EMP: The Potential Disaster That Gets Ignored

The subject of EMP isn't covered in the mainstream press very often. And while The Economist isn't exactly mass-market, it isn't fringe either. The disaster that could follow from a flash in the sky

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is an effect of nuclear weapons. Detonate a nuclear bomb high in the atmosphere (40 km or so) and the result of pumping large amounts of gamma rays into the ionosphere is an EMP. Other things can generate similar effects on varying scales.

ON MARCH 13th 1989 a surge of energy from the sun, from a “coronal mass ejection”, had a startling impact on Canada. Within 92 seconds, the resulting geomagnetic storm took down Quebec’s electricity grid for nine hours. It could have been worse. On July 23rd 2012 particles from a much larger solar ejection blew across the orbital path of Earth, missing it by days. Had it hit America, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have destroyed perhaps a quarter of high-voltage transformers, according to Storm Analysis Consultants in Duluth, Minnesota. Future geomagnetic storms are inevitable.

An EMP would have similar impacts.

High voltage transformers are not something you order from Amazon. They take time to build, they are not commodities, and there are very few people building them. Without them, you would have NO electric power – except what you are able to generate on your own.

No electricity means no heat in the winter, (bet your oil-burner uses electricity to run,) no refrigeration. ATMs, electronic cash registers, computers, and the internet all stop working. Electronics in vehicles stop working, as do fuel pumps at gas stations. Which means goods delivery – including food – stops. Water treatment and pumping stops. Elevators stop. And it isn’t just that computers and smart phones stop working for a time. They are toast, and won’t work again. Same for the electronics in your home thermostat, refrigerator, oven, car, solar-power charging system, etc.

The expense of installing surge-blockers and other EMP-proofing kit on America’s big transformers is debated. The EMP Commission’s report in 2008 reckoned $3.95bn or less would do it. Others advance higher figures. But a complete collapse of the grid could probably be prevented by protecting several hundred critical transformers for perhaps $1m each.

The costs of not doing it, versus the cost of doing something seem to be the sticking point. That and who would pay for it.

The article isn’t long and is worth a look.

Tropical Storm Cindy

Tropical Storm Cindy is expected to make landfall tonight (or very early in the AM). Tropical Storm Cindy Public Advisory

Maximum sustained winds are 50 MPH with higher gusts. It is expected to make landfall around the Texas/Louisiana state line.

Wind isn’t the biggest danger in a tropical storm – though 50 mph winds can do damage. And of course tornadoes are always an option. Flooding is often the real issue.

RAINFALL: Cindy is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 9 inches with isolated maximum amounts up to 15 inches over southeastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and western portions of the Florida Panhandle through Thursday night. This rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding in these areas.

Rainfall amounts of 3 to 5 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 7 inches can be expected farther west across western Louisiana and eastern Texas through Thursday night. Rainfall should spread northeastward across Arkansas and into portions of the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys through Friday, with total rain accumulations of 3 to 5 inches with locally higher amounts possible.

3 to 5 inches is a lot of rain. 15 inches is a crazy amount of rain.

When I lived in hurricane country, I used to do a late spring/early summer post on the virtues of being prepared. It isn’t a question of if, it is when the next storm will come. Usually it is best to get out of their way. But it is always a good idea to be prepared for days or weeks without electricity, or access to the internet, or credit card/debit card transactions, or Apple Pay or whatever. No refrigeration. No electric stove. (No gas stove that relies on electricity.) No cellphone service. But every time the forecast called for a storm, the folks around me ran about as though they never considered the possibility of a hurricane.

So are you prepared for a few days or a few weeks without the trappings of modern life? Do you have some canned food, and a non-electric can opener? Some cash for when the ATMs/credit cards don’t work? Look at the aftermath of Sandy in NYC, if you doubt that all of this can happen.

Are the Media Hoping a Hurricane Will Hit the US?

It seems that way to me. There are a large number of folks jumping up and down over the fact that the 5-day forecast storm track for Tropical Storm Erika is pointed at Florida. Tropical Storm Erika: Track takes it a little farther east | www.palmbeachpost.com (See below for a quote from a guy at the Hurricane Center about 5 day forecasts.)

It has been 10 years since a hurricane made landfall on a US coastline. I think it is really pissing the global-warming/climate-change folks off. This isn’t what was forecast. This isn’t what they predicted. They predicted more and more powerful storms. They predicted death and destruction. They got none of it.

The Palm Beach Post is one of the few sources that is noticing the latest change in the forecast. Granted, the official track is aimed directly at Palm Beach County.

Tropical Storm Erika is expected to reach Category 1 hurricane strength early Monday as it approaches Florida, but a mosey to the right in the forecast track late Wednesday may signal a more northerly long-term path.

But enough about the biases of the media.

If you live in Florida, you should be prepared for a hurricane. You should have been prepared in January, even though the season didn’t start then. Water. Food. Meds. Documents. Full gas tank. (You should not be driving around with the gauge on “E.” You don’t save money that way. You don’t drive less.) Shutters. Escape plans. Family plans. Everything ready. If you aren’t prepared – didn’t we just have the 10th anniversary of Katrina? – you are asking for trouble. Didn’t you learn anything from Andrew or Katrina?

Actually even the .gov tells everyone (not just Floridians) to have a MINIMUM of three (3) days worth of food, water and medicine. MINIMUM. Natural or man-made disasters are NOT limited to Florida or California.

Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said it’s important for people not to focus on the center of the forecast cone.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty of what this storm will look like once it gets through the wind shear,” Feltgen said. “You can’t hang your hat on something that is five days out.”

In other words: Don’t wait for the last freaking minute to prepare. You might not have that minute.