one can simply dismiss this threat. It is very real, it will happen again someday. The good news is that the odds of it happening in YOUR lifetime is pretty minuscule. I like this article not because of the “what if” or the “it could” impact, but more for the mortality aspect. As one blogger previously wrote, “we are but along for the ride”, and he/she is absolutely correct. Human kind is not even a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things, and I’m not even equating the “grand scheme” to be anything outside of our own solar system. Just on our own planet alone, man equates to absolutely nothing and can become extinct in the blink of an eye with absolutely no control over his destiny. I think one interesting trait of humans is this tendency to believe we are capable of anything, and that we have more control over our surroundings and our destiny than we really do. Folks, we are not even ants on an ant hill. This notion that we are so powerful, have so much control, have so much effect, is simply arrogant. Be humble people, you will find that nature is a whole lot more powerful than you give her credit. She can wipe you out without even taking a breath!

  77. Robert Bateman (21:51:01) :
    What lights up the un-Sunlit portion of the Moon is the gigantuous horde of outdoor lighting that we burn immense quantities of resources to power up.

    No, that’s me doing that. I thought people liked it! I guess I’ll put the flashlight away and save my batteries.
    😉

  78. The NASA article suggests that a Carrington level event has a return period of about 500 years – http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/06may_carringtonflare.htm – but they admit that they don’t have much data to base this estimate on. Protecting the grid tranformers from a major CME event would be expensive, but I hope that in the meantime the grid control engineers will be keeping an eye on geomagnetic activity e.g. http://www.dcs.lancs.ac.uk/iono/aurorawatch/rt_activity/ so they can at least try to shut down what they can.

  79. David XKE (01:36:39) :
    Another solution would be to use massive switches to physically disconnect the transmission grid when large DC was detected.

    There are switches, and they are massive. That’s how they switch electricity around the country; they just don’t often do it for the big transmission lines. There are also switches scattered around your neighborhood; many of the manual ones have metal rods running down the side of the pole and you haven’t noticed what they are for.
    A lot of this speculation is unjustified, as it assumes that power companies will be unexpectedly wiped out. Power and telephone companies have been aware of large-scale voltage anomalies for a long time. I don’t know how well they monitor solar events and what their contingency plans are, but they do have the technical ability to disconnect major parts of their grid within seconds (with less damage if they can do controlled shutdowns over a period of a few hours). Any power company where someone orders a shutdown before an EMP will have a lot of equipment which will still work. If the federal government has time to order them all to shut down then there will be a lot of functional equipment which can be repositioned as necessary during restarting. (How to reposition? Probably with diesel trucks which were turned off inside warehouse loading docks.)

  80. davidq (22:33:45) :
    and Anthony..

    I think one thing that David may not be considering, we would not have electricity at that point. Would that not hamper our ability to do several things, 1) manufacture the parts themselves, 2) round up the masses and organize this “can do” (no tv, no radio). There is a lot more here than just missing parts, you will also have missing ENERGY! You are going to find it difficult to manufacture those missing parts without the ENERGY! Can be done, but very difficult!

  81. I’m curious how would magnetic media be affected by massive CME & power grid overload?
    a) Hard drives in computers?
    b) How about Hard drives with data on them, but disconnected and sitting on a shelf?
    c) How many databases are using tapes as backup? How will backup tapes sitting on a shelf be effected?
    d) I suspect closed (burned) DVDs and CD’s might still be playable, as the data is encoded and physically etched into the disk. But then of course the problem is getting a computer up and running.

  82. Robert W (23:01:11) :
    Referencing the following Reply from Anthony:

    Still, I continue to get the feeling that people are assuming that there will be energy available to even do the repair. Where are you going to get the necessary energy for that? I could see a real problem here, how do you start up energy again just to begin to manufacture and repair things? I think the first steps would be perhaps the most difficult and time consuming. Everyone keeps talking about manufacturing and repairing this equipment as if energy would be available as it is right now. That would not be the case! No, I think some people are missing some key points here. A situation like this would be a mess to say the very least!
    REPLY: You are correct of course. I had thought of that also last night, but was too tired to post again. For example, let’s say Asia didn’t get hit badly and they were still able to produce transformers. Just getting them off the ship here would be difficult without those giant dock cranes which I believe are electrically powered. – Anthony

  83. Richard Heg (00:24:12) :

    Yes, and now we get to the fuel subject. Here in Nashville last year, we had a pretty severe fuel shortage for a few days that was caused by nothing more than panic. It was really rather comical. But, this brings another topic into the repair/energy subject. I think you would find a massive fuel shortage within just a day or two. This goes to compound even further what I have posted before.

  84. REPLY: You are correct of course. I had thought of that also last night, but was too tired to post again. For example, let’s say Asia didn’t get hit badly and they were still able to produce transformers. Just getting them off the ship here would be difficult without those giant dock cranes which I believe are electrically powered. – Anthony

    And then one must consider my most recent post as well. Petroleum fuels would deplete extremely quickly, so even if you could get them off of a boat somewhere, how are you going to move them around the country?
    There are so many factors that play in to this that I don’t think some people really realize. There are many things that will produce “domino effects” as well. People tend to forget how dependent we are upon some very basic forms of energy. If you take out even the smallest of elements within that energy chain, a total collapse is almost imminent.
    I just hope this never happens in any of our life times. I think people should appreciate more of what they really have, begin to treat themselves, their neighbors and their environment will a little more respect. IMHO…

  85. Couple of points. Magnetic storms (and CMEs) happen all the time. It really would take an event of historic magnitude to have the claimed effects. On the other hand, I didn’t know of this so-called Carrington event; I had thought that probably the largest magnetic event recorded came from ancient Greek times. Aristotle records what can only be an aurora over Athens, Greece. Athens would be at about 30 degrees magnetic latitude.
    Second point. I used to work on the ISTP project. I used to work with a couple of those guys. I know Jim Green and Dan Baker, for example. They always seemed like sensible people; maybe the New Scientist article sort of threw some extra speculation in, but neither of those guys seemed prone to exaggerated claims.

  86. Gary (06:31:51) :
    > And, kiddies, the final question of the day: what makes the “internet” go round and round?
    Fiber optics!
    REPLY: But only on the backbones. The rest at the end nodes is still mostly copper. DSL and cable modems rule. – Anthony

  87. There’s enough misleading statements in the article that is would require a very long post to consider them. But mainly, the problem would be seen only in the 765-500 Lv long lines and there connected substations. Maybe in the 345 Kv’s as well. The distribution and subtransmission connected transformers would be a very little risk. There are “big switches”-called cirduit breakers-that would disconnect the transformers from a dc current threat if the relaying “see;s” them. Many of the newer relaying that is hormonic sensitve would. The threat is that the transformers are connected to long EHV lines that act as antenna to the EMF not that a pulse can induce core currents of any magnitude on its own.
    Regardless, it appears that a coordinated terrorist strike with RPGs on (say) 30-50 selected major substations would have the same effect?

  88. Sorry for the typo’s in the above. It should read “Kv” not “Lv” and “their” not “there”, “circuit” not “cirduit”, etc.

  89. I’m fortunate to live in a state that is also its own electrical grid, namely Texas. We’re far enough south that the cranes will likely work at our docks, bring ’em here, Anthony!
    The real risk is anything that sizably disrupts the JIT delivery systems that our society depends on. The big-box stores that feed most small cities and large towns are stocked for three days’ worth of sales, in a panic they won’t last that long. There is a Target distribution center about 50 miles down the interstate, assuming people could get at that, there’s maybe another week or two of stores there. Our economy is beginning to resemble biology in that life is in the movement of things, most of us don’t eat food we grow, we eat things from hundreds or thousands of miles away. While this is spectacular and makes our lives (and diets) rich a

  90. Responding to the comments that this type of an event is either a total disaster or a non-event! Just as in the debate over Global Warming, without valid data or a valid interpretation of the data you have the typical computer problem “garbage in = garbage out”. Without knowing how long, how intense and what part of the earth is facing the sun(the oceans versus the land masses) a solar event and how it affects the power grid is either a non-event or a major long term problem. As some of the other comments have stated there are protective devices on the power grid. These devices are specifically designed to and in fact have protected large expensive power transformers from damage due to high DC current flow by disconnecting them from the power grid(once a transformer is isolated from the grid no AC or DC current can flow through it) . This occurred in the NorthWest power grid when BC Hydro in Canada had their power system shut down due to a solar storm. This particular storm was forecast in advance, power system operators were given notice, but outages of equipment did occur, though having very little impact on the NorthWest power grid. So this begs the question does the power grid have adequate protection from this type of event whether the solar event is small, medium, or very large? To know we must have valid data about the anticipated event, without that information we are still guess-timating what will happen. To date a lot has been done to protect the power grid(from valid problems that valid data has shown will occur) and this protection does work as designed but as is very clear from the comments on this topic and Global Warming what the existing data shows is not a static but a very dynamic constantly changing process. The sky is-not-falling yet!

