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Solar EMP revisited.

Not_a_ID

Ok, just bothered to watch a fairly recent program on the solar flare/solar EMP.

One thing they mentioned basically destroyed their own scenario that they outlayed(which is one I'd previously bought into in large part).

I was previously given to understand that the Solar EMP event was likely to only give minutes of warning. Reality?

They get 17 hours worth of warning. So "reality is" that they'd "realistically" have about a 12 to 14 hour window in which to prepare for what is coming.

I'm more inclined to suspect you'd be seeing martial law being declared within 2 hours of the CME having been detected. (15 hours left)

Power and utility companies would then begin the process of staging the needed resources needed to have all power generation capability offline and disconnected from the grid (if only at the circuit breaker) by T-30 minutes. (hydro, solar, wind, and gas turbine derivative plants basically being the last to go "offline")

Power companies would likely be doing "triage" on many of their facilities, evaluating which ones they deem to be "critical" and going so far as to not only throw breakers, but start physically disconnecting and grounding out the various power lines and systems.

So then it becomes a matter of seeing what still gets fried even with precautions being taken, and start rebuilding from there. I'd actually put good odds on random suburban neighborhoods having their stuff get fried or left offline for some time, but that much of the "industrial backbone" would be back online within a week.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Not_a_ID


They get 17 hours worth of warning. So "reality is" that they'd "realistically" have about a 12 to 14 hour window in which to prepare for what is coming.


Most solar flares/nuclear devices don't last a full 24-hours, while solar flares typically have more than a couple minutes (observes can see the flare on the surface of the sun and then calculate when the Earth might cross in front of it, providing several days warning).

Also, not all power goes out during such an event. Most military gear/power generators/telecommunications centers/etc. are properly sheltered. Even if not, who gets affected it largely hit or miss. Those in the direct path will suffer, while those farther away will only have selective outages (i.e. no need for martial law, just plans to call in the National Guard to help restore services as soon as possible afterwards).

However, it would impact a hell of a lot of people (think millions!).

Throwing breakers wouldn't make any difference, since the damage is caused by an excessive electronic charge in the wires, potentially melting them inside their insulation, making repairs difficult since you can't identify which portion of a cable contains the actual damage. Turning off the power to everything would make sense, so count of the power companies cutting off power everywhere at a specific time, giving criminal the perfect opportunity (since there's no chance of physical damage other than potential cancers years/generations later).

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Throwing breakers wouldn't make any difference, since the damage is caused by an excessive electronic charge in the wires


1. Opening switches, fuses and breakers can protect other devices like transformers that may be harder to replace than wire.

2. From what I've read, the length of the wire impacts how much charge builds up. so segmenting lines into shorter sections by opening the switches will reduce the charge buildup in any one section.

3. Most of the primary (12 or 4 kV) overhead conductor in the US is bare wire. The insulated wire you see is either secondary (220 or 110 volts, what comes into your house) or is cable(tv) or telephone wire. I'm not sure if a solar EMP will affect underground conductor at all.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
garymrssn

FYI: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

1. Opening switches, fuses and breakers can protect other devices like transformers that may be harder to replace than wire.


Exactly. In the one confirmed case of an EMP managing to do damage to a coil winding, it involved a Nuclear EMP in Russia during the 1960's, which melted to coils of the diesel generator that was providing power. It just so happened to also be connected to 22 miles of cable.

So plenty of wire able to induce both a current and a voltage within that closed system by way of induction. The coils in the generator evidently proved to be the "weakest link" for finding a path to ground, so it was what got slagged.

It also didn't help the Russians that the generator was plugged in and active at the time the EMP hit.

2. From what I've read, the length of the wire impacts how much charge builds up. so segmenting lines into shorter sections by opening the switches will reduce the charge buildup in any one section.


It gets a bit more complicated than that, but the basic answer is this. The shorter an "individual wire run" is, the less voltage the line in question will be able to "absorb" via induction.

The "issue" with circuit breakers alone is the matter of the "spark gap" that is left after the switch is "thrown" and a question of is the line in question will generate both enough voltage and current that it manages to
1) "Jump the gap" to the next link in the chain.
2) Do damage when it does "make the jump"

Which is I why I opened by making comments about either physically disconnecting and/or physically grounding out specific power lines.

If there is a large physical disconnect, above and beyond "just a circuit breaker" in the mix, that provides an extra layer of protection, as the "spark gap" just became significantly larger.

Likewise, with a solar EMP, you're dealing with a wave, not a pulse, as would be seen with a nuke. As such, grounding out a power line for example may be more than sufficient to prevent it from being placed under a induced load capable of doing damage to the power line itself.

3. Most of the primary (12 or 4 kV) overhead conductor in the US is bare wire. The insulated wire you see is either secondary (220 or 110 volts, what comes into your house) or is cable(tv) or telephone wire. I'm not sure if a solar EMP will affect underground conductor at all.


Underground cable wouldn't be able to "induct" much, but it would still be subject to some within its own system as it does come up to the surface level periodically over the course of its "run" as it enters into/exits various substations or interconnects. By and large, "throwing the circuit breaker" would likely be up to the task of protecting them from a solar event... So long as it was isolated from the above ground portion of the power grid. (This would also include the customers themselves, as they too could "backfeed" onto the grid if they're not careful. A typical new construction building of any size, be it commercial or residential, is likely to potentially have miles of electrical cable within it. So plenty of pathways for inducing voltages in an EMP scenario. Thankfully for the power company, not all of that cabling will be theirs, some will be telephone services, others will be television services, and then there are the network services. But so long as everybody on a given "circuit" turns has their stuff shut off at the breaker, things should be well enough. The issue at present is that while many power companies can remotely throw breakers on their own equipment, they can't do this on the end-user side. I wouldn't be certain as to their ability to remotely shut things off "at street level" (before it gets to the customer) at this point in time. Maybe in newer constructions, probably not so much in older areas.

