Senior officials responsible for policy on solar storms – also known as space weather – in the US, UK and Sweden urged more preparedness at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
“We have to take the issue of space weather seriously,” said Sir John Beddington, UK chief scientist. “The sun is coming out of a quiet period, and our vulnerability has increased since the last solar maximum [around 2000].”
“Predict and prepare should be the watchwords,” agreed Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “So much more of our technology is vulnerable than it was 10 years ago.” . . .
[An] extreme storm can shut down communications satellites for many hours – or even cause permanent damage to their components. On the ground, the intense magnetic fluctuations can induce surges in power lines, leading to grid failures such as the one that blacked out the whole of Quebec in 1989.
The 11-year cycle of solar activity is quite variable and the present one is running late, with the next maximum expected in 2013.
The peak was not expected to be very strong but that should not cause complacency, said Tom Bogdan, director of the US Space Weather Prediction Center.
The most intense solar storm on record, which ruined much of the world’s newly installed telegraph network in 1859, took place during an otherwise weak cycle. An 1859-type storm today could knock out the world’s information, communications and electricity distribution systems, at a cost estimated by the US government at $2,000bn.
February 20, 2011
It's Official: You Should Worry About Solar Flares
From the FT, reporting the official warning of an intense electromagnetic storm that would be a "global Katrina" and cost the world economy, "in the worst case," two thousand billion dollars.