Lesley Ciarula Taylor, Toronto Star, February 22, 2011
Leading scientists are warning that a massive solar storm could trigger a $2 trillion “global Katrina” that short-circuits power grids worldwide.
“Power grids, air traffic control systems and intelligent transport systems need to be looked at,” Stephan Lechner, director of the European Commission Institute for Protection and Security of the Citizen, told a weekend meeting.
“And would our financial trading places have to shut down if the accuracy of the time stamp for an electronic order was not given any more?”
“This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Both were speaking at a space weather session during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“There will be space weather storms that are more frequent and more powerful,” NOAA space scientist Joseph Kunches told the Star on Tuesday. “We’re entering a new solar season.”
Kunches is a former lead forecaster and operations chief at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which tracks solar storms.
The 1989 solar storm that knocked out Hydro Quebec and cut power to six million people for nine hours on March 13 was during a previous peak in the solar storm cycle.
Five months later, another solar storm shut down the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Now, the stakes are higher.....
Powerful solar flares ignite a geomagnetic storm that can shoot direct currents into the power grid, Kunches explained. The domino effect could cripple transformers and special equipment that could take months or years to replace, he said.
Power grids operate with expensive “not off-the-shelf” machinery. Hence, the $2 trillion price tag.
“The sun and its magnetic field become stronger and consequently more eruptive. If you take a magnetic field and change it, it generates an electrical current. The plasma is directed right at the earth. This is not far-fetched.”
Whether a climactic catastrophe will occur is “impossible to predict,” said Kunches.
But the growing volatility of the sun, the globe’s reliance on telecommunications and the need to protect power grids from a massive geomagnetic storm are very real.
Editor's Note: Please consider this piece an "early warning" of what might occur if a solar storm should erupt, as the scientists are predicting.