2012 CME | A Near Miss Catastrophic Disaster

The CME of July 23, 2012
CME of July 23, 2012

Did you know that we (the earth) barely missed global catastrophic disaster on July 23, 2012?

Seriously. Something happened that day which would have sent modern civilization into a tailspin.

It’s called a CME. But it wasn’t just any CME. It was extremely powerful, and was comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859 which caused worldwide damage to electric equipment – when all we had for “high tech” were telegraph systems.

What is a CME?

It’s called a coronal mass ejection. It comes from the sun. And it happens more often than most realize. Usually daily during peak solar cycles. Though a big one (including the Carrington Event) can occur during low periods of activity.

You might think of it as a belch from the sun. Once in awhile that ball of fire will hurl off a chunk of plasma and electromagnetic charged particles into space.

The sun rotates one revolution on its axis in about 25 days. If the ignition spot of the CME happens to be facing earth when it fires off, then we get a direct hit. (We missed the July 23rd (2012) event by 9 days.)

This is normally not a big problem. The earth is protected by it’s own “shield”, the magnetosphere. However the stronger the CME, the more problematic for earth’s “shield”. And disruptions begin to occur.

When a solar flare and associated CME event is observed, it may typically take a day or longer for the charged mass to arrive at earth (assuming its pointed at earth). The record was ~14 hours during one event in 1972.

It gets technical. But I want to keep it simple. A CME is a natural occurring event on the sun. They often follow solar flares. Coronal mass ejections release large quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space.

Extraordinarily huge CME’s do happen. Though not often. With that said, the earth WILL be catastrophically affected when the next “huge” CME hits the planet.

What Will Happen When A HUGE CME Hits Earth?

The probable effects will be debilitating or even catastrophic to our modern way of life.

“An extreme space weather storm — a solar superstorm — is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society,”

“…with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years.”

former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu

I don’t know about you, but a recovery time taking “years” implies some pretty disastrous lead-up consequences. How many people do you think could survive a modern infrastructure meltdown for a month, never mind years…?

UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann and their colleagues reported their analysis of the magnetic storm, and determined that the huge outburst (of the July 23, 2012 CME) resulted in release energies equivalent to that of about a billion hydrogen bombs.

That just gives you an idea of the power…

So What Would Happen?

From NASA Science:

Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology.

 They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare”—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot.  X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors.

Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive.  Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics.

Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide.

  Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. 

science.nasa.gov

Those of you who comprehend the possible effects of a EMP (electromagnetic pulse), the outcome of such a major CME will likely be similar or worse. A EMP event does its damage in nanoseconds. A CME event may go on for hours or even days.

Power Grid Down | Electrical Devices Damaged

Though both a man-made EMP (high altitude nuclear detonations) and sun-made CME will likely cause extreme damage to power grids and electrical devices… a CME will also cause one more additional catastrophic thing…

FIRE

3 things are needed to conduct electricity: a conductor (metal wire copper is best), a magnetic field (energy source, solar flare) and relative motion (the solar flare moving across the earth). Lots of things burning up all over the affected area, inside & out.

The pulsing and ongoing induced electrical currents in a lasting CME will likely set things on fire. It happened during the Carrington Event of 1859 while telegraph operators were electrocuted and telegraph buildings burned.

But this time, the fires will potentially be so much worse. When you have long wires (e.g. overhead electrical lines), there’s a higher potential for them to heat up via the effects of CME coupled with other factors.

When Will A Carrington-class CME Happen Again?

In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled “On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events.”  In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years. 

By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.

The odds are basically 1 of 9 that it will happen in the next 10 years.

“Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” says Riley.  “It is a sobering figure.”

How Do We Prepare For A Carrington-class CME?

It’s not too much different from contemplating preparedness for EMP / Grid-down and infrastructure damage for an extended period of time.

We’re looking at Level 3 & 4 preparedness.

As most regular MSB readers know, those who live in the cities are essentially doomed. Those who live in population-dense suburbs are in nearly as bad a predicament. Even those who live in the country will be in deep ‘doodoo’, unless of course they’ve prepared to enough an extent…

Read and search this blog for more tips about surviving catastrophic disaster. Begin with Level 1. Work your way up. It’s a process. And it could even become a lifestyle.

Continue reading: When Homes and Building Burn During The Next Solar SuperStorm

Solar SuperStorm 1859 – Carrington Event

Pitch Black – The Next Carrington Event

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34 Comments

  1. Yes, I’m familiar with CME. I have studied it, quite a lot actually. Kind of a hobby of sorts. The end result would be similar ( though not identical ) to an emp. Both/either are very bad. I would encourage anyone with similar interests, to explore a couple of web sites: Space weather news and Suspicious Observer. You can learn as much or as little as ya want.

