Why Coronal Mass Ejection and EMP Is The Biggest Threat To The Grid

I was listening to the Survivalist Prepper podcast the other day and he was interviewing Matthew Stein about the threat of an EMP.  Here’s the podcasts if you’d like to listen:  EMP’s, CME’s and Nuclear Meltdown With Matthew Stein and EMP’s, CME’s and Nuclear Meltdown With Matthew Stein Part 2.

 

Matt Stein has done a lot of work with EMP and CME and had some really interesting things to say about Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

What Is CME?

A Coronal Mass Ejection is when the sun throws out some plasma and magnetic field into the solar system.


From Wikipedia:

coronal mass ejection (CME) is a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the solarcorona. They often follow solar flaresand are normally present during a solar prominence eruption. The plasma is released into the solar wind, and can be observed in coronagraph imagery.[1][2][3]

Coronal mass ejections are often associated with other forms of solar activity, but a broadly accepted theoretical understanding of these relationships has not been established. CMEs most often originate from active regions on the Sun’s surface, such as groupings of sunspots associated with frequent flares. Near solar maxima, the Sun produces about three CMEs every day, whereas near solar minima, there is about one CME every five days.[4]

The sun goes through periods of greater activity than others called solar maxima and solar minima.  If you’re reading this in the summer of 2019 when I’m writing the article we are almost at a solar minima, meaning we’re only getting one solar flare every few days instead of four or five a day.  Solar minima is 2019 and 2020 and then it will start ramping up again over the next eleven years until we’re back at solar maxima.

However, just because we’re at solar minima doesn’t mean nothing can happen.  In 2017 a powerful solar flare caused radio blackouts and high-frequency radio experienced wide area blackouts and loss of contact for up to an hour over the sunlit side of the Earth.  Low frequency communication used in navigation was degraded for an hour.

In The Crosshairs

As mentioned earlier the sun is constantly throwing out flares and CME’s.  The reason we’re not affected is because the flare or CME has to be facing us when it goes off.  Remember, the sun is big.  Really big.  We have to be directly in the crosshairs to be affected by one.  So the chances of one hitting us tomorrow are relatively small; however, over time we will be hit again.

People talk about an asteroid or comet hitting us (check out Lucifer’s Hammer for a great story), but the chance of getting hit by one of significant size is relatively small in our lifetime, or even our kids and grandkids lifetime.  Millions to one.  A large solar flare or CME on the other hand is almost certain once every eighty to one hundred years.

The last really big solar event we had was The Carrington Event back in 1859.  Everybody knows about this particular event of course.  It happened right at the dawn of mankind coming online with electricity and communications.  If something that size hit us today we’d be in trouble as it would likely cause a huge amount of damage to our communications and power infrastructure, something we can ill afford given our dependence on electricity and the ability to communicate instantaneously around the globe.

Some things that could be damaged by a huge solar flare are satellites, which control communications and GPS; the electrical infrastructure which has many points of failure; communications such as the internet, radio, phone, short wave, etc; and anything computer based which is just about everything today.

Here’s a good story about several powerful CME events over the years.

Life Without Electricity

The worst case scenario would be the loss of the electric grid.  Electricity is the lifeblood of our civilization and without it we would thrown back to the 1800’s, but in much worse shape because most people in first world countries have no idea how to live without it.

Bed and Breakfast

Occasionally I’ll go a weekend in my tipi without electricity and while it’s certainly do-able it is an eye opener about what life without it would be like.  Even then I’m dependent on the residual effects of electricity while I’m out there, meaning I use ice in a  cooler or fill my water jug from a spigot (although I could easily filter water for drinking.)

I use lantern light to read and write by, which I really enjoy.  While I’m out there I read books or write in a notebook instead of using a computer.  I have a wood stove in there so I cook over the stove or over an open fire outside if it’s too hot to cook inside.

The writing table
The Writing Table

My one concession is a hand crank radio for listening to music, which means I get up every fifteen minutes or so and whirl the hand crank like crazy for a minute or two until the battery charges back up again.

While on occasion this is a great escape from the pressures of society I think it would get old if it went on long enough.  Being bored and inconvenienced beats being dead and in my opinion it’s better to test yourself occasionally to see what you’d need – either skill or gear-wise – than to be caught flat footed if and when a big solar flare cooks our grid.

Smart Prepping

When I say smart prepping I’m talking about getting prepared within your means.  Despite the fact there’s a chance – even a small one – of some kind of society ending calamity don’t go into debt because of it.  Prepare within your means and don’t forget to have fun in life.

-Jarhead Survivor

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