Obviously fiber-optics are immune to EMP in a direct sense, but as fiber optics require transceivers which require electricity in order to operate, and you need to have a relay every so often....

As to most "insulated" wiring across the world? It isn't THAT insulated. Those wires are minimally insulated in accordance to the "normal operating specifications" of the device/install(for which an EMP event is obviously not considered "normal"). A Solar flare would be able to induce voltage across much/most of said wiring, but in particular so long as said wiring isn't energized at the time of the EMP event(and it was "electrically isolated" when it happens, so that "external wiring" doesn't help increase the amounts of voltage/current it gets exposed to), it's probably going to be fine.

If you were wanting wiring that stands a chance against an EMP while in use, you're talking about "shielded" cabling, which is basically a cable which is then wrapped in an additional electrical insulator, which is then once again wrapped in yet another layer of conductive material which would then be tied to ground. As such, most "shielded cable" is often also referred to as "armored cabling" but not all "armored cabling" is actually shielded, as it hasn't been tied to ground, among other considerations.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Not_a_ID

@Crumbly Writer

Throwing breakers wouldn't make any difference, since the damage is caused by an excessive electronic charge in the wires, potentially melting them inside their insulation, making repairs difficult since you can't identify which portion of a cable contains the actual damage.


TDR's (Time-Domain Reflectometers) are wonderful things for this. You hook it up to a wire, send a signal down it, and it'll tell you various things about the characteristics of the wire and at about what distance a change is detected as occurring at. Accuracy was down to a couple feet as of about 20 years ago, honestly, the tech on site is more likely to have more trouble identifying the physical location than the TDR will, just because measuring to that level of precision isn't normally possible when it comes to cable runs.

So the tech is stuck in the odd position of knowing exactly where the electrical problem is likely to be in the wire... They just don't know exactly where that point is on the wire. Of course, there are some other special tools that could potentially help with that as well, depending on the situation.

Not_a_ID

@Crumbly Writer

Most solar flares/nuclear devices don't last a full 24-hours, while solar flares typically have more than a couple minutes (observes can see the flare on the surface of the sun and then calculate when the Earth might cross in front of it, providing several days warning).


It was made pretty clear that the interval was about 17 hours from the moment of the CME(Solar Flare) being observed on Earth to when it would cross the path of Earth's orbit. The only variable in that regard is if the Earth is above/below in front of, behind, or in the bulls eye.

Duration of the CME itself wasn't something they really touched on. I imagine that could be variable depending on a number of factors. I'd expect worst case is a couple hours.

The problem is determining how long it would take the magnetosphere to "discharge" after the solar flare event had cleared from Earth's orbit. Then once the magnetosphere is done turning it into EMP's for us to suffer through, we then get to the next step of either manually discharging any isolated circuits that haven't already bled off" the charge already, or waiting for them to "bleed off" naturally, and then starting to reconnect everything. That could be 20 minutes after the leading edge has passed us by, or that could be 20 hours later.

All I know is if you're in Texas and its daylight and you're still seeing "the northern lights" dance across the sky, turning things back on is probably a bad idea.

Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

It gets a bit more complicated than that


I knew it was more complicated, I just don't know all the factors which I why I stopped at saying the length of the wire had an impact.

The "issue" with circuit breakers alone is the matter of the "spark gap" that is left after the switch is "thrown" and a question of is the line in question will generate both enough voltage and current that it manages to


The question is how much wire do you need to generate enough voltage to jump the spark gap. The distribution grid has enough automated switches that in a few minutes they could break the system down into segments that are no more than a few miles each. With 17 hours to prepare, manually operated switches could segment the system even further.

The big problem is the big transmission lines.

Replies:   Not_a_ID  Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

The big problem is the big transmission lines.


Quite literally so, between their extreme height, and the extreme distances they tend to cover, they present the majors challenge. Of course, it you watch while traveling alongside even them few more than a few miles, even they have protective equipment up on the wires every so often. Not sure if they have it wired to provide a path to ground though(I'd think they'd try to make it nearly impossible to find a "path to ground" on such lines, so their deliberately creating a permanent one, even for very exceptional circumstances, seems unlikely). I suspect it'd just act as either a breaker or a fuse and creates an "open" on the line preventing it from progressing further.

Hopefully it's a breaker that can be reset, if those are (several foot long) fuses, that's going to be a lot of line work to get back online.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Not_a_ID

Hopefully it's a breaker that can be reset, if those are (several foot long) fuses, that's going to be a lot of line work to get back online.


Assuming they even have enough in stock. Might be a bit difficult getting more with the whole power grid down.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

Assuming they even have enough in stock. Might be a bit difficult getting more with the whole power grid down.


Which is a large part of why I said "critical areas" might get their power back in fairly short order, but everyone else might be a long while before they get their power turned back on. Unless they're lucky enough to live in an area that's a net energy exporter, then they could luck into a speedier restoration of service. But if you live in Santa Monica, California, your lights probably will stay out for a long time to come unless you have your own means of generating power.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Not_a_ID

@Dominions Son

I knew it was more complicated, I just don't know all the factors which I why I stopped at saying the length of the wire had an impact.


To expand on this one, some of the "complicating factors" that come into play are:

The orientation of the power line relative to the "magnetic flux" the solar flare is causing during the EMP event. (Parallel vs perpendicular vs other will make a difference)

Other things also coming into play is the geology of the area, if there is a lot of magnetic(iron bearing) rock in the area, that could serve to either help protect(repelling the "charge") or harm the equipment(attracting it instead) in question as the case may be.