    In a practical sense, the main difference between emp and cme is time. An emp is over before ya knew it was happening. A cme can last for a day or even several. A cme will cause a spectacular light show. Northern or Southern auroras. My opinion, no one knows for sure, is to keep all faraday protected electronics, stored away. Wait until there are no more “northern lights”, probably a couple of days.

    CME mostly acts on long runs of wire. Gathering the electromagnetic fields, like an antenna. That means the grid wires coming to and into your home. You/We will likely have a few hours warning. It would likely be helpful, to disconnect any solid contact with the grid. Isolate your home from the grid, physically. Even then, these levels of power might/can arc across any gaps you can utilize to isolate your home.

    Expect many fires. The grid will be destroyed. Scary stuff. As I understand it, vehicles will probably NOT be affected, but no one knows for sure.

    Science has always interested me. CME is a world changing event. I hope to never experience one. I AM NOT an expert. Please do your own research. Statistically speaking, it’s a matter of when, not if. According to REAL experts, we are overdue for one of these.

    Things are getting a bit sporty, right now, with our sun. Check it out. Interesting reading, if nothing else.

  2. Question: Does the ‘grand solar minimum’ effect the strength of frequency of sun flares or CMEs?

    1. Farmmom,
      The short answer is yes. There’s a lot to it and even the EXPERTS are learning on the fly. There are even some, who claim our sun does a “mini-nova” on a semi- regular schedule. Lots of theories and lots of data. I think the sun will do whatever it does and we get to deal with it. That’s if we live through it.

      Most see a correlation between sun spots (coronal holes) and cme. Most of this stuff is WAY over my head, but interesting.

    2. Hi farmmom

      The “minimum” in grand solar minimum refers to solar activity such as flares, etc. The 11 year solar cycle has an ascending period of 5-1/2 years where solar events become more frequent then a descending period where they become less frequent. GSMs happen every 350 years or so and are characterized by extremely limited numbers of solar events. We’re currently finishing up solar cycle 24 (at minimum) and entering SC 25. According to Dr. Valentina Zharkova we’re also entering the 35 year long Modern Grand Solar Minimum. CMEs will likely be much less frequent. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, though.

      And a Carrington-sized CME, hitting Earth full on, would have a global impact, unlike a targeted EMP. There is speculation that recovery could take decades.

  3. A lot depends on which side of the planet it hits too as to how much and how is effected the most

  4. Remember there are “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” but if there is any chance of something happening over time it will happen! IMO if we assume Modern Life started in the late 1960s until now the period of time is such that a CME hitting Earth is a certainty, —–one day.

    I picked the 1960s as the starting point because electronics have increased in every aspect of life since then. I would rather be ready for such an event and not need the preps than need them and not have them.

    The really sad thing is we have known (the Western world at least) for many years that such a thing is possible but have chosen not to do anything at all about it. Only the Military(s) may have systems hardened enough to with stand the impact.

    There are many small things that could be done to mitigate the situation but $$ get in the way.

  5. It’s goona happen someday. But we will not know until it actually happens.

    There is NO way TPTB will inform the public, in advance, of a coming CME.

    All the fools would panic. Just what do they thinks gonna happen if a CME wipes out our electrical grid, a Sunday picnic?

    1. Stand my Ground,
      I agree, it would be a disaster. There are too many outlets for info, for TPTB to shut them all up. The websites I listed, even have notification apps. If ya want to do that. I haven’t, but many have.
      I just hope, it doesn’t happen in my lifetime.

      The panic you mention, will happen a little quicker, if a warning is given. The panic will happen eventually, either way. With even a few hours warning, a lot could be protected. Just my humble opinion.

    2. SMG, Plainsmedic,

      Incoming CME. hmmm. well, maybe TPTB will not make big media announcements, but I think the nation’s utilities will certainly know about it. I also think they all have a plan to minimize the damage to their grid systems, like shutdown and grounding before the CMEs hit. No way are they going to let their huge capital investment get damaged. (that’s why we have satellites way out in space to look for the darn things, a so called early warning system). hey, shutting down the grid is easy, PG&E has recently shown that in California. Panic? yes there will be a lot of that. I think the local utilities will just make announcements that they are going off line for awhile. We seem to be getting used to power outages in this country, so NBD.
      Have either of you looked into the emp/surge protection for your house system?? I know
      of the EMP Shield that advertises here, but I have been checking into similar panel mounted devices made by Square D, and Schneider Electric, etc that do a similar thing. Whole house surge protection. Just curious what you think. I may buy one and pop it in my main farm distribution panel. cheap insurance at under $100.