  91. davidq (01:09:06) :

    David, again, I think you are missing so very many key issues here that will impact your rebuilding plan. Even if you had all of the copper and other resources sitting at your feet, how are you going to turn those in to transformers and other products without the basic energy required to do so? Not to mention so many other factors, like the fact that you are going to become very hungry by lunch time and there won’t be any lunch there for you to eat! .. .. the list goes on and on and on. I think you are being extremely short sighted here.

  92. Squidly (09:26:16) :

    Robert W (23:01:11) :
    Referencing the following Reply from Anthony:
    Still, I continue to get the feeling that people are assuming that there will be energy available to even do the repair. Where are you going to get the necessary energy for that?
    REPLY: You are correct of course. I had thought of that also last night, but was too tired to post again. For example, let’s say Asia didn’t get hit badly and they were still able to produce transformers. Just getting them off the ship here would be difficult without those giant dock cranes which I believe are electrically powered. – Anthony

    First, if I understand the physics, the damage to transformers and what not come from current surges on the power lines, not geomagnetic field changes in the volume of the transformer. Circuit breakers may not have the reaction time or can handle the voltages present when they try to open. We need a power grid person to explain it all.
    After the Great Ice Storm of 1998 that pulled down high tension towers in Quebec, some towns brought in diesel locomotives and plugged them into the towns’ power lines. The locomotives use a diesel engine to produce electricty (AC) to run the motors that turn the wheels, so it’s pretty easy to tap into a locomotive.
    There should be plenty available at the dockyards.
    As for moving things around,
    http://ntlsearch.bts.gov/tris/record/tris/00806111.html says in part

    Geomagnetic storms are the result of the interaction of solar mass ejections with the earth’s magnetic field. These storms can place risk on the reliability of expansive metallic ground based systems located in the upper latitudes, such as electrical transmission grids, pipelines, communication circuits and railroads.

    http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/pr94/dec94/solarw.html says the 1989 storm did damage railroads.
    BTW, telegraph lines were affected more than the rails, as one might guess, and their involvement help support the theory that the aurora was an electrical disturbance:
    http://www.solarstorms.org/SS1859.html

    Friday morning last, the morning of the last auroral borealis, the operators of the National Telegraph office in Washington City found, on going to their business, a series of electrical currents, entirely independent of the batteries, in possession of the wires. These currents seem to have been manageable, for the operators actually went to work and send messages from New York to Pittsburg, PA., correctly without the use of a particle of galvanic battery, using this independent electricity of the air in the place of that supplied by the ordinary batteries … [New Orleans Daily Picayune, September 9, 1859].
    In addition to the technological issues posed by these ‘earth currents’ entering the telegraph lines, was the very real potential for direct human injury. The most spectacular, and now legendary, story is told by Frederick Royce: a telegraph operator working in Washington DC. at his station between 8 and 10 PM. ” I did not know that the Aurora had made its appearance until 8 or 81/2 o’clock. I had been working ‘combination’ to Richmond, and had great difficulty from the changing of the current. It seemed as if there was a storm at ‘Richmond’. Concluding that this was the case, I abandoned that wire and tried to work the Northern wire, but met with the same difficulty. For five or ten minutes I would have no trouble, then the current would change and become so weak that it could hardly be felt. It would then gradually change to a ‘ground’ so strong that I could not lift the magnet. While the Aurora lasted the same phenomena were observable. There was no rattling or cracking of the magnet, as is the case in a thunder storm. I looked at the paper between the arrestors, but found no holes. Philadelphia divided the circuit at the request of New York, and we succeeded in getting off what business we had. The Aurora disappeared a little after 10 o’clock – after which we had no difficulty, and we worked through to New York. During the display I was calling Richmond, and had one hand on the iron plate. Happening to lean towards the sounder, which is against the wall, my forehead grazed a ground-wire which runs down the wall near the sounder. Immediately, I received a very severe electric shock, which stunned me for an instant. An old man who was sitting facing me, and but a few feet distant, said that he saw a spark of fire jump from my forehead to the sounder. The Morse line experienced the same difficulty in working.” [New York Times, Sept. 5, 1859]

  93. Has anyone seen the Movie “Knowing” yet? The basis of the movie is on the same subject. The Sun has an intense radiation burst and it fries the Earth.. Leif, is this similiar to what you are referring to??

  94. Ric Werme (09:46:30) :

    Gary (06:31:51) :
    > And, kiddies, the final question of the day: what makes the “internet” go round and round?
    Fiber optics!
    REPLY: But only on the backbones. The rest at the end nodes is still mostly copper. DSL and cable modems rule. – Anthony

    My comment was somewhat tongue in cheek, as you likely guessed. Comcast does run fiber down my street, Verizon FIOS runs fiber into some homes in Massachusetts. Unless the cable includes copper wiring for powering the interface hardware, it won’t have to worry about induced current. The long backbone lines are the ones that benefit most by being fiber, of course.
    Comcast’s hub for my town is at the town dump, err, transfer station. It has a backup generator that a pickup could pull. I don’t know how many hours that provides power, nor do I know if it powers the pole mounted interfaces. During a power failure I think we have cable and Internet service for several hours, which is longer than I can keep my stuff up.

  95. Pearland Aggie (09:09:57) :
    wow….it was there…i swear it was! 🙂
    I thought I saw it, and I ran to get some screen cleaner and it was gone when I got back…LOL
    From what I could tell, it sprung from the same magnetic region that the speck showed up in 4 days ago. I wonder…is it normal for “23/25 speck” to be followed by a 24 speck in the same spot? Lief? anyone? Is it possible that it’s the same speck and we couldn’t see it for a few days?

  96. Symon (02:44:23)
    ‘As for the electricity grid, maybe there is some risk that currents will be induced in the very long runs of cable. These long runs have large loop areas, although the loops are more ior less at right angles to the earth’s magnetic field. Whatever, the power companies have protection built in. The power goes off for a while. Then it comes back on. As if it could melt the transformer?! Read what happened in Quebec. No melted transformers. http://www.spaceweather.gc.ca/se-chr1-eng.php
    If the grid can stand lightning strikes, a geo-magnetic storm is merely going to be a inconvenience.
    When you’ve got an article with actual numbers in it, and calculations showing the currents through the transformer that melt them, fair enough. But keep this rubbish in Hollywood where it belongs.’
    HERE
    “Only a few amps are needed to disrupt transformer operation, but over 200 amps have been measured in the grounding connections of transformers in affected areas. Unlike threats due to ordinary weather, Space Weather can readily create large-scale problems because the footprint of a storm can extend across a continent. As a result, simultaneous widespread stress occurs across a power grid to the point where widespread failures and even regional blackouts may occur. Systems in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere are at increased risk because Auroral activity and its effects center on the magnetic poles. North America is particularly exposed to these storm events because the Earth’s magnetic north pole tilts toward this region and therefore brings it closer to the dense critical power grid infrastructure across the continent.”
    http://www.metatechcorp.com/aps/AAAS_Press_Brief.htm
    NOAA Space Weather Scale for Geomagnetic Storms
    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/

  97. Steve M. (10:39:34) :
    Is it possible that it’s the same speck and we couldn’t see it for a few days?
    The important object is the ‘active region’ [magnetic field] and that is the same. It may have a speck/spot on and off.

  98. “REPLY: Large electrical power transformers of the type used at major substations are not something stocked in large quantity in this country. They tend to have long service lifespans and thus are usually made to order. Here is an example of one that failed in New York that dropped capacity by 300 megawatts and took from June to August 1999 for repair.”
    Power plants provide power to substations via large main power transformers at the power plants that would probably fail unless the electrical surge would automatically trip the curcuit breakers before being damaged.

  99. Sure, a CME event would be a real problem. But, almost certainly “the rules”
    would be suspended, and things would get done. There would be no grievance
    procedures for working more than 8 hours a day, no EPA rules about transport
    of cooling oil in a commercial truck that did not have proper signage, and
    similar crap that makes manufacturing difficult in the US.
    I could make good, multi-KVA, but not high efficiency, transformers
    using 55 gallon drums, crude oil, scrap iron, bricks and wire pulled down
    from the (no longer working) electrical distribution grid. No reason to waste
    time putting them way up there on poles, either. A few thousand people
    like me, and a society that does not whine, sue, and complain at the drop of
    a hat, and the problem would be solved in a few months.
    Labor would be no problem. If “the rules” were suspended, there would be a
    million lawyers, school administrators, and mid-management duds available
    to be electricians.

