On this power-grid map of the United States, the black-circled areas are regions especially vulnerable to collapse during an extreme geomagnetic storm. Inside those boundaries are more than 130 million people. Credit: National Academy of Sciences report on severe space weather.
A contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause … extensive social and economic disruptions,” the report warns. Widespread failures could include telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation. The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion (some 20 times greater than the costs of Hurricane Katrina).
The problem begins with the electric power grid. Ground currents induced during an extreme geomagnetic storm can melt the copper windings of huge, multi-ton transformers at the heart of power distribution systems. Because modern power grids are interconnected, a cascade of failures could sweep across the country, rapidly cutting power to tens or even hundreds of millions of people. According to the report, this loss of electricity would have a ripple effect with “water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on.
Phi Beta Iota: Soviet electromagnetic emission deconfliction and protection standards have always been ten times tougher than US standards–they anticipated the problems US troops now suffer across Afghanistan. Attentive readers will recall the five weeks it took a New Zealand city to restore power after a main power feed fried in place.