      1. SMG, Plainsmedic, NRP, et al,
        Just looked online at Siemens FirstSurge systems for the whole house. you can get them rated up to 140,000 amp max surge per phase, with less than a nano-second response time. $220 at big box store. Anyone out there with a heavy electrical training that could tell me how this unit compares to the EMP Shield? I know the EMP shield is tested against numerous test standards, but are these two units not the same or similar technology and capacity?? just looking for alternatives.

        1. Minerjim,

          You might check with your local power company also. I have a whole house surge protector installed by them at the pole, ahead of the meter. Technically, I rent it for a little under $5 per month. I also have one of the 8K Sol-ark systems that has it’s own EMP protection.
          Two friends I know, with lots of academic & practical experience, are not enthusiastic about the EMP Shield.
          However, given that “two is one…”, if we can get some feedback from any EEs around, that Siemens unit looks like it might be something worth considering.

        2. Minerjim,
          I’ve done a little research on these things, and no I don’t have one. Maybe I should have one, I just don’t know.

  6. Scary stuff indeed. Started doing a little research on this topic recently. Just like an EMP my biggest fear with a CME would be potential nuclear reactor meltdowns across the country. Feel like if those dominos started to fall there may be no way to stop em…

  7. rb308

    Ken has an article last updated in Jan 2018 titled Nuclear Plant Meltdown – 50 Mile Radius. Contains a very useful map of power plant locations.

    The EMP Commission reports discuss technical aspects of nuclear power plants and what would trigger a meltdown. One thing to consider – plants have a week’s worth of generator fuel on hand. But do they have supplies stocked for plant workers? Will anyone show up if there are massive fires from a days-long CME? Would the guv let plant operators know one was coming?

    Given all the amateur astronomers out there, an incoming CME certainly can’t be kept a secret.

    Nuclear Power Plants: When Backup Systems Fail

    1. Anony Mee

      Thanks, I’ve gone back and read a number of the posts on this topic. Keep hoping I’ll come across something that assures us there won’t be total meltdown following depletion of backup diesel…no luck yet haha. Seems as if your best bet is to have a backup location in place at least a couple hundred miles away from the closest reactor. Unfortunately up here in the NE that doesn’t seem to give a lot of options. I’ve always wanted to build a little off grid hunting camp in Northern Maine…may be one more good reason to do so

      1. rb308

        Might also be helpful to pull up a map of nuclear power plants in Canada.

        Good luck with your BOL. Was very fortunate to find my little farm out here in coastal WA.

  8. A CME or a pole flip are two events that I have a tough time understanding what the intensity or outcome might be. They have happened in the past many times and likely will take place again. The CME that occurred in 1859 was a destructive event but we, civilization, made it through. I have read where scientist theorize that Mars was once very different than it is now and that a CME blasted the planet stripping the atmosphere, water and most surface features away. Just a theory but not much one can plan for if a CME can unleash that kind of devastation.

    1. Timberplot,
      A CME, similar to the one that occurred in 1859 (and the near miss in 2012), would likely knock out the power grid to an extent that leaves it damaged for an extended period of time.

      Back in 1859, people were not dependent on the power grid. There was no power grid. Just telegraph lines. So it didn’t affect the self reliant public at large.

      Factoid of interest:
      The Pearl Street Station, the first central power plant in the U.S., began producing electricity on September 4th, 1882. It was located at 255 – 257 Pearl Street in Manhattan. It initially served 85 customers, providing electricity to 400 lamps.

      Today, we are essentially 100% dependent upon the electric power grid for survival. That is the danger. There is something that we can do about it. That is, strive to be able to survive without electricity. Or have alternative methods to produce your own power as needed. It’s not an easy preparedness plan (Level 3+). But it can be done.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Ken, It does help. We are one step closer to finishing up a small root cellar / Ice room this Fall as the goal has been to get to a “No electric” homestead. Not much but a step closer to that self reliant setup.

  9. I have heard that a CME would give some warning before its arrival and that steps could be taken to somewhat reduce the effect on the grid.
    I don’t know if that is the truth or not.
    Does anyone have info on this?