Crumbly Writer

@Not_a_ID

Which is a large part of why I said "critical areas" might get their power back in fairly short order, but everyone else might be a long while before they get their power turned back on. Unless they're lucky enough to live in an area that's a net energy exporter, then they could luck into a speedier restoration of service. But if you live in Santa Monica, California, your lights probably will stay out for a long time to come unless you have your own means of generating power.

Conclusion: if you're writing a PA tale featuring and EMP, have your protagonist disconnect from the power grid and they may preserve much of their power supply, while the majority of the population wouldn't be as fortunate.

Also, while certain segments of the military complex might retain power, the vast majority would have the same issues the general population would.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Also, while certain segments of the military complex might retain power, the vast majority would have the same issues the general population would.


Many/most military bases have provisions for backup power generation for "critical facilities" if nothing else. So if they had RADAR before the solar EMP, chances are good they're going to still have a RADAR after the Solar EMP, at least for a couple days, at which point their generators will likely need to have their tanks topped off. Ditto for command and control facilities.

I understand most refineries also have backup power for most of their functions, so they'd potentially also retain the ability to continue operating even with a non-functional power grid. This also ignores the "fun" the Navy could be having at that stage, their Nuclear submarines should have been able to dive deep enough that the EMP would be a non-issue for them. The Nuclear Carriers are a more complicated issue, but as they're presumably built with a nuke EMP in mind, as solar event would be trivial by comparison.

The problem is those power plants are not designed with transferring power OFF the ship in mind. Those shore power connections are intended to allow them to turn the power plant off, not give them more reasons to leave it running. (Which isn't to mention the on board systems are designed to meet the electrical needs of the ship itself, not the ship + whatever else)

Regardless, for military use they don't need every refinery in the country to be operational, they just need one or two, and time to work out distribution from there. So long as they have oil for fuel, they can keep the backup generators going.

Their "worst case" from there, so long as the transformers survived, is that the power companies may need to scavenge surviving power lines from elsewhere(residential areas are screwed), and use those to create improvised "jumpers" to work around any "electrical opens" that exist on the electrical backbone that they need up and running ASAP.

It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't need to be particularly resilient, it just needs to work long enough to get other things back up and running until they can go back to retrofit and repair things in a more permanent manner.

As to other locations, things get more variable. Some regions deal with power disruptions frequently enough that backup power generation is a common design feature that many home and business owners pursue. So long as they were smart and shut things down during the EMP, they're going to be able to operate off of generator power after the fact.

Although they too are going be constrained by fuel supplies. So the person with more renewable options (wind, solar, hydro) is going to be better shape overall, although depending on where he is, he might need to be careful, even if the locals respect his stuff, that doesn't mean the Government, be it local, state, or federal, won't come around and appropriate his stuff.

More interesting items are the people running natural gas powered generators, and how the natural gas and other pipeline companies get roped into all of this. I know back home, the local government has some large (backup) natural gas power generators in case the lights go out. So they'd need NG in order to have their lights on in the absence of local power feeds. So that means Natural Gas would need to be alternately shut off and left on across much of the country.

Of course, in their case, they're also within 30 miles of a large hydro power project, and they're the closest city with any significant population; and that hydro project is in turn in close proximity(~10 miles) of a large wind turbine development.. And the town hosts a National Guard Battalion HQ as well as a facility that happens to manufacture power transformers, so it'd be highly likely not to be at the bottom of the list for getting transmission lines restored.

But yeah, it's going to be ugly all the same. A lot of infrastructure should survive intact, but pieces of it won't. Backup provisions will help, if they're handled properly during the EMP event itself(and not turned on when it happens). Restoration in some areas could be complete in hours, many places will likely take only days or even weeks depending on the extent of the damage, but other areas will likely take years to be brought back onto "the grid" properly.

And with human nature being as it is, most people aren't likely to be particularly content to sit in the dark for years in a home/city that wasn't designed to function without electrical services being available. They're going to relocate to where there is power. Which is going to create yet another mess.

Crumbly Writer

@Not_a_ID

The Nuclear Carriers are a more complicated issue, but as they're presumably built with a nuke EMP in mind, as solar event would be trivial by comparison.

I'm not sure on this, but I'd assume the lead lining of their ships would produce shielding for their wires and generators in the bowels of the ship. While the lead/steel construction would likely produce an excess static charge closer to nearer the top, further down it shouldn't be an issue. However, anyone who has any electrical engineering background could probably be more specific.

By the way, a nuclear explosion in outer space is highly unlikely to have any effect on Earth, as the U.S. conducted tests where they set off their own, and it had NO impact on anyone other than producing a 'delightful' firework show for anyone watching.

To produce an EMP effect it would have to go off in very low-orbit, and it would be difficult to determine precisely how to achieve it as it would be ameliorated by many factors (like wind, humidity, cloud cover, etc.)

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


By the way, a nuclear explosion in outer space is highly unlikely to have any effect on Earth, as the U.S. conducted tests where they set off their own, and it had NO impact on anyone other than producing a 'delightful' firework show for anyone watching.


Some of the depends on how you define "outer space." It is untested, but in theory, it's possible that a powerful enough fusion bomb lit off at an altitude that is arguably Low-Earth-Orbit could EMP all of North America.

But there are three factors in play there:

1) The amount of power behind the blast, as none of our nukes can rival what a Solar Flare would release energy wise.

2) The distance between "point of origin" for the blast(EMP) and what is being impacted by it. If it detonated 50 miles over Chicago, what happens in Cleveland will be different to what goes down in NYC, as the pulse will have weakened by the time reaches NYC.

3) Location of the blast relative to magnetosphere. This is where "nuclear blasts in space do nothing" EMP wise come into play. Basically the difference between letting a firecracker explode in an open palm vs a closed first.

