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Solar Flares – The Fire Next Time

by Bruce Haring

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration this week issued a release that ho-hummed the fact that we almost had an extinction-level event two years ago.

On July 23, 2012, a massive coronal mass (sometimes referred to as a solar flare) was ejected from the sun. It was a product of the biggest storm on the sun in 150 years. It was also the largest storm ever recorded, doubling the previous record.

Fortunately for earth, the mass coronal ejection was pointed away from earth. If it had been a week earlier, the EMP burst would have returned us to world akin to that of the cancelled television show “Revolution,” where everything that makes life work on the planet – electricity, transportation and communications – would have been fried by the huge sunburst. Yes, we know you have your mule and 40 acres planted. But the rest of us are in deep trouble.

That storm 150 years ago? We weren’t nearly so technical a civilization, so the results weren’t nearly as bad. That incident, known as the Carrington Event after scientist Richard Carrington, took place on Sept. 1, 1859. A solar flare that lasted five minutes occurred, reaching earth within an hour and lasting just over 18 hours. It damaged telegraph lines in the US and Europe and also created some fantastic northern lights. That was pretty much about it.

Other solar flares caused some power outages in Quebec in 1989 and elsewhere in North America in the 1990s. But given that our electrical grid’s technology is something that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to Thomas Edison, were he alive, the odds are that we’re going to lose our power for a long time when the next major solar flare hits.


A severe solar storm could create damage of over $2 trillion dollars. It would eliminate electricity around the globe – no water (flush toilets require electricity), no refrigeration (food and medicine spoil), no heat or air conditioning, no sewage disposal, no mobile communications, no gasoline (because the pumps require electricity to operate). Our fiat currency will likely be turned down by many black marketers, who will want tangible commodities or precious metals in exchange for their goods.

If a transformer blows, getting a new one is a problem. The machines are huge, and transporting them (if you can find the parts) takes months of planning to manage the logistics. Then there’s installation and testing.

In the meantime, there would be looting and other problems created by the lack of food and water. Try living without modern amenities for even a week and see how civil society breaks down. Hurricane Katrina times 100 is the usual result.

There are people working on this problem. Scientists estimate there’s a 12 percent chance we get another solar flare in the next decade. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has directed the nation’s energy companies to plan ahead and develop plans to continue operation in the event of a major storm.

However, given that there’s typically about an hour to react in the event of a storm, not every plant will be able to avoid damage. Which means that a good deal of the nation will struggle for some time after the next big one hits.

Does your family have a plan in place? Do you have sufficient food, water, ammunition and communication tools? Ask yourself – how will your neighbors react to being without the basics of life? Will they politely ask for sustenance? Or will they try to take what they need by any means necessary?

You can almost hear R.E.M. warming up in the background for “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

Have a nice weekend!

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