  100. Symon (02:44:23) :

    When you’ve got an article with actual numbers in it, and calculations showing the currents through the transformer that melt them, fair enough. But keep this rubbish in Hollywood where it belongs.

    Well, the figures are in dollars, and there are no calculations, but there is a neat photo of a fried power plant step-up transformer at
    http://www.spacew.com/gic/index.html

    Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) in New Jersey suffered serious damage to a bank of single-phase generator step-up transformers at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station. The damage was not investigated until 24 March when samples of the transformer oil found high levels of dissolved gases representative of internal damage. The presence of acetylene also implied that a significant failure was imminent (2). The transformer was immediately removed from service. Subsequent internal inspections revealed severe transformer damage and conductor overheating (image below).
    The cost to PSE&G for replacing this transformer was on the order of several million U.S. dollars. The cost of replacement energy during the time the transformer was taken out of service was about $400,000 a day for 6 weeks (3), or approximately ~16.8 million dollars. The net cost for PSE&G was therefore over 20 million. Other companies across the continent also experienced significant anomalies, but we have concentrated on these two companies since they were on the higher end of costly effects for this event.

  101. DJ (10:23:43) :
    Has anyone seen the Movie “Knowing” yet? The basis of the movie is on the same subject. The Sun has an intense radiation burst and it fries the Earth.. Leif, is this similiar to what you are referring to??
    I think the movie was called The Day after the Day after Tomorrow starring Dennis ‘Leif’ Quaid 😉

  102. AndyR (12:15:31) :
    The Sun has an intense radiation burst and it fries the Earth.. Leif, is this similiar to what you are referring to??
    No. The strong magnetic field and the fast solar wind associated with a ‘Carrington Event’ induce rapidly changing currents in the upper atmosphere of the Earth and the rapidly changing magnetic fields caused by the currents in turn induce strong currents in long conductors [power lines] running east-west. These currents fry transformers etc.

  103. Ohioholic (12:54:29) :
    Is this an image of a CME on the other side of the sun? I am not sure what this picture represents.
    No, it is a ‘coronal streamer’, which is divider between two regions with oppositely directed magnetic field. See, e.g.: http://books.google.com/books?id=e87NI_o2AUUC&pg=PA248&lpg=PA248&dq=coronal+streamer&source=bl&ots=QiBfKgBxOE&sig=iIEZj4hpZGOtp0dV9geT-ENgOJ4&hl=en&ei=Ne_LSa6jMpGUsAOn5LSjCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result

  104. Just when my investment portfolio looked like it was beginning to turn around…
    The events described seem credible. But in this case I wonder if nature outranks humans as the greater threat. The scenarios of three or so decades ago had nuclear weapons as the cause. That would still make sense.
    My understanding is that a few, strategically ground-based nuclear weapons, or a single, high-altitude burst would accomplish the same thing that the writer describes so well above.
    From “How Stuff Works” http://science.howstuffworks.com/e-bomb.htm

    The U.S. military has been pursuing the idea of an e-bomb for decades, and many believe it now has such a weapon in its arsenal. On the other end of the scale, terrorist groups could be building low-tech e-bombs to inflict massive damage on the United States.

    If, as stated, an electromagnetic pulse is a catastophic event for developed countries, it would seem a natural choice for terrorists, who would love to see the Great Satan hoist on the petard of its own technology.
    So many apocalyptic futures… so little time to keep track of them. A good one for fellow hand-wringers is Cormack McCarthy’s gruesome The Road)

  105. Having worked in emergency management, and as an emergency planner during the late 1970’s into the early 1990’s I have some comments on the above.
    Comparing a major CME to and EMP event is not entirely correct all though the distinction is mostly technical, and the differences in types and location of damage will not mean a great deal to the average citizen. EMP as mentioned above does most of its damage due to the induction of extremely high voltages with incredibly short rise times. Due to the very short rise times many protective systems are not capable of reacting fast enough to prevent over current/over voltage damage to the protected loads. Also inductive and capacitive coupling become very important at those very fast rise times and circuits that in more normal situations are isolated from each other couple strongly and one vulnerable conductor can couple power to otherwise isolated circuits. To protect against those very fast rise times you need fast acting circuits that include very low inductance (very short low impedence leads to ground) such as properly installed MOV’s and gas gap diodes on RF circuits.
    As I understand the situation on the ground currents and induced currents on power lines they will in comparison to EMP pulses be very very slow rise time changes, (seconds or tenths of seconds compared to low nanosecond rise times on EMP generated currents and voltages).
    The result of that difference simply means that the point of failure will be different.
    One of the major causes of damage is actually the power of the system itself not the induced currents. The CME would induce a failure by over heating or shorting and the “power follow” as the electrical power in the system goes to ground will be what causes the damage. In some cases the action of the “protective circuit breakers” can actually trigger failure in other connected system as a drop out of load as these protective systems trip can suddenly imbalance the grid and cause either cascade failure as one system after another trips out to protect itself or the burn out of systems due to over load if they remain connected too long.
    The net effect of the failures will be similar but not the same. I would have no concern about electronics in isolated systems like car ignitions as they are free floating systems and will rise and fall in potential with the local environment. The voltage rise times and induced currents will be very slow compared to the types of surges they are already designed to handle such as electrostatic discharge.
    The same will not be the case with grid connected electronics or even non-power electrical conductors like fence lines, long distance above ground pipe lines, bridges and other large linear conductors. They will build substantial currents and may ground currents/voltages through unexpected paths like cat 5 data cables, which normally do not carry any significant power.
    The social and structural impacts on society have been studied for years and the dire warnings can and will occur in some areas. In others chance circumstances will prevent major social upset and local initiative will rapidly move to correct problems.
    Truckers will make available reefer trucks for emergency refridgerated storage of super market supplies and local authorities and even private business will offer up what aid they can to mitigate problems. In other areas due to local social conditions or lack of responsible leadership you will have social melt down as we saw in New Orleans. New Orleans was a well known problem in the 1970’s to emergency managers. It was commonly used as an example of an inevitable failure waiting to happen. When you live in a toilet bowl you should not be surprised that it fills with water when mother nature pushes down the chrome handle. (toilet bowl refers to the geological configuration that they built a city in a basin that sits below sea level, this is not a social judgment). That disaster was totally preventable and the responsibility lies with the local governments failure to make the most basic and elementary protective actions that were necessary and well known in the emergency management field for 30+ years. We were discussing all the problems they experienced in the emergency management field in the early 1980’s during the period when “crisis relocation planning” was being developed.
    Much of the research done in the old Civil Defense program is still valid with very minor updates necessary and these same issues of the vulnerability of large population concentrations were well known decades ago. During a tour of the Dallas Texas Emergency Management center in about 1985, we discussed the critical impacts to large metropolitan areas. In their planning and exercise studies they came to the conclusion that the single most dangerous outage that they had to deal with was an interruption of water supply to the Dallas Ft. Worth area. This was usually triggered in their planning scenarios due to major power problems and critical failures of key infrastructure nodes like the large one off power transformers that can have 2-3 year lead times to replace.
    Some of these problems can be “worked around” by cannibalizing functioning equipment to bring up critical infrastructure power to hospitals, pumping stations etc. But once this sort of scavenging has been done, you are in a long slow recovery cycle where to recover A you must get B to work so you can get C to work so you can manufacture D, which is essential to build E which A must have to function.
    Like Ice storm damage, it can take weeks or months to fully recover just a problem that covers a couple states. If the impacts cover entire regions or hemispheres your recovery times will more resemble recovery from WWII in Europe and Japan than any thing we have seen recently and will take a decade or more to resolve.
    Much of this is covered in the following publications:
    The Effects of Nuclear War
    May 1979
    NTIS order #PB-296946
    http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/7906/790601.pdf
    Economic and social consequences of nuclear attacks on the United States:
    Publisher: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress (March 1979)
    Study for the Joint Committee on Defense Production 96th Congress
    Author Arthur Katz
    (I have not found an online source for the above document but it is the parent document for the “Effects of Nuclear War” which is something of an executive summary for the general public of the Congressional Report.)
    There were other specialty studies done in the Civil Defense on every imaginable subject, such as emergency feeding, expedient antibiotic production, emergency water supply etc. that are still largely valid.
    The vulnerability of our phone and data switching networks is a different issue, and except for a few graphic examples due to fires in switching centers, is largely not well known to the general public, and will someday result in a large scale collapse due to this sort of issue.
    Larry