Of course, an EMP in space is still going to do a number on any satellites that happen to be relatively nearby, so it's likely to screw with telecommunications all the same.

And it isn't that they lined the ship's or equipment with lead. It's that they've placed better/stronger EMI shielding on their equipment than is typical for consumer grade use(aside from microwave oven for obvious reasons), and they have the stuff electrically grounded up the wazoo.

If you have the vital parts of your stuff basically (internally) shielded by a faraday cage, and have it well grounded beyond that, it's going to take a very large Pulse to knock it out(You would basically need to overwhelm either the ground wire itself, or the path taken to get there). But as a Solar Flare would be doing an "EMP" that is actually more like a succession of waves at wildly different frequencies and intervals, that's a different ball game.

In that respect, the Nuclear EMP is a singular event(well, per nuke used), the Solar EMP is more like the electrical/electronic version of a tsunami only moving much faster in every respect.

PotomacBob

If I understand the 1859 "Carrington Event" correctly, we would not get 17 hours warning. In that event, the first and strongest solar EMP on record, there was just over 17 hours from the time Carrington spotted the solar flares until the first waves hit the Earth. But when he first spotted the solar flares, nobody knew they were going to hit the earth at all. The sun was spinning. The Earth was moving around the Sun in an orbit. Chances are pretty high, I think, that solar flares spotted on surface of the sun will NOT hit the earth. Have I interpreted the information correctly, and if not, who will set me straight?

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@PotomacBob

If I understand the 1859 "Carrington Event" correctly, we would not get 17 hours warning. In that event, the first and strongest solar EMP on record, there was just over 17 hours from the time Carrington spotted the solar flares until the first waves hit the Earth.


You're talking at two different things here. A solar flare, we could have as little at 15 minutes warning, if that, because that's basically hard radiation traveling at the speed of light. The Carrington Event was a Coronal Mass Ejection - the sun effectively shot a chunk of itself off into space (a cloud of magnetized plasma). Those can take between 12 hours to several days to travel the distance involved, depending upon initial velocity. The effect upon the sun of the ejection - the flares and such - DO travel at the speed of light, so thus they're seen 8 minutes after they happen.

An analogy that may make sense is on a dark night, you see a rifle fire from a hill that's 2 miles away. The flash from the muzzle is effectively instantaneous - it still takes the bullet 4 seconds to travel the distance.

What happened with Carrington is simple - he observed the flares on the sun, didn't know what they meant (no one did at that time) but starting about a day later and lasting for a couple days is when things went to hell. Since they DID know a bit about the Northern Lights and since those normally aren't visible from Cuba ... it was a case of them identifying the cause AFTER the effect happened, and sticking his name on it.

We're more able than ever to see these things coming. But if one DOES hit us, we're fucked for a bit. The amount of induced power can melt the wiring INSIDE the transformers. It's not that we don't have replacement transformers and such available, it's the sheer quantity that would be needed that would cause the problem.

And basically modern society would, at best, be returned to probably somewhere around where we were in the 1920's, but with the knowledge of what we could do given enough time. With a whole crap ton of people fleeing major cities that have become completely unlivable.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
StarFleet Carl

@Not_a_ID

And with human nature being as it is, most people aren't likely to be particularly content to sit in the dark for years in a home/city that wasn't designed to function without electrical services being available. They're going to relocate to where there is power. Which is going to create yet another mess.


Yeah, that's pretty much why I keep a certain amount of emergency food and supplies in my GOTH bag, as well as emergency supplies in the house (and in another secure location), and a few thousand rounds of ammo.

Not_a_ID

@StarFleet Carl

You're talking at two different things here. A solar flare, we could have as little at 15 minutes warning, if that, because that's basically hard radiation traveling at the speed of light. The Carrington Event was a Coronal Mass Ejection - the sun effectively shot a chunk of itself off into space (a cloud of magnetized plasma). Those can take between 12 hours to several days to travel the distance involved, depending upon initial velocity. The effect upon the sun of the ejection - the flares and such - DO travel at the speed of light, so thus they're seen 8 minutes after they happen.


It should also be noted that another difference exists between a Nuke EMP and a Solar EMP. A nuke detonation will be "high intensity, short duration" (with intensity decreasing with distance) while a Solar EMP will be "variable intensity, long duration." But all things balanced out, odds are that in most EMP Scenarios, a nuclear EMP is going to be more intense than the solar version.

Which is a large part of why I said that something built to take a Nuclear EMP would likely be able to shrug off a Solar EMP. Likewise, there are some edge cases were stuff that could take a Solar EMP event will not handle the Nuclear(blast) EMP.

In some much more extreme scenarios, it is potentially possible(but not particularly probable) that a Nuke EMP hardened item/facility could take the nuke, but fail to the solar EMP because of the differences between how it happens. Although I'm having a hard time trying to conceive of how such a scenario could happen.

sejintenej

If I understand the 1859 "Carrington Event" correctly, we would not get 17 hours warning. In that event, the first and strongest solar EMP on record, there was just over 17 hours from the time Carrington spotted the solar flares until the first waves hit the Earth. But when he first spotted the solar flares, nobody knew they were going to hit the earth at all. The sun was spinning. The Earth was moving around the Sun in an orbit. Chances are pretty high, I think, that solar flares spotted on surface of the sun will NOT hit the earth. Have I interpreted the information correctly, and if not, who will set me straight?

I had understood that there was a satellite around halfway between the sun and earth designed to find such occurrences and warn us. If this is still the case then we would have a better idea that it actually would hit us.

Replies:   PotomacBob
PotomacBob

@sejintenej

Does anybody know this: From the moment somebody spots the sun acting up in such a way that there is a CME, how long will it be before scientists know that it's actually going to hit Earth? And how long after that, before that fact works its way through the government bureaucracy for us to get a public warning?

