When you hear the term “natural disaster,” phenomenon such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes may be the first things to come to mind.

However, natural disasters originating beyond our Earth’s atmosphere also have the potential to disrupt life as we know it. 

For example, a handful of solar flares over the last century have resulted in well-documented disruptions to Earth’s electromagnetic field. 

Each time one of these events has taken place, we’ve learned something valuable about how we can prepare ourselves in the event that a solar flare takes out our power grids or cuts off our cellular communication. 

While we don’t see evidence of a major solar flare event happening anytime in the immediate future, it’s important to remain educated and aware in order to be prepared for the possibilities. 

Today, I’m going to explain the science and history behind solar flares, the effects they can have on our lives, and how to prepare for them.

 

What Are Solar Flares? 

A solar flare is a large explosion of magnetic energy within the sun’s atmosphere. 

They occur when a release of energy twists in the magnetic field above sunspots, resulting in a sudden burst of increased radiation and brightness. 

This radiation is emitted across the entire electromagnetic spectrum--from gamma rays to UV rays--and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. 

Their frequency varies--when the sun is more active, there may be several flares within a day. During quieter periods, there might be one a week. 

That said, large flares are less frequent than smaller ones, and solar activity varies within an 11-year cycle. At the peak of a cycle, there are typically more sunspots, resulting in more solar flares. 

Don’t expect to be able to see solar flares by looking at the sun (and generally speaking, you should never look directly at the sun if you want to protect your vision). 

Though they can’t be seen by the naked eye, solar flares can be viewed using telescopes, space x-rays, and thermal imaging equipment. 

Not to be taken lightly, these flares, according to NASA, are our solar system’s largest explosive events. 

In fact, the amount of energy released is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time!

 

The Danger of Solar Flares 

First things first--the heat and radiation from a solar flare don’t have the potential to hit Earth and cause physical damage to humans on the Earth’s surface. 

However, solar storms caused by flares DO have the potential to shut down our Earth’s power grid and communications technology. 

If a solar flare is powerful enough, it can send coronal mass ejections, otherwise known as CMEs, out into space at millions of miles per hour. 

These ejections contain charged particles, and if the ejections strike our atmosphere, they will cause geomagnetic storms. 

These storms can bring many of the systems that rely on Earth’s magnetic field to a standstill. 

In fact, scientists have warned that if a very large solar eruption were to occur, it has the potential to destroy satellites and wreck power and communications grids around the globe. 

If the network of transformers within our power grid becomes overloaded with an electromagnetic current, the result might be widespread blackouts. 

Everything from clean water to gas stations and cell phone service to transportation would be impacted in areas with these blackouts. 

As you can see, in an era where so much of our societal infrastructure and systems rely on technology and electricity, solar storms are a serious threat to our everyday life.

 

Learning from History 

To give you a sense of how solar storms have affected the Earth in the past, here are three cases to consider… 

New York Railroad Storm: On May 13, 1921, astronomers noticed a large 94,000-mile-wide sunspot--an ominous signal of the solar flare to come. 

Two days later on the morning of May 15, many parts of the New York Central Railroad were disrupted due to the current created by a solar storm, and a few of the control offices caught on fire due to a ground current overload. 

Ultimately, the storm--considered to be one of the largest in the 20th century--caused a communications blackout in a majority of the Eastern seaboard. 

Quebec Blackout of 1989: Millions across Montreal and neighboring areas of Quebec experienced a blackout after a giant flare hit Earth’s magnetic fields straight on in 1989. 

Electrical grids in the Northeastern U.S. also barely survived blackout conditions, but minor power grid problems were also noted across the U.S. 

Bastille Day Solar Flare: On July 14, 2000, solar observation satellites recorded a powerful flare that registered as an X-class flare--the highest designation possible. 

Not only did the flare incite widespread radio blackouts--it was so powerful that it caused air passengers on polar routes to receive “the equivalent of several chest X-rays worth of radiation exposure.” 

These are just a few historical cases of solar flares.

 

What the Past Has Taught Us About Preparing for Solar Flares 

In a best-case scenario, solar flares will lead to interference with GPS and cell phone service. 

However, if the storm is large enough, there can be more serious repercussions--and you won’t want to be caught unprepared. 

Scientists and the military are constantly monitoring the solar forecast and watching for potential flare activity. 