  106. My cousin is an electrical engineer at a nuclear plant. Here are his comments about this article:
    Not all the transformers would be “blown” when the first one goes, the rest will automatically shut down. There is a breaker fail system of carrier signals and checkback systems that open ring bus breakers in switchyards that would attempt to automatically shut down the grid. True, plants need hours to shut down, but when there is a trip, the unit is off nearly instantly, quicker than you can blink. Any instant heating in the transformer creates gas bubbles in the transformer which is monitored by sudden pressure micro switches that trip breakers and isolate the transformer. Big transformers also have temperature trips that anticipate problems and provide alarms, trips, or both.
    Sounds like the problem may be that the first ones would be plenty of them. The big transformers I have worked on in the last 10 years have all been made in Spain. Now the weight of these is about 400,000 lbs without the fittings, oil, or fans. The article claims a week to change one out, I have done it in 24 hours when I was in Virginia. Problem is, then we had crews that put transformers in all the time. I have been involved in over 35 transformers initial energization rated over 100 million watts, up to 1.1 billion watts, with high side voltages up to 750,000 volts. The generating plants have breakers that are tested and must operate within 1/4 cycle, or one fourth of one sixtieth of a second. There may be some major blackouts, but functional systems could be back on line within days. Some places may be months, but I believe they would rob transformers from other areas to share the pain. The utility is not going to let the country have power while the big rate payers are out of electric, just not good business. We have spare transformers at the nuclear plant, and are ordering another to increase plant power beyond the capability of the existing transformer and that would provide the current transformer as an available spare. The delivery time is 14 months.
    My conclusion is that this is NASA and they want their old failing satellite replaced and do not have funding, so we need a problem to scare Obama into providing funding.

  107. Squidly (09:26:16) :
    . . . After the Great Ice Storm of 1998 that pulled down high tension towers in Quebec, some towns brought in diesel locomotives and plugged them into the towns’ power lines. The locomotives use a diesel engine to produce electricty (AC) to run the motors that turn the wheels, so it’s pretty easy to tap into a locomotive.

    The modern diesel-electric locomotives built from the ’90s on have microprocessor controls. It’s not clear from the discussion above whether this solar storm would affect electronics or just high-tension lines and transformers, or how much in-between, but if electronics were fried, I don’t think you could run the locomotive prime movers (as the big diesel engines are called). If you could round up some older diesel locomotives, which still run on many American and Canadian short lines, those might still provide emergency power, at least until the fuel ran out. But hey, you can tote fuel with horse and cart.
    Note, though, that those older diesel-electric locos are DC, not AC, which has only become common in the last decade or so.
    What this all points up is the imminent folly of diverting trillions of dollars to “fight climate change,” a chimera if ever there were one, when there are real dangers to our complex industrial civilization that can be either prevented or minimized with the proper allocation of resources.
    Since the potential threat to our electrical grid, communications systems, and electronically-controlled vehicles and machinery comes not only from a possible solar storm, but from a possible EMP attack by an enemy, it would clearly make sense to begin ‘hardening’ these systems against such eventualities (the military already has begun, reportedly), first with a backbone infrastructure, then by gradually replacing consumer items with ‘harder’ ones, as the old ones wear out.
    The other potential threat is from meteorites, of asteroid or cometary origin. The danger may seem remote, but we are not far from having the ability to divert or destroy a near-Earth object heading for a collision, and that ability should be made a reality.
    Instead we have fools talking about seeding the oceans with iron filings, or building shields in orbit to cool the Earth, all based on the hysterical notion that we are on the verge of imminent catastrophe from a little CO2. Talk about misplaced priorities!
    /Mr Lynn

  108. The important object is the ‘active region’ [magnetic field] and that is the same. It may have a speck/spot on and off.
    so the same region can produce specks/spots from different cycles? or would you consider a reverse polarity spot part of cycle 24?
    BTW Lief, thanks for your patience with my trivial questions 🙂

  109. Bill P: “The U.S. military has been pursuing the idea of an e-bomb for decades, and many believe it now has such a weapon in its arsenal”
    They got it! His name is Al !! If he succeeds it will paralyze EVERYTHING

  110. In coastal areas the U.S. Navy can and has in the past provided emergency shore power from Navy ships. They could provide sufficient emergency power to support critical infrastructure like communications, hospitals and minimal street lighting etc.
    There are work arounds for all these problems if the bureaucracy gets out of the way and lets people who have the resources help their neighbors.
    You could run emergency services for weeks on fuel already stock piled in storage tanks at construction sights, air fields, refiners fuel farms etc. You would likely need to restrict private travel to some degree and force people to use buses in the core city areas to maximize passenger miles/gallon but all that has been done before.
    Pumping fuel from gas station fuel tanks is easily handled by bringing portable generators to the station until its tanks are pumped dry then moving on to others.
    Spontaneous communications nets will pop up on CB and Ham radio to help people find open fuel stations and commercial radio and TV will shift to public info broad casting of critical info at certain times of the day. You might have a situation where at 30 min after the hour a station would broad cast locations of emergency public water supply points and similar critical information. As has been done in the past, rolling blackouts can be used to stretch available power to all areas or provide people locations that they can recharge batteries for cell phones or other essential services.
    People are very inventive. During the war in Bosnia they showed pictures of personal hydro plants folks had built with automotive alternators tethered in the river to provide DC power to shore.
    What happens in the real world is in most locations people tackle the problems that they have the skills and resources to handle. Pedestrians step into intersection with flash lights to direct traffic during black outs. People with portable generators let their neighbors run their refrigerator off the portable gen set for a couple hours each day. People drag out the camping coolers and charcoal grill and cook food in the drive way in freezing temps. Neighbors gather in the one home that has a fire place and everyone sleeps in the living room where they have heat and the safety of the group.
    This sort of a situation would be a major wake up call to many folks who have lost touch with the world and have no technical skills but the local red-neck mechanic will become god as he makes magic things happen with pieces parts scavenged from cars that don’t work.
    People who regularly camp and fish would hardly notice many of the problems as they would simply switch to “vacation mode” and get by with what they have.
    The real problems would be the medically vulnerable who depend on outside support to survive like diabetics, those who use oxygen therapy, and those on the edge that need regular medication. That would make the very young and the old and disabled the most vulnerable sub groups of the population.
    Larry

  111. Bill P (14:45:16) :
    Just when my investment portfolio looked like it was beginning to turn around…
    ……
    So many apocalyptic futures… so little time to keep track of them. A good one for fellow hand-wringers is Cormack McCarthy’s gruesome The Road)

    And if you want to read the mother of them all, a truly awesome apocalyptic work, that will make you laugh and cry at the same time, try *A Canticle for Lebowitz*. Its a classic.

  112. tallbloke (08:50:53) :
    beng (07:37:35) :
    David XKE (01:36:39) :
    The transformers are at risk because massive disruptions in the Earth’s magnetic fields will induce DC (or near DC) currents in the long wire / ground circuit. This DC current shifts the transformer’s normally symmetrical B-H hysterisis path to one centered on the DC current. The magnetic fields caused by the AC current in the transformer follow this B-H hysterisis path. If the DC current is large enough, the B-H hysterysis path will enter saturation with peak AC current. When saturation is reached the transformer inductance drops sharply allowing the transformer current to spike.
    A transformer that has been dropped from the line will not have a problem, no AC current. Solutions can include systems which detect the presence of near DC ground currents shutting down the transformer, systems that temporarly shed load when the initial warning is received, or increasing the ammount of iron in the transformer to minimize saturation.
    I suspect the power distribution companies are aware of the problem and have begun making contincency plans. After all, the industry has known about this since problem 1989 and the IEEE (Institute of Electrical ans Electronic Engineers) has had numerous papers on this subject published in it’s journals.
    A more realistic probability will be that weakest large transformers will fail. When they fail, the grid will go down (like it did in Ohio a few years back). Once down, the bulk of the infrastructure will be safe. It may take a week or two before the grid is restored given the large number of tripped breakers that will occur and the time needed to restart the power plants. Additional failures will occur over time and after the grid is restored. These failures will occur in transformers damaged during the storm.
    I suspect the scare article is over hyping the issue in the same way the Y2K bug was hyped. The engineers who were actually working the Y2K problem knew it wasn’t an issue. It was the consultants, the press, the politicians, managers and other engineers (engineers who weren’t in the detail loop) who blew it up into a crisis.