StarFleet Carl

@PotomacBob

From the moment somebody spots the sun acting up in such a way that there is a CME, how long will it be before scientists know that it's actually going to hit Earth? And how long after that, before that fact works its way through the government bureaucracy for us to get a public warning?


The answer to your first question was one I made above, due to the various speeds that the coronal mass has been ejected, normally at least 12 hours notice, and up to a couple of days for slower moving plasma. Typical speeds are 15 - 18 hours.

The answer to your second one is, without attempting to sound facetious, probably about a day AFTER the storm hits. The easiest way for the scientists to sound the warning would be direct press notification. The problem with this, though, is simple, and that's "What do you tell the public to do?" And THAT'S what's going cause the most government paralysis.

This isn't a nuclear bomb attack that's going to destroy the city, so if you don't flee, you'll die. Even a well reasoned exodus to evacuate a single city takes DAYS to implement - now you have hours, and you have multiple cities to deal with. You'll see a run on Harbor Freight for generators and gas cans (presuming you don't live in an area where power outages are already frequent and you have that covered already). Fill the bathtub up with water and then shelter in place for many folks in the U.S. is the best option.

Then it's see what happens. ID is right - this is not like a Nuclear EMP blast, and equipment will act differently. As an analogy, an EMP is you get hit with a water balloon. Splash, it's done. A CME, because of what it is, can be anywhere from standing in front of a lawn sprinkler for a full minute to standing in front of a fire hose for five minutes. Water balloon, you're wet, but stuff in pockets and not directly hit is fine. Sprinkler you may not get as wet, but it's of longer duration, so stuff in pockets may get ruined. Fire hose, you're probably knocked on your butt and everything is ruined.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@StarFleet Carl

Then it's see what happens. ID is right - this is not like a Nuclear EMP blast, and equipment will act differently. As an analogy, an EMP is you get hit with a water balloon. Splash, it's done. A CME, because of what it is, can be anywhere from standing in front of a lawn sprinkler for a full minute to standing in front of a fire hose for five minutes. Water balloon, you're wet, but stuff in pockets and not directly hit is fine. Sprinkler you may not get as wet, but it's of longer duration, so stuff in pockets may get ruined. Fire hose, you're probably knocked on your butt and everything is ruined.


Only with the (nuclear) EMP hardened facilities, they're wearing various types and sizes of rain coats. Some could possibly take on the fire hose for 5 minutes. Most would be able to handle the minute in the sprinkler, but the coat is going to become a bit soggy all the same. As long as the rest of you remains dry, it's all good. Except for the matter of there not being many of those kinds of proverbial rain coats floating around.

sejintenej

@PotomacBob

re CME

And how long after that, before that fact works its way through the government bureaucracy for us to get a public warning?

Hopefully they will at least warn the power companies and military promptly so that they can take appropriate action if there is any.
Hopefully there will be some government official with the nouse (though I have to wonder - they might get sacked for acting without an order from on high) like ....)

Replies:   REP  awnlee jawking
REP

@sejintenej

Hopefully they will at least warn ...


An unrealistic Hope.

The first thing a government is likely to do is to insist that the scientists who made the observation confirm their conclusions - I would say at least 2 days for that to happen. By then the CME event's radiation and solid matter will have struck Earth.

If the government acted immediately, you can figure at least a day for word to reach the power companies and military. Again, too late to help.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
awnlee jawking

@sejintenej

Hopefully they will at least warn the power companies and military promptly so that they can take appropriate action if there is any.


In the UK, the whistleblower would be sacked and the government would cover up their forewarning until the ruling party loses power :(

AJ

StarFleet Carl

@REP

An unrealistic Hope.


For the sake of argument, let's say scientists notice the CME. It's not just going to be one scientist, the satellites that monitor it are checked around the world. There are more than a dozen locations around the world that monitor solar weather all the time, and half a dozen satellites. You get 10 different people at the same time from differing parts of the world saying the sun just shot a CME and telling governments, and the governments are going to go, oh, shit, now what?

While they can (and probably would) issue warnings - you still only have on average 15 hours. Yeah, it's possible for some things to happen, but whether the power company would have time to implement their emergency plan - and some power companies DO have emergency EMP / CME plans - would be up in the air. (The biggest problem is simple - it's too expensive for them to prepare EVERYTHING for an EMP / CME, so they're only doing certain critical things. Which means, again, the general public that's unprepared is probably fucked.)

Replies:   REP  Not_a_ID
REP

@StarFleet Carl

the governments are going to go, oh, shit, now what?


You are right. Let's say we have a responsive government: 1 hour for the scientists to determine who needs to be notified and get word to the proper government representative. Assuming that person is available to take the call, 2 hours for the representative to notify the appropriate people and have them gather in one place to be briefed. 1 hour to brief them assuming of course teleconferencing is acceptable and they don't insist the scientist be present physically.

We now have about 13 hours before the CME hits Earth. During the next few hours the representatives would be making sure they aren't going to be blamed for the CME event. They will finally get around to notifying the power companies; another hour off the clock.

Now the finger pointing scenario begins again in the power company boardroom because they need to figure out how to put the blame back on the government for not giving them enough time to respond. Assuming of course it is possible for them to take some action. :)

Not_a_ID

@StarFleet Carl

For the sake of argument, let's say scientists notice the CME. It's not just going to be one scientist, the satellites that monitor it are checked around the world. There are more than a dozen locations around the world that monitor solar weather all the time, and half a dozen satellites. You get 10 different people at the same time from differing parts of the world saying the sun just shot a CME and telling governments, and the governments are going to go, oh, shit, now what?


