A massive magnetic solar storm could knock out much of the US electrical grid and leave 130 million people in the dark, a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concludes.
The Federal Interagency Response Plan – Space Weather 2012 was released due to a Freedom of Information Act request and apparently is the Department of Homeland Security’s strategy for dealing with such a storm. The request was filed by the AboutHomelandSecurity.com website.
The plan is based on the conclusions of a NASA-funded National Academy of Sciences study called Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts from 2008 and a previous DHS study from 2011.
The FEMA report referenced a scenario prepared by a scientist named John Kappenman that suggested a massive solar flare could dramatically affect the US electrical grid.
“According to the Kappenman and Radasky studies they find that a future extreme space weather event, similar to the great magnetic storm of May 1921, could result in large-scale blackouts affecting more than 130 million people in the United States,” a fact sheet attached to the response plan states. It also notes that such a solar storm or coronal mass ejection could knock out more than 300 extra-high-voltage transformers.
Those 130 people would be without power “for years.”
Although such scenarios often are viewed as the domain of alternative media, the now-public report has received mainstream coverage, including by Bill Gertz in the Washington Free Beacon.
The 2011 DHS report noted that some researchers, such as Kappenman, believe parts of the grid could be down for months or years following a major solar storm.
“A worst-case scenario by John Kappenman suggests the possibility of catastrophic damage to the U.S. electric grid, leaving millions without power for months to years while damaged major grid components, such as high-power, high-voltage transformers, are slowly replaced,” the 2011 report said. It was prepared by JASON, an elite group of scientists that advises the Pentagon on potential threats to national security.
The reports are significant because it is widely believed that without electricity during a long-term scenario, millions of Americans would die. An EMP Commission report to Congress found that if the grid is down for one year, more than 200 million Americans would die due to starvation, a lack of medical supplies, and civil unrest.
And it wouldn’t impact simply electricity. It also would affect the nation’s water supply, as a NASA Science News report found.
“Nothing is immune from space weather — not even the water in your bathroom,” NASA Science News wrote of Kappenman’s study.
“Collateral effects of a longer-term outage,” the 2008 study said, “would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration. The resulting loss of services for a significant period of time in even one region of the country could affect the entire nation and have international impacts as well.”
The 2011 DHS study noted that not everyone believes 130 million would be without power. It quoted some experts who say it’s more likely that 10 million people would be without electricity for upwards of two months.
What FEMA is worried about
The Great Magnetic storm of 1921 or the New York Railroad Storm mentioned above caused damage all over the world between May 13 and May 15 of that year. Among other things, it knocked out the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad and started at least two fires. The Central New England Railroad Station actually burned to the ground after a telegraph instrument caught fire. Telegraph and telephone service all over Europe was knocked out.
Experts are asking: If it did that much damage to American in 1921, what would it do today in the USA, which is even more dependent on the grid and electronics?
Since water service could be knocked out if it happened today, it might be impossible to fight the fires, leading to devastating fire storms in some regions.
What’s truly frightening: Even larger geomagnetic storms are possible. The Carrington Event of 1859 has been estimated to have been 50 percent more powerful than the Great Storm of 1921.
“A contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause … extensive social and economic disruptions,” Severe Space Weather Events predicted. Among the systems shut down by a large geomagnetic storm would include:
- The electric power grid
- Natural gas distribution pipelines and the natural gas system.
- Water systems
- The air traffic control system and air travel.
- Mass transit systems such as light rail and subway lines.
- Telephone communications
- The Internet
- Banking and finance
- International communications via undersea communication cables
- Communication satellites
- TV and radio transmissions
- Mobile phones
The report makes it clear: America has been warned.
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