  113. AndyR (05:06:33) :
    This doom and gloom scenario will only effect the USA and possibly Canada. This is because of the mickey mouse electrical distribution system held together by Mc Gyver’s bit of string and chewing gum.
    And they apparently build their houses out of wood ???

    Chewing gum is not distributed in Mickey Mouse land. No one notices, but you can’t buy a stick of Wrigley’s anywhere in the Magic Kingdom®.
    And yes, we build our houses out of wood. It’s our own special way of sequestering carbon.

  114. Craig James (15:48:25) :
    My cousin is an electrical engineer at a nuclear plant. Here are his comments about this article:
    well you forgot one thing when the nuke shuts down it will not ” pop ” back on line.
    AND no load IS worse than an overload!
    They just don’t get it Tim they have no clue.

  115. I didn’t see _one_ mention (I did a text search for it) that given some notice the so-called ‘grid’ could be/would be ‘islanded’ (literally, segments disconnected into islands) to reduce the length of any particular system interconnect (‘transmission lines’) and therefore provide a better chance that those LARGE transformers would not see the slow, shifting ‘ground currents’ which tend to shift the iron core transformer’s BH (Flux density and Field Intensity) curve decidedly to one side thereby putting the core into saturation during a portion of the applied 60 (or 50) Hz energy …
    Space Weather Effects on Power Transmission Systems: The Cases of Hydro-Québec and Transpower New ZealandLtd
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/u34667055370236t/

  116. To put things in perspective (WE WILL SURVIVE), how about:
    “150 Years of Geomagnetic Effects” courtesy of Space Weather Canada
    History
    http://www.spaceweather.gc.ca/se-chr1-eng.php
    A couple excerpts:
    1840s – Barlow (1848) was the first person to make systematic observations of the “Spontaneous Electrical Currents observed in the Wires of the Electric Telegraph”:
    “When the telegraph instruments are not working, the batteries are put out of circuit, and the wires remain with a simple earth connection at both extremities.
    It was in this condition of the wires that spontaneous currents were observed to arise in them, producing occasionally large deflections in the needles. These deflections were sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left; at times they changed rapidly from right to left, at others they continued in one direction from periods varying from a few minutes to one or more hours.
    My attention was strongly drawn to the subject by the constancy of these effects, when a circumstance occurred which imparted a new interest to the inquiry. On the evening of the 19th of March, 1847, a brilliant aurora was seen, and during the whole time of its remaining visible, strong alternating deflections occurred on all the instruments. Similar effects were observed also on the telegraphs on several other lines of railway.”
    1970’s – The effects on power systems in Canada were summarised by Acres (1975):
    1. Newfoundland and Labrador Power Commission, St. John’s, Newfoundland The Corner Brook transformer tripped on differential relay (IAC, no harmonic restraint) and was returned to service several times. Long Harbour Terminal tripped as above twice.
    2. Hydro-Québec, Montréal, Québec
    MW variations of a few per cent. Bersimis No. 2, on power-frequency control, had MW variation of 90 per cent. Significant variations of Mvars at all generating stations. Voltage variations of 3.6 per cent (735 kv sending end) to 5.7 per cent (315 kv receiving end). Shunt capacitor bank tripped off by overload protection at 1852 hours EDT on August 4.
    3. Ontario Hydro, Toronto, Ontario
    Drop in power on the Ontario – Michigan interconnection from 540 to 480 Mw, and on the Ontario – New York State interconnection from 310 to 280 Mw. Voltage variations of up to 8 per cent. and a change in system frequency from 60.00 to 60.03 hertz.
    4. Manitoba Hydro, Winnipeg, Manitoba
    Fluctuations on the U.S.A. Tie Line (La Verendrye) from 120 to 164 to 44 Mw and +25 to -100 Mvar. Drop in voltage at Grand Rapids, La Verendrye, Morden, Parkdale and Selkirk.
    At la Verendrye, SIC > 100 amp in neutral of 230/115-kv transformer and at Grand Rapids, SIC ~ 100 amp in transformer. System frequency varies from 60.00 to 59.95 to 60.08 hertz.
    Seven Sisters Unit No. 2 (25 Mw) tripped by generator field ground and overcurrent time A and C phase relays. Slave Falls Unit No.3 (9 Mw) tripped by undervoltage relay. Load Dispatch requested all generator units to maximum voltage boost at 1755 hours CDT, hoping to prevent loss of additional generator unit.

  117. Stuart Clark’s “The Sun Kings” described the CME of 1859 and we had a near miss during 2003 as well.
    I wonder how long it will take for science to realise that space weather causes the Earth’s weather.
    Gee I might ve vindicated during my own lifetime.

  118. I skipped most of the comment but here goes.
    1) Any EMP capable of making a significant electrical pulse is going to be quite rapid, therefore a Faraday cage will be effective protection..
    2) Any electrical effect on the network will be countered by 2 things
    a) Power is transmitted on a 3 phase system + neutral All 4 lines will be affected in the same direction! No DC current through transformers then!
    b) The network will trip very rapidly from the shift in neutral.
    There may be some serious arcing over relays cutting out the system, but nothing too disastrous I think.
    Military hardware is EMP ‘hardened’ whether this is applicable to domestic equipment is moot.
    DaveE.

  119. Came across this in my studies a few years back; this is part of the “PJM State and Member Training Department” training program for a ‘system operator’ with this particular set of training slides dealing with:
    Weather and Environmental Emergencies
    http://www.pjm.com/Media/training/core-curriculum/ip-ops-101/ops101-weatheremer.pdf
    Shown/explained are:
    1) GICs – “Geomagnetic or Ground induced current” flows that occur from the earth into the grounded neutral of a three phase wye connected transformer, where it divides evenly in eachphase of the transformer. The GIC then proceeds into transmission lines and flows to other transformers, returning from them to earth.
    2) Procedures for identifying and confirming the existance of a Solar Magnetic Disturbance
    3) Mitigating procedures for dealing with solar-induced GICs
    4) Picture of destroyed transformer that was harmed during a GIC event.
    My point is, these system ‘operators’ are not ignorant nor unprepared for the occurance of these phenoma (now!) … other system operators have similar detailed procedures that their personnel follow to identify and mitigate (and protect their systems!) the effects of solar influences like GICs.

  120. There’s video of a CME off the back of the sun recorded by the LASCO coronagraph on SOHO in 12/96. The size and power is mind boggling. It was aimed away from earth out toward Jupiter. In the background of the image field is the Milky Way of the galactic center in Saggitarius for a humbling cosmic juxtapostion. It can be found at the Stanford Solar Center website. This all reminds me of Aesop’s fabled fly on the chariot wheel declaring…”O what a dust I raise!”

  121. Just because someone is aware of the problem and/or potential for damage doesn’t mean they actually did anything about it.
    Sounds like something that gets risk managed into a paper shoved into a folder collecting dust.
    I would expect a highly critical installation such as a nuke plant would be prepared, they have to be.
    The rest of the infrastructure would likely not be.
    That’s the world we live in.

  122. Steve M. (16:11:10) :
    so the same region can produce specks/spots from different cycles? or would you consider a reverse polarity spot part of cycle 24?
    A given region belongs to the same cycle all the time. But the region often twists and turns and sometimes so much that is looks like a reversed polarity region.

  123. Joseph (06:12:05) :
    If a calamity such as this were to occur, with all electrical power and most transportation wiped out in our country, does anyone really think that people are going to stay nice and polite, help their neighbor and work together to rebuild anything? Har, har! Think “Mad Max”.
    Ooh! Ooh! I call dibs on Lord Humungous!

  124. How about siphoning the gas from the fried cars to fill the generators? Or would the generators be fried too?

  125. My guess is that a bit of redesign with regular breakers, equivalent to household fuses, would solve this at least for keeping the grid going. That could be done as part of normal maintenance over a number of years without much extra cost. Not something to panic about, as we did with Y2K but something to do.