FWIW, there actually is a "Space Weather" report that is generated by at least one government agency(I forget which one), and CME is one of their covered items. Public Alerts are generated online within an hour of detection, you just have to know where to look to get them. Many commercial entities actively monitor that service as it has direct impacts on their operations that rely on satellite comms. Many power companies likewise monitor those forecasts.

If you pay attention, you'll even see some news agencies report on such events even before they reach Earth. Although most media attention comes after the fact, as they can report on what stopped working and why.

But as it pertains to a large scale event, I wouldn't give good odds on the media handling it properly. How the grid operators respond is anybody's guess.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@Not_a_ID

But as it pertains to a large scale event, I wouldn't give good odds on the media handling it properly. How the grid operators respond is anybody's guess.


Raises hand ... Poorly and ineffectively!

I'm certain that there would be isolated and localized incidents where some power companies would respond properly. The REMC infrastructure in this country has a good tendency to respond properly in the event of emergencies, so do many power companies.

But you'll have two main issues to deal with. The distribution company may not be the generating company, and the sheer scale of what will happen worldwide. Let's say your county REMC (Rural Electrical Member Cooperative, for those not familiar with the term) is right on the ball, they see what's coming, they issue a public warning, de-energize the lines and isolate themselves during the event so they're as ready to go when it's over as they can be.

They're the distributor, not the supplier. The supplier of power may be a hundred miles away, and they weren't ready, so the power plant generators are now piles of melted junk. Now what?

The other issue is the bigger one. Electric companies deal with disasters all the time. They prepare for them. But let's say it's a hurricane. The companies know it's coming, they bring in equipment from other states, they stage the gear to do the work, and more importantly, they stage replacement equipment that may be stored in a warehouse several states away. There's only so many transformers and so much wire available.

What happens if you suddenly have 100 miles of high tension lines vaporize, and all those transformers and substations that feed off those lines melt or become useless? You can fix it - eventually - if you can concentrate gear and personnel to do so. That's a hurricane hitting Florida, knocking down lines and blowing transformers. Do it to the entire country, the entire world, all at once.

Not a pretty sight at all.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Remus2

Word of caution; use of the terms 'EMP, NEMP, HEMP, Solar Flare, CME, etc, stirs a lot of hate and discontent among the doomsday crowd/dystopian readers, preppers etc.

At issue are the number of youtube and dystopian author 'experts'. They are attempting to monetize their 'expertise' and will brook no other conclusions than their own.

Having said all that and assuming someone wishes to jump into that breech anyway, a few research topics are in order.

1. 1962 Soviet K3 over Kazakhstan.
2. 1962 U.S. Starfish Prime Johnson Island.
3. 1859 Carrington event focused on telegraph systems earth batteries.
4. 1989 Quebec blackout.
5. As many of the definitions you can stomach as found here;
https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/content/space-weather-glossary
6. Dielectric breakdown.
7. Telluric currents.
8. Astronomical unit:Speed of light.
9. Michael Faraday.
10. Cosmic spallation.

That should be enough to get an author with masochistic tendencies started.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Not_a_ID

@StarFleet Carl

The other issue is the bigger one. Electric companies deal with disasters all the time. They prepare for them. But let's say it's a hurricane. The companies know it's coming, they bring in equipment from other states, they stage the gear to do the work, and more importantly, they stage replacement equipment that may be stored in a warehouse several states away. There's only so many transformers and so much wire available.


"Spares on hand" is a bigger deal than many may want to consider. Grid-scale Power Transformers are generally very reliable, and have low rates of failure. Some of the very massive ones have exceedingly low rates of production(as in single digit or low double-digit levels of production). In "Normal circumstances" no more than a small handful of them are expected to "pop" and need replacement in any given year. (With available parts available to jurry-rig a temporary solution with smaller transformers in the interim)

Now you have a massive scale event which knocks out BOTH most of those smaller transformers(so no abundance of smaller spares available) and also knocks out a half-dozen or more of those larger scale behemoths, and you're up shit creek really quick.

Replies:   Jim S
Jim S

@Not_a_ID

"Spares on hand" is a bigger deal than many may want to consider. Grid-scale Power Transformers are generally very reliable, and have low rates of failure. Some of the very massive ones have exceedingly low rates of production(as in single digit or low double-digit levels of production).

All very, very true. But allow me to add the perspective of one that worked in the electric utility industry for his entire career, and a significant part of it as a field electrician, maintaining those monsters and related equipment.

A severe enough EMP pulse will fry a lot more than just the transformers. It's likely to blow the protective breakers and all the circuitry that controls the operation of both the protective breakers and the transformers. The control wiring exists in stations and to replace an entire stations existing controls would be nightmarish. All of that will probably be worse than the transformers themselves as it will take far longer to replace than the transformers themselves. And that's not even mentioning all of the transformers that step down high voltage to home use voltage. That generally happens in several steps (i.e. transformers). A utility with 300 large transformers may have as many as 15,000 smaller ones that between the big boys and your home.

That will be further compounded by the fact that an EMP event will be widespread, i.e. over a large geographic area. Single utilities or several in a small geographic area impacted by wind or ice storms can rely on imported crews from unaffected areas. Think of Minnesota utilities borrowing utility workers from Georgia and Florida to get them past the damages of an ice storm on power lines. That won't be possible in a large scale EMP event as everyone will be affected.

Suffice it to say that a large EMP event will leave the power grid (and all parts thereof) truly screwed.

Goldfisherman
Updated:

From my experience in designing and building 250KW to 10Megawatt thruput transformers. Using copper instead of aluminum and proper core design for 99%+ efficiency instead of the 82% as the industrial standard, and using proper fusing and spark gap techniques some of the utilities would survive in pretty good shape. 90% of the transformers currently being produced could not stand up to a full blown CME or nuclear EMP because of Business reasons and tendency to use the cheapest materials for products designed by Twitter trained engineers.