    1. Norml Chuck,
      Yes, there are satellites that are specifically monitoring the sun. Look up “SOHO” (the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory). If a CME that big were to fire off, it would be all over various news sites. We would likely have at least half a day’s warning, probably more like 24 hours or more (the plasma takes longer to get here – the sun is 93 million miles away).

      I’m not sure how much the utility companies could do about it with context of a Carrington-class event — we’re talking major repercussions. It takes time to disengage. It’s not like there’s one “CME” switch on the console at their network operations centers… Hopefully we never have to find out! Unfortunately it will happen again. Just like many of the low probability but high impact events – we just don’t know when…

      1. Ken,

        Problem is the human factor. Just because prior warning is possible doesn’t mean the information will be broadcast.

        Last week’s tornadoes that caused widespread damage as they tore across densely populated sections of Dallas? The local TV station broadcasting the Cowboys football game failed to break into the broadcast to warn viewers of the imminent threat. Management, after the fact, admitted they had made a “poor decision”, indicating they were aware of the catastrophe unfolding in real time, but deciding not to interrupt that all important football game.

        Might want to put in a plug for a weather alert radio, since commercial stations can’t be relied on.

        [ Best Weather Alert Radios ]

      2. A very large CME will fry the satellites solar arrays. While the EMP could just destroy all the electronics inside the satellite itself. NASA have put in contingencies for the loss of satellites.
        At least one major satellite has fallen out of the sky due to effect on it y a moderate CME.

        Make no mistake here. Ken is correct. The major electrical distribution systems will be catastrophically affected. Modern society particularly cities are entirely dependent on electricity.

        A major CME will be an extinction level event.
        There are many miltary studies which have been done into the effect.
        James A Muresek – retrired Navy Admiral Physicist wrote a comprehensive report.

        1. Bone Idle, I agree 100% with your statement, “A major CME will be an extinction level event” given that it’s on the order of a Carrington-level event.

          It is scientifically supported that this will happen again. And quite likely sooner than most would guess. It can be survived. But only for those who are prepared to Level 3+ and Level 4. If they’re in the right place. But the die-off will likely be enormously tragic.

  10. Was working a bit in the barn this week. Metal walls, roof, and doors. Absolute cell phone dead zone. Wonder if it would act as a Faraday cage if I parked my beater back-up car in there. Engineers – what do you think? Maybe E1 (billionth of a second) but not E3 (prolonged) protection?

    BTW – 0H was testing one of those whole house EMP shields. Seemed to think it was ineffective.

  11. Anony Mee,
    I’m not an engineer. I have similar situation in my metal garage. Is my garage a faraday cage? No , it isn’t. There are so many variables involved with emp and even cme of different strengths. No one is certain of anything. Maybe, and it’s a huge maybe, a metal barn/building might help to reduce the exposure to an emp.

    My old jeep may well survive. Even better chance, inside a metal building. Faraday is far better still. Hopefully, we’ll never learn the actual answers. If I were you, I would definitely park the old beater car, in the metal barn. Might not work, but it could.

    I’ve spent a little time thinking about my jeep, post emp. Would I drive it? Sure. Would I drive it to town? NO!!! Would I drive it to meet VIPs en route? Probably, it depends …….

    1. Plainsmedic

      Agree on post-SHTF driving. Meeting VIPs en route also a concern for me. Best laid plans and all that . . .

  12. Well, if all else fails, I’m pretty sure an EMP or CME won’t ruin a wood stove or my oil lamps. And I’ll still have the heal/toe express(My feet) to get somewhere.

  13. Mankind is now completely dependent upon the availability of continuous electrical power for its survival. Although people can, and do, live and prosper in environments without electrical power, these people will share the same fate, as those of us, who cannot live a second without looking at our cell phones.

    Our species has become too specialized, too adapted to an entirely artificial environment of its own creation, to survive the loss of electricity, which sustains it, as caused by a sufficiently powerful CME.

    We would be in terrible trouble from an EMP attack, carried out with just two weapons, which only effected the CONUS. But, an CME could effect half, or more, of the planet.

    Imagine working around the clock to keep all those nuclear piles cool…to keep all the stored fuel rods cool…while the world remains dark…and communication is reduced to shouting distance and ground courier.

    Just make sure you hide enough Scotch.

  14. I am not sure what will be consequences of such kind of event. But if we lost power big cities will be places of mass destruction and extinction! Epidemic will be one of the consequences if we lost electricity! If some countries on the planet escape los of electricity they will be next super powers. Very bad scenario! Argentina and South Africa can be the most important countries in the world.

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