Earth just barely missed another solar “Carrington event” (EMP catastrophe) in July 2013

by 1389 on August 2, 2013

in 1389 (blog admin), DHS, EMP (electromagnetic pulse), nuclear weapons, U.S. Senate and Congress

Washington Examiner: Massive solar flare narrowly misses Earth, EMP disaster barely avoided

The earth barely missed taking a massive solar punch in the teeth two weeks ago, an “electromagnetic pulse” so big that it could have knocked out power, cars and iPhones throughout the United States.

Two EMP experts told Secrets that the EMP flashed through earth’s typical orbit around the sun about two weeks before the planet got there.

“The world escaped an EMP catastrophe,” said Henry Cooper, who led strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union under President Reagan, and who now heads High Frontier, a group pushing for missile defense.

“There had been a near miss about two weeks ago, a Carrington-class coronal mass ejection crossed the orbit of the Earth and basically just missed us,” said Peter Vincent Pry, who served on the Congressional EMP Threat Commission from 2001-2008. He was referring to the 1859 EMP named after astronomer Richard Carrington that melted telegraph lines in Europe and North America.

“Basically this is a Russian roulette thing,” added Pry. “We narrowly escape from a Carrington-class disaster.”

Pry, Cooper, and former CIA Director James Woolsey have been recently demanding that Washington prepare the nation’s electric grid for an EMP, either from the sun or an enemy’s nuclear bomb. They want the 2,000-3,000 transformers in the grid protected with a high-tech metal box and spares ready to rebuild the system. Woolsey said knocking out just 20 would shut down electricity to parts of the nation “for a long time.”

But Washington is giving them the cold shoulder, especially the administration. Woolsey told Secrets that some in Congress are interested in the issue, but the administration is just in the “beginnings” of paying attention.

Woolsey said that Air Force One and aircraft used by the Strategic Air Command to control nuclear-tipped missiles are hardened against an EMP.

The EMP effect is not rare. One occurred in Canada in 1989, knocking out Quebec’s electric transmission system. And North Korea is reportedly testing a device to attack the U.S. with an EMP attack.

The trio appeared at an event in Washington this week, but Pry said getting the nation’s leaders interested in the issue is difficult and educating the public about EMP hard too. “The education curve isn’t going up fast enough,” he said.

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Fmr. CIA Dir. Jim Woolsey warns of existential EMP threat to America

Published on Jul 31, 2013 by securefreedom

Washington, D.C.: On July 29th, President Bill Clinton’s former Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, led a panel discussion on the growing — and perhaps imminent — threat of a natural or nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructures that sustain modern civilization and the lives of millions of Americans. The event was sponsored by the newly established EMP Coalition, of which Mr. Woolsey is the Honorary Co-Chair along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Other participants were Ambassador Henry Cooper and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry. Ambassador Cooper led strategic arms control negotiations with the USSR under President Reagan and served as the Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization under President George H.W. Bush. His is currently the Chairman of High Frontier, an organization dedicated to protecting the United States from nuclear attack. Dr. Pry served on the Congressional EMP Threat Commission, as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee and as an analyst in the CIA. He is now the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board dedicated to national resiliency in the face of EMP and other threats.

Washington Post: When space weather attacks!

Aurora borealis
An aurora captured in Little Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Sunday morning at 3 a.m. on July 14, 2012.
(Gary J. Meulemans, anakin1814 on Flickr and Twitter)

By Brad Plumer, Published: July 13 at 9:00 am E-mail the writer

On a cool September night in 1859, campers out in Colorado were roused from sleep by a “light so bright that one could easily read common print,” as one newspaper described it. Some of them, confused, got up and began making breakfast.

Farther east, thousands of New Yorkers ran out onto their sidewalks to watch the sky glow, ribboned in yellow, white and crimson. Few people had ever seen an aurora that far south — and this one lit up the whole city.

At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe.

The auroras of 1859, known as the “Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. When the particles hit our magnetosphere, they triggered an especially fierce geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky and frazzled communication wires around the world. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for hours.

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue.

That’s not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It’s a sober new assessment by Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.

“We’re much more dependent on electricity now than we were in 1859,” explains Neil Smith, an emerging-risks researcher at Lloyd’s and co-author of the report. “The same event today could have a huge financial impact” — which the insurer pegs at up to $2.6 trillion for an especially severe storm. (To put that in context, Hurricane Sandy caused about $65 billion in damage.)

The possibility of apocalypse has piqued scientific interest in solar storms for many years. But researchers are now realizing that periodic space weather can cause all sorts of lesser mischief all the time, such as disorienting GPS satellites or severing contact between polar flights and air-traffic control.

So, in recent years, scores of businesses and government agencies have started to take space weather more seriously. Electric-grid operators are devising plans to reroute currents through their systems to brace for solar storms. Airlines such as Delta have developed plans to reroute flights in the case of emergency. The U.S. military has begun to realize that space-weather blips can disrupt communication in the heat of battle.

But preparing for disruptions isn’t easy. Just as interest in space weather is surging, the United States is facing the loss of key monitoring satellites in the coming years, as budget cuts mean that aging systems aren’t being replaced. And scientists are rushing to plug worrisome gaps in their knowledge about these storms.

The problem is far from theoretical. Last month, at a conference on space weather held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Daniel N. Baker of the University of Colorado told the audience that the sun had unleashed another large coronal mass ejection in July 2012 that traveled at speeds comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859. It missed the Earth by a week.

“Had that storm occurred a week earlier, it would have been a direct hit,” Baker said. “And we’d probably be having a very different conversation about this today.”

A year without power?

When it comes to space weather, the foremost concern is what a solar-induced geomagnetic storm might do to electric grids around the world.

At certain points in the sun’s cycle, as sunspots appear and flares erupt, the sun will eject part of its outer atmosphere, a cloud of fast-moving charged particles. If one of these coronal mass ejections hits the Earth’s magnetic field in just the right way, it can induce strong ground currents that travel through power lines, oil pipelines and telecom cables.

A truly severe geomagnetic storm could create currents powerful enough to overload electric grids and damage a significant number of high-voltage transformers, which can take a long time to repair or replace. That could leave millions without power for months or years.

“That’s a key vulnerability,” Smith says. “If you had a really big solar event, there just aren’t enough replacement transformers available. It can take up to 12 months to build new ones.”

As it turns out, most utilities don’t keep lots of spares around. The largest transformers, which convert the electricity in high-voltage lines to lower voltages, are custom-built, can cost millions of dollars and weigh up to 400 tons. Procuring a new one is a complex process that involves lining up the necessary copper and steel supplies, working with a long chain of manufacturers and arranging specialized transport. So, the Lloyd’s report notes, if even 20 transformers in the Northeast were knocked out, the logistical challenges would be “extremely concerning.”

Smith notes that the Northeast, with its aging power grid and peculiar geologic features, is especially at risk. Suffice it to say, it’s not fun to think about what would happen to the region if 40 million people had to go without power indefinitely.

Take Pittsburgh: One 2004 study by Carnegie Mellon University found that a large number of the city’s services were simply unprepared for an extended blackout. Half the city would lose water after three days if the city’s electrical pumps couldn’t be revived. Grocery stores, gas stations and cellphone networks would be knocked out. Police stations would go dark. Traffic lights would blink out. Most hospitals have backup systems in place, but emergency rooms would be strained if, say, the air conditioning went out during a hot summer.

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