I know the systems I designed would handle either one without more than a momentary interruption of more than a few moments past the reduction of the pulse or mass passing. Some of the 4 million volt transmission lines in the northwest are designed with a spark gap at each tower where they are suspended by ceramic insullators. In the dams the generators are well grounded at the source end. the large transformers on the primaries are not grounded but have spark gaps and grounded secondaries. This allows the spark gaps at the far end to take the overvoltage loads.

Just my 2Cents.

Remus2

The balloon analogy doesn't really work for a HEMP strike. It will work for NEMP/blast strikes. The latter is relatively well understood, but the former has been muddied more than a Mississippi bayou.

For a HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) strike, the bomb has to be detonated in a sweet spot at or just above the Karman Line. Where that sweet spot is exactly is determined by the type of bomb, and the yield.

There are four primary elements to a HEMP.
E1 very fast and energetic in terms of less than a few hundred milliseconds.
E2 medium speed medium energy, but lasting in terms of seconds plus. You electrical engineers out there will understand the significance of that.
Both E1 and E2 are top down and mostly line of sight as the associated gamma rays dump loads of energetic electrons into the affected area via Compton effect, Photoelectric effect, and associated Rayleigh scattering within the atmosphere. It is this form of energy that will do the most damage to free standing semiconductor dependent devices. For all you off grid types thinking your solar arrays make you immune, remember those solar cells are semiconductor based. Stick one in a junk microwave for 30 seconds and watch what happens if you've any doubt.

E3, E3 heave. These are the ones of most interest to the grid and its associated engineers.
https://www.nap.edu/read/898/chapter/18
The earth has natural currents that run through it 24/7. These currents are normally diurnal traveling south during the day, and north at night. Telluric/earth currents are accounted for as an everyday item for design of substations, switch yards, etcetera.

E3, and E3 heave components overcharge those telluric currents via induction.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday%27s_law_of_induction

This makes them ground up instead of atmosphere down. The heave version is the worst of the two. When a HEMP device detonates, it bulges if not blast a temporary hole into the earth's lower magnetosphere. This causes it to 'heave' downward to fill in the hole. The initial blast E3, is rapidly followed in a one two punch by this much stronger field as a result.

There are rumors of super EMP weapons having been developed on top of everything else. This weapon is designed to maximize the gamma yield of the bomb over neutron or blast yield. So far no source I can find can positively confirm their existence, but given such a very minimal physics task of maximizing gamma yield, I'd be damned surprised if the three major nuclear powers don't already have them, and probably the minor powers as well.

As for a solar based event, there is a reason the Auroras are at the poles and not over the equator.
http://sci.esa.int/cluster/50416-electron-flux-and-magnetic-field-in-the-cusp/
Solar energy is regularly pumped into the magnetosphere cusp 24/7. This again is by induction. That energy is distributed through earth's crust via telluric/earth currents.

The only way to take a direct hit from the sun is if it's strong enough to push through the magnetosphere elements and burn off volumes of atmosphere that would normally shield us. There will not be anyone left if that happens, so it's pointless to discuss.

Getting back to point, a solar event will be 99% ground up as a result. A strong enough solar event would take out the grid as we know it. Those events could be CME, Coronal holes, or outright flares. However, anything not earth grounded stands a high probability of survival. This is where the off grid solar farms can help assuming a warning.

Speaking of warnings, it takes 8.3 minutes and change for anything in the electromagnetic spectrum to reach earth's orbit. Any other event can be hours or days depending upon its sol escape velocity. It's currently physically impossible to get a warning against the EMF variety. By the time the satellites pick it up, process it, and send it on, it would already have been here.

The only hope for an early warning against that type is quantum entanglement communication.

A few things to chew on. I'll show myself back to the peanut gallery door now.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Remus2

Word of caution; use of the terms 'EMP, NEMP, HEMP, Solar Flare, CME, etc, stirs a lot of hate and discontent among the doomsday crowd/dystopian readers, preppers etc.

At issue are the number of youtube and dystopian author 'experts'. They are attempting to monetize their 'expertise' and will brook no other conclusions than their own.

On the advice of an editor, I added the tag "teotwawki" to my "Great Death" series search codes. It was a HUGE mistake, as it brought up the pepper porn crowd (i.e. all those who are looking for advice on how to survive an ACTUAL Apocalyptic event (i.e. killing everyone who threatens them, like legal law enforcement officials, in order to keep whatever they're stockpiling)). Since that wasn't the focus of my stories, they rounding denounced and 1-voted my stories.

Trust me, as in any other '-porn' scenario, it's just not worth it to court these types unless you're already a died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist yourself!

Crumbly Writer

@Remus2


Speaking of warnings, it takes 8.3 minutes and change for anything in the electromagnetic spectrum to reach earth's orbit. Any other event can be hours or days depending upon its sol escape velocity. It's currently physically impossible to get a warning against the EMF variety. By the time the satellites pick it up, process it, and send it on, it would already have been here.

Since the story being considered is based on sunspot activity reaching the Earth, discussions of nuclear explosions, while useful for others, isn't particularly relevant here. However, while we might not be warned about a single solar flair reaching the Earth in time, that's generally not how solar flairs work. While a great many solar flairs could impact the Earth, almost none ever reach us. However, a series of extreme solar flair activity would be detected early, before the flairs rotated enough to impact the Earth, in which case, we'd have warning of what was coming. Whether it's sufficient warning or not is up to the author (ex: the first pass might actually pass over the Earth, while a subsequent pass may only affect one particular portion, thus allowing everyone else plenty of time to prepare).

