From Hurricane Sandy to Solar Superstorm? What’s next?
By: Allison Mann
After Hurricane Sandy unleashed its wrath on the U.S. on Oct. 29, 2012, 8.5 million residents across 21 states were literally left in the dark. When I learned of this news, I was shocked that a hurricane could directly and immediately impact the lives of so many people. I also didn’t think my mind would be able to handle a larger scale of destruction entirely created by natural elements.
However, after reading that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had recently predicted a possible solar superstorm, which is a violent outburst of explosive activity on the sun, would have a larger scale of destruction than Sandy, my mind was blown.
According to the Weather Channel’s website, this year the sun began its move “into an active period called solar maximum.” In 2013, it is expected that this period of solar maximum will peak. Because of this, U.S. experts estimate there could be a 7 percent chance of a solar superstorm within the next decade.
Even though most people probably see this as a very small risk, experts urge that if the solar superstorm were to occur, the effects would be “so wide-ranging [it would be] akin to a major meteorite strike.”
The NSA believes that if a solar storm were to occur “a monster blast of geometric particles from the sun could destroy 300 or more of the 2,100 high-voltage transformers that are the backbone of the U.S. electric grid.” The NSA states that replacements for transformers might not be available for a year or more and they could cost as much as $2 trillion.
When asked which regions of the U.S. would be the most vulnerable in the event of a solar superstorm, the NSA explains that the eastern one-third of the country, meaning the Midwest to the East Coast, as well as the Northwest, meaning from as far east as Montana and Wyoming to as far south as California, would be the most affected regions.
According to Richard Andres, an energy and environmental security expert at the military’s National Defense University (NDU), in an absolute worst-case scenario, “commerce would almost instantly cease, water and fuel, which depend on electricity pumps, would stop flowing in most cities within hours, modern communication would end and mechanized transport would stop.” In my opinion, if this wouldn’t be considered the apocalypse, what would?
Statistically speaking, Andres explains that more than 130 million U.S. residents would be affected. I know Hurricane Sandy was described as catastrophic with 8.5 million U.S. residents directly affected, but imagine 130 million people being affected? I for one can’t even begin to fathom this nor do I want to.
Paul Werbos, an expert in the field of decision theory, said “installing resisters on high-voltage transformers to keep [them] from heating up” would be our best bet in order to avoid apocalyptic disaster if a solar storm were to ever occur.
Even though Werbos explains that putting these resisters on all high-voltage transformers could cost $150 million to $200 million, I think it’s definitely worth it. We don’t need any more natural disasters in the U.S.—especially not on the East Coast where recovery has barely just begun in the wake of horrific Hurricane Sandy.
If you want to learn more about this predicted solar superstorm, here’s the Weather Channel’s complete article.
In addition, for your viewing pleasure, here’s a clip from the History Channel on solar superstorms. It highlights the last solar superstorm that occurred in 1859.