  126. Look, let me kill once and for all the idea that this type of event could kill your car or cell phone or even aeroplane. I’ll do it using science and actual calculations with numbers if that’s ok with everyone.
    OK, let say we’re in northern Canada. This part of the world has the highest magnetic field from the earth, a whopping 60uT = 60e-6T according to Wikipedia. OK, we’re in Canada so we’ve bought ourselves a big American gas guzzler, say a GMC Suburban, which measures 5 metres by 2. (Canada’s metric, I believe!) OK, the biggest loop that a current could circulate in the car has an area of 5 * 2 = 10m^2.
    OK, the flux through this area is 60e-6 * 10 = 6e-4 Wb.
    Let’s say a CME comes along and the whole magnetic field collapses to nothing in one second.
    The emf generated around our loop is 6e-4Wb / 1s = 0.6 millivolts. Even a British car with Lucas electrics will survive that.
    Let’s be clear than, this is an effect limited to huge power distribution systems, not small isolated systems. The distribution system has a much bigger loop area, the the flux is much greater. Furthermore, because all the power received at consumers has passed through several transformers, it isn’t going to fry the telly either. The type of fault current in the article can’t get through a transformer.
    I still think the electricity distribution protection kit will shut it all down, and we will only be slaves to Tina Turner’s Thunderdome army for, at most, a few hours.

  127. P. Hager (17:06:44) :
    Thanks for the details — interesting.
    The coal plant I worked at in the east US was the first in line to be restarted from a system-wide failure. Simulations were performed regularly and even one “real” run. A nearby 60MW hydro dam would supply auxiliary power to restart that coal plant, which in turn would supply power for restarting a somewhat larger & relatively nearby plant, and so on.
    We once had to replace a 250MW, 15.5kv/138kv main transformer due to core-insulation breakdown (and resultant hydrogen generation). We used an ancient Westinghouse spare transformer until the new one arrived from Switzerland about 16 months later. I’m not sure if any 200MW+ transformers are currently built in the US.

  128. Interesting article.
    No doubt the consequences will be serious, if such an event occurs. It would seem that taking judicious measures to prepare for such an eventuality are more important than building windmills.
    I was struck by the article’s structure. It seems it was written from a viewpoint that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And in the recovery, anything that can go right, won’t.
    Curious, really curious … did they consult a Mayan calendar when they came up with that date of the event as being in 2012?

  129. Leon Brozyna (09:14:44) :
    “Curious, really curious … did they consult a Mayan calendar when they came up with that date of the event as being in 2012?”
    That could have more to do with NASA’s predicted timetable of the Solar Cycle 24 maximum. Search for the entry on this site from March 8, 2009 titled “More Revisions to the NASA solar sycle prediction”. With this unprecedented deep solar minimum we’re currently experiencing, they keep extending their predictions further into the future. Although their latest date for the solar max is Jan -Feb 2013, just before that the prediction was for our favorite month: Dec 2012. It’s likely that at some time in the last few months, the prediction would have been for Sept 2012, as implied in the Elephant’s Butt article above. One of the legitimate solar scientists here may correct me.

  130. I talked with a man who owns a machine shop locally and works on very large welders that make ships and such. He makes $300 an hour fixing computer controlled welding machines.
    He thinks he could make a large transformer in a week in his shop from the time he picked up the phone to when it was done.
    Given the large scale resources of much larger shops that he consults for, he thinks its 2-5 days.
    The big problem is getting the materials and people together along with the power to run the tools.
    If everything is down, then he said they’d have to find a navy ship or working coal plant and move the machine tools and people then build the stuff.
    There are literally thousands of small machine shops around the US and hundreds of larger ones.
    Its just a matter of getting the materials to the right people and supervising the work.

  131. Who keeps approving these ‘thomaspeep’ comments anyway? Someone there in moderatorville undergo a mind transplant in the last day? [grin]
    REPLY: I’m going to blanket delete those. – Anthony

  132. Austin (14:21:29) :
    He thinks he could make a large transformer in a week in his shop from the time he picked up the phone to when it was done.
    Given the large scale resources of much larger shops that he consults for, he thinks its 2-5 days.
    The big problem is getting the materials and people together along with the power to run the tools.

    THEN he has to hipot (high potential) test it … can you say 375 or 500 KV?
    And this is if he can get the HV rated insulators, the oil, construct the insulating oil/fluid cooling subsystem.
    These aren’t going to be the neighborhood “distribution” transformers, these will be the transformers used in “transmission” applications (as seen in SUBSTATIONS) some standing a couple stories tall and requiring transport by rail …

  133. Ridiculous! Does anyone remember how fast all those oil well fires were put out in Kuwait? It was predicted it would take many years. They got it done within a year and a half. One Wiki article references a team using jet turbines to put out the fires. That is innovation! Those lost transformers would be rebuilt in unheard of “record time”. There would be crews working around the clock in the whole country, rain or shine. The most offensive comment of all “America might never recover”, what a bunch of b…!
    You are forgetting that most of the technology required to manufacture those transformers will also be disabled. Try to look past your rose colored glasses and look at the big picture. Jeess, The lack of logic and reason in some people is incomprehendable.

  134. Ron de Haan (03:55:16) :
    I wonder what will happen to:
    1. windmills
    2. solar panels
    3. satellites
    I also wonder the cause of death of “millions of Americans” as stated in the posting?
    The cause would be the breakdown of almost all basic infrastructure. Suddenly no
    water, electricity for basic functions, gas, you name it. Almost all major cities require
    electricity to provide water. When elec is out, water is not far behind. Most humans would die of thirst in less than a week without water. You could drink almost any source of water, but that would only extend things a little while, because of bacteria and other water borne diseases.

  135. Steve (17:19:12) :

    You are forgetting that most of the technology required to manufacture those transformers will also be disabled. Try to look past your rose colored glasses and look at the big picture. Jeess, The lack of logic and reason in some people is incomprehendable.

    You aren’t/we aren’t going to have a ‘bunch of blown [transmission] transformers’, so we may all put those thoughts to rest, for reasons I posted further up.
    I am CONSTANTLY amazed that the public thinks these ‘systems’ are just running staticly with NO supervision or monitoring; tell me, people, do you watch your engine lights? Generator/Alternator? Temperture? GAS GUAGE?
    I wonder, was the post about “PGM (Pennsylvania New Jersey Maryland Interconnection) [Generation and Distribution System] Operator Training and Practices” overlooked?
    ??????

  136. Leif
    Thanks again for all your patience in explaining the science to the laity. You have demonstrated far more patience than I ever could & I appreciate even more how reasonable you were with some of my more harebrained questions.
    I’m sure this has been mentioned before but it occurs to me that we have two different departments of NASA – GISS & Marshall – that are strongly pushing the equivalent of complex thermal fluid dynamic models that promise predictive forecasting but continue to fall short. If any single one of my systems projects ever came up as short as their predictions I would’ve abandoned my development strategies long ago. There’ve been times when the net effect of all my various subsystems and functions ended up delivering the wrong output. At first flush the output seemed OK, but then subsequent sanity checks and wider parameters showed there was some kind of unanticipated compounding effect that piled up (particularly in recursions and networked relationships that lent to feedback).
    There’s nothing wrong a functional prototype & calling it a lesson learned, but there are times I had to decide to scratch it & go back the old drawing board.
    As for the problem of a large CME (is there a scale for these things ala Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Earthquakes, Meteors and bears oh my?) couldn’t the existing grid be retrofit so that it’s keyed into space weather data, using automated breakers to not only prevent such damage to transformers, but to simply interrupt the antenna-like amplification of the long-distance high-tension parts of the grid?
    This is one matter where I find myself agreeing with the Obama admin., we need a smart grid & it’s a good investment for reasons outside of renewables & power banking. If we’re going to make the grid that much more interdependent, then it darn well better be a very smart grid indeed.
    Thanks again….