I've been studying this, since I was specifically asked to undertake this story, but it's still sitting on my drawing board as I'm entertaining other stories at the time. :(

Replies:   PotomacBob
richardshagrin
Updated:

Solar flare, not flair. It is a good thing you have a flair for writing.

Further on-line searching produced the following from Merriam Webster:
"Did You Know?
In the 14th century, if someone told you that you had flair (or flayre as it was then commonly spelled), you might very well take offense! This is because in Middle English flayre meant "an odor." The word derived from the Old French verb flairer ("to give off an odor"), which came in turn from Late Latin flagrare, itself an alteration of fragrare. (The English words fragrant and fragrance also derive from fragrare.) The "odor" sense of flair fell out of use, but in the 19th century English speakers once again borrowed flair from the French-this time (influenced by the Modern French use of the word for the sense of smell) to indicate a discriminating sense or instinctive discernment."

PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

However, a series of extreme solar flair activity would be detected early, before the flairs rotated enough to impact the Earth, in which case, we'd have warning of what was coming.

We don't actually get a warning the second instruments pick up the possibility that a solar storm is headed our way. By the time the solar weather experts have determined the likelihood the storm will impact the earth, and the supervisors have debated whether they are certain enough to warn the politicians, and by the time the politicians have dithered over whether to announce anything at all - we may never get a warning - even if it takes the storm 4 days to arrive.

Remus2

Until proven otherwise, nothing in the normal verse can move faster than light. In the quantum verse, it may be possible to cheat relativistic rules, but that has yet to be confirmed.

We may see active flaring events that will not directly impact earth, we may even be able to assign a probability to being hit, but we'd never be able to get out a real time warning for the electromagnetic component of a flare.

What warning we do get from EMF based solar events is after the fact. By that time, satellites have already been hit, and the secondary induction had already occurred at the poles along with upper atmosphere spallation.

So I again, no real time warning can occur short of quantum communications relay. The latter still residing mostly in the realm or science fiction.

Remus2

Do keep in mind particle based events move much slower. Hours to days in fact. Both particle based (coronal hole, cme, etcetera) and electromagnetic spectrum based can and have produced geomagnetic, radio, and solar radiation storms.

AmigaClone

We would not get a warning of a flare that would hit the Earth. What we might get is a warning of a coronal mass ejection headed towards Earth that is associated with a solar flare. CME travels a lot slower than the speed of light taking up to four days to cover the distance that the flare covered in less than nine minutes.

Replies:   Not_a_ID  Remus2
Not_a_ID

@AmigaClone

We would not get a warning of a flare that would hit the Earth. What we might get is a warning of a coronal mass ejection headed towards Earth that is associated with a solar flare. CME travels a lot slower than the speed of light taking up to four days to cover the distance that the flare covered in less than nine minutes.


This. The particles hitting Earth's Magnetosphere is likely to kick up all kinds of stuff as well. Although I will honestly admit not knowing if the 19th Century's flaming telegraph poles were tied to either the CME or the EMF from the event itself. Part of the problem when both get lumped under "Solar flare"

Replies:   Remus2
Remus2

@AmigaClone

I believe I stated that a couple of times already.

Remus2
Updated:

@Not_a_ID

The particles hitting Earth's Magnetosphere is likely to kick up all kinds of stuff as well. Although I will honestly admit not knowing if the 19th Century's flaming telegraph poles were tied to either the CME or the EMF from the event itself. Part of the problem when both get lumped under "Solar flare"


Either particulate or EMF based could have caused that, but given multiple findings of Be10, and other isotopes associated with that date captured in tree rings, it's thought the most likely cause was a CME by some folks.

It wasn't just flaming telegraph poles either. The 1859 Carrington event set fire to many of the telegraph stations.

What can be determined by empirical evidence was that it was telluric/earth currents that caused that (edit: as supercharged by the geomagnetic storm). Those currents hit the earth batteries charging the system.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_battery

The simplest earth batteries consist of conductive plates from different metals of the electropotential series, buried in the ground so that the soil acts as the electrolyte in a voltaic cell. As such, the device acts as a primary cell. When operated only as electrolytic devices, the devices were not continuously reliable, owing to drought condition. These devices were used by early experimenters as energy sources for telegraphy. However, in the process of installing long telegraph wires, engineers discovered that there were electrical potential differences between most pairs of telegraph stations, resulting from natural electrical currents (called telluric currents[4]) flowing through the ground. Some early experimenters did recognize that these currents were, in fact, partly responsible for extending the earth batteries' high outputs and long lifetimes. Later, experimenters would utilize these currents alone and, in these systems, the plates became polarized.


The currents overcame the batteries and insulators catching several parts of the telegraph systems on fire. Further, dielectric breakdown continued to cause problems for the systems for a couple of years to follow.

Goldfisherman

I forgot to mention earlier. Transformers are intrinsically isolated from outside EMI or EMT for the most part. In the US they are designed for 60 HZ and in Europe for 50 HZ neither one resonates at the other very well. Also as the coils are wound around the core, one side is 180 degrees out of phase with the other side of the winding therefore ph1+ ph1- = 0 for induced voltage per winding. Most power transformers are manufactured with an intrinsic spark gap for both the primary and the secondary rated at least 200 percent of the rated voltage and 1/4 the dielectric breakdown.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID
Updated:

@Goldfisherman


Transformers are intrinsically isolated from outside EMI or EMT for the most part


Understood and agreed, an unconnected transformer should be at little or no risk.

The concern is how many of the connected transformers are "adequately protected" from external sources, as voltage transformers are low failure rate items, having thousands of them blow up within minutes/hours of each other would set things back considerably. (There are not many "unconnected transformes" kicking around compared to their connected counterparts)

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