“We’re much more reliant on technology these days that is vulnerable to space weather than we were in the past,” shares Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“If we were hit by an extreme event today, it’d be very difficult to respond.” 

Therefore, it’s up to individuals to prepare for self-reliance in the case that food systems, electricity, and more are out of commission for an extended period of time. 

The methods currently used to predict flares aren’t all that sophisticated. With current technology, predictions are usually stated in terms of the probability of a flare within 24 or 48 or 72 hours. 

In order to stay up-to-date with such predictions, you’ll need to pay attention to forecasts issued by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

And as with any blackout-causing disaster, you can prepare by… 

  • Stocking up on flashlights, battery-operated lights, candles, and matches in the event of a power outage.
  • Purchasing a backup generator or solar charger in the event the electricity grid is impacted. There’s even a salt and biofuel activated device out that can generate a backup power supply.
  • Stocking up on non-perishable food items in case grocery stores become inaccessible or shut down due to lack of electricity.
  • Purchasing a battery-operated radio or hand crank radio so you can keep up to speed on what’s happening around the country if such an event were to occur.

Be sure to store all of your supplies in an easily accessible place. 

Only by remaining educated, vigilant, and prepared will you ensure that you and your family are adequately prepared for the worst-case scenario if there should be weeks without power. 

Have a safe weekend as you stay alert! 

In Liberty, 

Elizabeth Anderson

Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply

 

Sources:
https://gizmodo.com
http://www.foxnews.com/
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
https://listosaur.com/

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3 comments

  • Well said Randall, well said indeed.

    Louis on
  • GREAT message….There is GREAT Truth and Wisdom in your words! I too work for part of the transportation industry…. a truck stop. When our computers go on the “fritz” or there is a power outage…the Drivers get very upset and angry…and that is because we just can’t get the fuel “out of the tanks…to the trucks”
    Just imagine if that happened across the Country! No electricity to pump fuel, no fuel to power trucks, no trucks to haul fuel, freight and food and no food to feed families! Things would get very UGLY INDEED!!!!

    Thanks for your insight!!!!

    Be Good, Be Kind, Be Able…..but MOST of all….BE PREPARED!!!!

    Dan on
  • I personally consider a solar flare as a more likely large scale threat to life than most other possibilities. Until very recently I was a long haul truck driver. As such I have a better idea of the vulnerability of modern supply chain weaknesses than is common. I hauled usually dairy products to California and produce back to Ohio. Apparently the very contented cows of the west coast don’t actually work. And, it seems we can’t grow vegetables on this side of the country. The food in your supermarket comes from very widespread sources, even internationally in some cases. My new truck was completely dependent on electronic tech to get from point A to point B and back. A large scale flare would completely cripple the most basic of transportation. Both personal and commercial. What fresh food is available is dependent on technology to last more than a few days. In some cases just hours or less. Ask most today where milk comes from, a far too common answer is the store. Not only do you have a responsibility to provide for your family you have to be able and willing to protect what you have from those who didn’t prepare. It’s great to think you’ll be able to help your neighbors. In a word, you can’t. Even good people can and will turn to violence when it happens. What would you be willing to do to feed your children? When you give the hungry guy passing through a bit of food, what happens a couple days later as he sits with others like himself with stomachs empty? He’ll tell them, “Hey, I know where there’s food.” Now you have a desperate mob at your door. Can you feed them all? Not a chance. I was recently having a repair done on my truck. While waiting a like minded driver and I were discussing the very possible coming events. Another guy overheard the conversation and said, “It happens I’m coming to your house.” I told him it wouldn’t be a wise move. I’ve heard keyboard commandos say they don’t need to prep, they have guns. Guess what Gomer, so do I. This might sound selfish and even cruel but you and yours have to come first. We can feed our own for months or the neighborhood for a day. I’ve made my choice, have you? I’ve helped several prepare but I can’t prepare for them. I’m a human yes, but I’m a husband and father first. May God help and bless you all but you have to help yourself. Pray it never happens but be ready when it does. God, family and country, in that order. Again, may God bless you all and give you strength and wisdom. He’s got your back, do you have His? Live happy, love and provide for those He’s entrusted to you but be ready to do whatever it takes. Enlighten all who’ll listen to these simple truths.

    Randall on

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