(NaturalNews) A massive solar storm, considered an inevitable occurrence by astrophysicists, would wreak devastation on modern civilization like a Hurricane Katrina across the globe, U.S. government officials have concluded.
"It's important to understand that, along with other types of natural hazards, [solar] storms can cause impacts," said Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Periodically, eruptions or explosions on the Sun's surface send bursts of high-powered radiation or charged particles slamming into our planet. Low-level solar weather is responsible for the polar auroras and periodic disruption of radio signals. But truly powerful storms, which occur every few decades, can release as much energy as a billion hydrogen bombs.
Government scientists recently carried out a tabletop exercise to analyze the likely effects of such a storm -- "what we think could be close to a worst-case scenario," according to Tom Bogdan of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.
A solar storm in 1859 was so strong that it actually caused fires along telegraph wires. Civilization has only become more vulnerable to such storms in the intervening decades, as dependence on electronic devices has grown to previously unimaginable proportions.
In the simulation, the effects of the storm began with the disruption of radio and GPS signals. Ten to 20 minutes later, the storm "basically took out" commercial satellites, disabling television stations, telephones and other data transactions.
"When you go into a gas station and put your credit card in and get some gas, that's a satellite transaction," Bogdan said.
Nearly a full day later, the ongoing burst of radiation reversed the current in electrical lines, knocking out transformers worldwide and leaving millions without power. This quickly led to a shutdown of water, heating, cooling and telephone services. The simultaneous collapse of the whole grid made it nearly impossible to bring power quickly back online, straining the two-to-three-day generator capacity of hospitals and other emergency facilities.
The exercise is less speculative than many might hope. On March 13, 1989 a massive solar storm took out the entire Hydro-Quebec power grid within seconds.