The Director of National Intelligence released the latest installment in a multi-year government preparedness forecasting report. Nestled among all the usual concerns was a segment about solar geomagnetic storms, or solar flares.
The National Intelligence report has been issued every four years beginning in 1997. Solar storms are not uncommon, but the Cycle 24 is expected to peak in 2013. Both NASA and NOAA monitor energy bursts on the surface of the sun which could disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field.
If intense solar flares occur, they can cause damage to satellites and electrical equipment and blackout radio signals, according to Forbes. Some fear that if an large solar geomagnetic storm occurs, it could collapse the electrical power grid on a global scale.
Long high-voltage transmission lines such in America, Canada, Australia, and China could be particularly vulnerable. The National Intelligence report warns that until “cures” are put into place super solar storms pose a “large-scale” threat to the economy and social order.
The Carrington Event of 1859 is regarded as one of the strongest known solar storms in history. Since the telegraph was the most technologically advanced infrastructure at the time, the daily routine of our ancestors was not largely impacted. The 1859, solar flare was so strong that telegraph lines caught on fire and operators were reportedly shocked when sitting at their desks.
In our gadget-infused and electricity-reliant modern world, the overall impact on society is expected to be much greater should the strong solar flares predicted to peak in 2013 become a reality. Many experts believe that if a storm as strong the 1859 Carrington Event occurred today, it could be one of the “greatest catastrophes” in history.
According to national laboratory studies, a powerful solar flare could terminate electrical service to more than a hundred million people and cause trillions of dollars in damage. Those who have not stockpiled emergency food and other necessities could be in dire straits before the estimated months (or years according to some statistics) it could take to completely restore the power grid.
Renowned solar geomagnetic researcher John Kappenman recently created an Oak Ridge National Laboratory report on the power disruptions which could cause serious problems for the electrical distribution system. An excerpt from the Kappenman report reads:
“Geomagnetic storm environments can develop instantaneously over large geographic footprints. They have the ability to essentially blanket the continent with an intense threat environment and … produce significant collateral damage to critical infrastructures. In contrast to well-conceived design standards that have been successfully applied for more conventional threats, no comprehensive design criteria have ever been considered to check the impact of the geomagnetic storm environments. The design actions that have occurred over many decades have greatly escalated the dangers posed by these storm threats for this critical infrastructure.”
The United States power grid has reportedly expanded nearly tenfold during the past 50 years, according to the New York Times. The average age of a substation transformer is approximately 42 years old. Ironically, newer technology may be more vulnerable than older portions of the antiquated American power grid. According to Kappenman’s research, high-voltage equipment is more susceptible to damage.