  137. And somehow all circuit breakers, overcurrent switches, fuses, spark gaps, lightning strike suppressors, and other multiply redundant protection devices would all fail to perform their function ?…

  138. If it does happen, the only electronics likely to be working afterward are tube radios, and a 57 Chevy or earlier automobile. (no electronics, just electromechanical). – Anthony
    Along with a heck of a lot of mid-1980’s Mercedes and some similar era cars and trucks with all mechanical Diesels. I have 2.
    BTW, I think the compounded tipping point failure scenario is way overdone.
    Yeah, a big EMP would be a mess, but end of life as we know it? Probably not. For example, my Honda 1 kw generator might be dead due to the built in diode / inverter setup, but my 4 kw (Coleman? – something with a Briggs & Stratton on it) would be fine. With that, I can get the local gas station going, who can then keep it going along with a bunch of cars & trucks. Begin bootstrap…
    And those big commercial sized portable generators are mostly all mechanical Diesels, again no problem. Hospital standby generators? Same thing. Good old mechanical Diesels. Maybe the electronic autostart boxes would be fried, but put battery to starter motor and it’s going to run (and an EMP will not fry the battery or starter circuits).
    Add in the fact that all the military gear is EMP rated and most of the trucking is via Diesels, and there are lots of standby generators kicking about (I ran an entire data center on two industrial sized ones for a few weeks while we were bringing it up, since the electric company could not provide power on our schedule…) Certainly there is enough standby power to get critical services like hospitals, police, and yes, oil refineries and pipelines running. Most of those facilities have them already installed (hospitals by law, with a mandatory testing interval with live cutover). A hugh number of data centers have them. Every emergency command center. A tour of many major office buildings will turn up a couple of these in the corner of the basement somewhere that only the facilities guys or the data center guys care about.
    Also, the comment that you can’t bring up a nuke unless the grid is live sounds fishy to me. Yes, you must sync them, but that is no different from any other major generator. Also, the big hydro sites ought to do just fine being buried under mountains of dirt. For most cases, the lightning arrestors and circuit breakers / surge protectors ought to protect everything. Yeah, a few will fry because the arrestor didn’t, but not the 100% the article implies. So for California, I’d figure about 50% power would survive fairly easily (nuke, hydro) with lots of backup diesels (with a few days to weeks of fuel). More than enough to keep the fuel systems and emergency systems working, including water. The grid would likely be segmented due to transformer outages, but it can run that way. Especially with all the TVs fried 😉
    Oh, and there are a fair number of hand driven fuel transfer pumps. Certainly enough to lift enough fuel to get the emergency generators running enough to run the electric lift pumps. Farm country has lots of these mounted on pickup trucks and farm fuel bunkers. So do some smaller marinas. Many mechanics have them to move waste oil between collectors and storage tanks. So I don’t see the “can’t get fuel to move” problem being real. (Even ignoring the kilotons of fuel in transit in fuel delivery trucks at any one time… and all the above ground tank farms at refineries…)
    And while I can’t imagine what an EMP would break in a Diesel-Electric train engine, it won’t be the Diesel and those motors are both pretty well shielded and have very high current ratings. The engine housing ought to act as a Faraday cage and protect it and all the wiring. So maybe you would have to crowbar your way past some cab electronics to get it started and moving, but nothing a rail mechanic couldn’t get done pretty directly. And maybe for a couple of months it would be back to 30 MPH and waving kerosene lanterns for signals, but emergency goods would move.
    Same thing for ships. There is a lot of steel between that engine and the sky… So maybe the ship can’t do computer navigation and fingertip steering, it can still move and you can set up a “shouting bridge” to carry commands from Captain to Engineer until the fancy stuff is fixed. I know sailors who still practice with compass and sextant and frankly, it’s not that hard to do dead reckoning in sight of land – I did it all the time when I was a live aboard on a sailboat… which, BTW, had an auxiliary Diesel with a hand crank for emergencies if you lost ALL electric power including starter & battery.
    Most Diesels need NO electricity at all to start or run. Just crank them over… I had a Nissan inline 6 in an International truck that had the alternator die. Ran it for about 4 months without the alternator. Parked on a decent slope I could start it with the key out. (Manual fuel cut off). FWIW, the 1980s Mercedes has a vacuum line to the key to control engine off, not electrical. In many cases if you have an electric pintle fuel cutoff you can bypass it by removing the solenoid and filing off the pintle. (You would then need to manually cut off the fuel to stop the engine…)
    Oh, and any electronics in a metal shipping container ought to be Faraday cage safe too. (Heck, a radio in a tin box ought to be safe…) so there will be lots of gear that works inside metal boxes all over the place. It’s not like there will be NO electronics.
    Yeah, it would be a mess; but no, it would not be an unrecoverable doomsday…
    There would be a lot of relatively new cars with fried radios and some with fried transmission computers and fried fuel injection systems, but there are still a lot of cars with older mechanical stuff. (1979 Merc 230 was carbs and I think they had mechanical fuel injection into the 1980s). But even for the new ones, many would be parked in underground garages and deep in parking structures. EMP is not magical and attenuates rapidly in rebar and concrete…
    We as a society could function with only 10% of the private cars (who would instantly be making money as taxis 😎 And I have to add that even the newer cars might not be as prone to dying as folks think. I’m fairly certain the Hummer had to pass EMP acceptance to become a military vehicle as did the older GM trucks they replaced. Tranny controller chips inside the metal case ought to be shielded. Hood, body, and grill with engine surround a lot of under the hood electronics. Unlike the “car zappers” that run UNDER the car, a CME will arrive from overhead. Most electronics in cars will be behind a layer of steel from that point of view.
    Oh, and major industrial refrigerators ought to be fine, too. Between the ones that have lots of metal around them and the ones that are heat driven rather than electrical, and the ones inside rebar and concrete or under metal roofs; certainly enough to keep some food moving. (And it would not take long for folks like me to break out our “How to Dry Vegetables & Make Jerky” books and start classes, if it came to that.) Again, maybe a real PITA, but not unworkable. You can live a long time on oatmeal and dried peas. You may not be happy, but you’ll live.
    Maybe it was living through a couple of disasters (including a 7+ quake with a data center in a mess and businesses shutdown for several days); but what I see is people quickly adapt and get by. One neighbor fires up the BBQ but has no meat, while the other brings the steaks (since the fridge is out) but has no stove, and we have a block party. Heck, on the way home (I was about 15 miles out when it hit…) there was one intersection with a bike rider complete in yellow spandex directing traffic; the next had a business lady in grey suit / skirt directing traffic. People just did what needed doing.
    And that is what we would do again.
    Reply: We had a block party too during Loma Prieta. Our party apparently made national news from a helicopter shot according to my girlfriend at the time who told me she viewed our house on tv from Connecticut. “San Franciscans seem to be taking it in stride was the story.” ~ charles the moderator

  139. Reply: I drive a 1970 Bronco myself ~ charles the moderator
    REPLY: I think you’ll find a few transistors or diodes in there somewhere…bzzzt! – Anthony

    It it’s like the Bronco my neighbor had in about ’73? it was carburetor / points. No electronics. The 1979 Merc 230 is carb /points, no electronics ( I own one being made workable…) Similarly, my old 1967 VW was carb / points and I see a fair number of them still running about. Oh, and my (now dead) 1986 Honda was carb / points. Don’t think it had any electronics in the running gear… I had the “vacuum control box hose monster from hell” IIRC with a zillion little bits of black spaghetti running all over 8-} Also Mercedes at least had a long affair with mechanical fuel injection. Don’t know when it ran out, but I’ve found web references at least into the mid ’70s and Bosch was used on BMW and some Alpha Romeo’s as well.
    Looking it over at:
    http://www.iterasi.net/openviewer.aspx?sqrlitid=kkijzew8_u-vadasoks0rq
    it has an electric high pressure fuel pump (that looks to be metal encased) and I can see no electronics in it. While these folks:
    http://unwiredtools.com/utcis.asp
    make an adapter to bring “modern engine management” (i.e. electronics) to a system that isn’t broken… and they have a chart showing application to the Bosch system into the early 1980’s on many makers cars.
    If it has mechanical injection and points it ought to survive.
    If it has electronic ignition, just get an old points based distributor for the survival kit and your a few bolts and timing adjustment away from running again…
    (Not that I have anything against the ’57 Chevy, but I liked the 68 Dodge Dart better and it was all mechanical all the time too 😉
    Basically, it wasn’t until about the mid-to-late ’80s that electronic stuff started hitting hard and you can still find lots of nice drivable cars and trucks with no computer in them and no engine electronics.

  140. peufeu (00:56:13) :
    And somehow all circuit breakers, overcurrent switches, fuses, spark gaps, lightning strike suppressors, and other multiply redundant protection devices would all fail to perform their function ?…

    Couple that with a days/several days notice of/that [a high probability of] ‘charged particles’ [are] about to pass by/pass into the earth’s magnetosphere and those larger segments of the THE GRID (called “interties”, ties between areas that can stand independently from a generation standpoint, but may/usually are tied together owing to the economics of generation and reliability -referred to in the literature as “power system security”- economics e. g. the cheapest which is hydro-based generation which is usually located MUCH further away compared to next-to-cheapest easier to locate-near-pop-centers coal plants) can be broken up so’s the GICs won’t/aren’t able to have the detrimental effects they otherwise could have …
    Sitting ducks we are not.

  141. E.M.Smith (02:12:16) :
    It it’s like the Bronco my neighbor had in about ‘73? it was carburetor / points. No electronics.

    No diodes in the alternator? What kind of “voltage regulator” controlled the alternator – mech or solid-state?

    E.M.Smith (02:12:16) :
    Basically, it wasn’t until about the mid-to-late ’80s that electronic stuff started hitting hard

    o 1965 Plymouth Satellite Sebring: diodes in alternator (I know for a fact; in the process of fooling around with the mechanical alternator voltage regulator I blew one of those diodes and had to effect repair)
    o 1972 A Plymouth Satellite Sebring I owned had electronic ignition (no points) wherein the firing point was controlled by the ‘reluctor’ in the distributor. Contast that with a ’71 Plymouth same body style that had points and with which I used a CDI (capacitive discharge ignition) kit, which is still out in my garage. (Granted, this was not a computerized ignition, but rather the solid-state equivalent of the point system.) That 1972 Plymouth also had a Solid-state Alternator controller/regulator
    o 1975 Ford Pinto bought new by a friend: had Ford factory electronic ignition module, they were prone to failure so he carried a spare – which was fortunate as on one long trip the original died at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere …
    o 1978 Ford Pinto I bought used in 1979 had electronic ignition as well. Not a computer mind you, but solid-state (“transistorized”).
    o 1978 Plymoyth Volare I owned used an analog-based ‘Spark Control Computer’ ignition system termed the “Lean-Burn System”. Introduced in 1976 (come to find out) according to: http://www.allpar.com/mopar/lean-burn.html
    Paper, four generations of Chrysler electronic engine controls:
    http://ntlsearch.bts.gov/tris/record/tris/00380939.html

  142. Bill P (14:45:16) : My understanding is that a few, strategically ground-based nuclear weapons, or a single, high-altitude burst would accomplish the same thing that the writer describes so well above.
    Substantially correct. A nuke in the ionosphere works best (as I understand it) and the EMP is “line of sight”, so basically anything line of sight from a 400 mile up ionospheric blast gets an EMP that fries ordinary electronics. This is why mil spec gear goes off to a desert somewhere to be parked under a big magnet and pulsed before acceptance.
    Any nuke will do, it’s where you set it off that matters (though I’m sure boutique bomb designers can enhance any particular effect).
    If, as stated, an electromagnetic pulse is a catastophic event for developed countries, it would seem a natural choice for terrorists, who would love to see the Great Satan hoist on the petard of its own technology.
    And this is why we get all worked up over Korea sending a suborbital missle at Hawaii or Iran putting up a “scientific” rocket in LEO. It is also why (as one of the folks slated to “put it all back together after the awshit breaks it”) I went out of my way to aquire 3 vehicles that are immune to EMP and never personally depend on any vehicle with a computer in it. (And have a fuel storage system and 2 generators and food for a few months and…) The #4 vehicle MIGHT survive (Mercedes SL with mechanical injection) but might need a swap of distributor to non-electronic: but I WANTED the car and had 3 backups already 😎
    My present paranoid moment is exactly that scenario. Iran gets a Pakistani style nuke and sets it off 400 miles up over Chicago… Then says “Ops, sorry, looks like our power supply failed”. They will do this as soon as they can, given my read of their appocolypic death wish.
    There are a lot of folks like me and Frank Perdicaro (11:23:22) who are quietly prepared and hope we never need to do anything more interesting than sell the gear at a yard sale in 20 years.
    Notice that most of the power fries transformers on lines running east west. There will be lots of gear on N/S lines not fried. Also the power will be nodal. It will fry one transformer, but not another. Also as spots fry, the network segments and no longer has the same harmonics. Basically, you end up with a lot of fried parts in a segmented grid, but with lots of perfectly fine parts scattered through it too. Yeah, you have to start putting it back together from junk, but it will be done. You start at a working generator and “build back out” salvaging parts as you go.
    Also realize that If I needed to provide emergency lighting to my block, I could just bypass the transformer, pop the breakers that segment my block from the grid, and run a small segment at low volts. I could build a 4 kw 240 v “mini-grid” for my block in about 1 afternoon. Nobody could use more than about 100w at a time, but it would give everyone 2 compact lights and a hand tool or two as needed. A rotating schedule would let folks run a major appliance (washer?) once a week. Now with my mechanic neighbors shop up, he can start reworking cars to non-computerized form… Multiply by a few million. Welcome to the U.S.A.

  143. _Jim (11:46:04) :
    “E.M.Smith (02:12:16) :
    It it’s like the Bronco my neighbor had in about ‘73? it was carburetor / points. No electronics.”
    No diodes in the alternator? What kind of “voltage regulator” controlled the alternator – mech or solid-state?

    Aside from the fact that for an emergency “get home” run you can get about 3 to 4 hours without an alternator (I’ve done up to 6) and that’s putting you well toward the end of the likely fuel on board…
    The power that an EMP generates is limited. It’s only sensitive gear that it fries (thus EMP ratings being possible for mil spec gear). In small objects like cars the effects of a CME are even less (as noted in posting above). Your diode bridge ought to survive just fine (power generated behind the bridge goes through it normally and gets soaked up by the battery and will not be the 50-100 Amps the diodes normally handle. Reverse voltage breakdown is also unlikely due to how hard it is to make 40+ V or so in a 3 foot wire in sufficient amperage through a steel skin; and any attempt to do that as reverse volts has to deal with this giant capacitor of a battery coupling the pulse to ground and sucking up 100+ amps as charging current… It’s the micro-amp sensitive computer chips, not the 100 amp diodes, that “have issues” in a car sized object.
    It’s the engine control computer that dies, not the power diodes.
    “E.M.Smith (02:12:16) : Basically, it wasn’t until about the mid-to-late ’80s that electronic stuff started hitting hard”
    You listed some examples of early adopters. Yes, some makers went early into that dark side. The big hit came from ’80-’88 or so. In the context of the article, the important bit is that you can find ’80s cars that are all mechanical; not that somebody made a bit of sensitive gear in the ’70s.
    BTW, my 1967 VW had a generator, not an alternator. VW seemed to be late to the ‘alternator’ party. I think they stuck with it through all the air cooled models.
    Generally Chrysler and GM seemed to go electronic early while the Germans were last to let go of all mechanical.
    Per alternator / regulators: There are lots of these in auto parts stores and being unconnected to wires ought to survive a CME / EMP fine even if somehow the one under the hood had a problem. Worst case would be that after the drive home on battery, you use the 12vdc tap on the standby generator to charge the battery every few days. (Well, real worst case would be making a new diode bridge from the parts box in my electronics kit; but that’s getting out there a “paranoia too far” since there is no way a CME is going to blow power electronics inside a steel shell inside a sheet metal body…) An alternator is an optional luxury in a Mad Max emergency and you could keep going for the likely week or three needed via outboard charging, manually switching the ‘regulator’ and / or transplanting batteries from the dead vehicles. If it takes longer than a month, it isn’t that hard to turn a DC starter motor into a generator… but realistically, by then the military will be setting priorities and the ‘crisis’ would be largely over.
    Though your post reminded me: Piston airplanes typically use magnetos so that a complete electric system failure does not stop the engine. So do a lot of old tractors. There would be a large number of small private planes that would be just fine, thanks. Maybe a loss of nav or radio gear in an EMP, but still flyable VFR.
    As I mentioned before, I lived for several months without an alternator on my old International truck. PITA, yes, end of civilization? Nope.

  144. E.M.Smith (00:59:58) :
    The power that an EMP generates is limited.

    You don’t need to make that fact plain to me; I’m the one who has in the past (on other blogs) has cited reports that COTS semiconductors and even COTS equipment has turned out to be suprising robust when subjected to simulated EMP environments.
    You may be uawares of the integral anti-ESD (electrostatic discharge) protection that is part of IC (Integrated Circuit) technology today. I’d be glad point you to a few applicable standards and test set-ups if you’d like on that subject.
    Alternator-schmalternator … it wasn’t just a few months ago that I drove with no-charge condition from mine, and did so for a couple days charging the batt when I got home from work until replaced, so nada new.
    As to EMP, I don’t expect *any* effects from an EMP on any of my vehicles (save for directly under); and may I now remind you that it was _you_ who started down the road of ‘susceptable’ systems (this validly includes alternators and their solid-state control regulator sub-systems never mind the stinking doides, which when bad, can LEAK causing batter discharge! It doesn’t take total catastrophic failure to cause a ‘fail’) so I will stop here since I’m not looking to get involved in a Brer Rabbit tar-baby-class debate, it’s that I just don’t think Echo Mike Smith did the treatment of car ignitions and other systems justice in his earlier treatment of same. I also had a problem with the dates that were previously cited.

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