The issue: Solar Cycle 24 is predicted to peak in May 2013 with a daily sunspot number of 90. Solar cycle maximums can disrupt sensitive electronics on earth and threaten communications and power grids among other things.
Now, how is the press going to report on this issue? Take Fox news for example. Michio Kaku, an expert astro-physicist, was on Fox News telling us that this is going to be "Space Katrina" and throw us all back into the stone age; which is cool because he also believes in time travel. Couldn't they get someone from NASA? Is this "fair and balanced"?
There have also been some dire predictions in the blogosphere, as an example, this Blog suggests quite a catastrophe:
- Trains will collide and planes will crash, as their communications systems fail.
- Satellites will crash back to Earth like meteors.
- Hospitals, with their life-sustaining support systems, will see some of the most urgent needs at first. But eventually, millions may die from hunger and thirst.
- With no power, food cannot be processed or delivered.
- Water cannot be pumped from reservoirs into homes.
- Back-up generators will help, but only for a few days before their fuel runs out.
- As sewage systems fail, diseases will break out.
- Horses will replace cars, the financial system will collapse and, in a silver lining of sorts, there will certainly be no more e-mails for you to clear.
Since disruptions from solar activity is well known as a valid scenario to plan for, and we can expect the doomsday aspect to make it interesting (as was the case with Y2K), I guess we will need to work to share information on this and address the potential impacts just as was the case with Y2K and is today with PanFlu and other threats.
There are better information sources of course. For instance, NOAA and NASA. NOAA predicts solar cycle 24 (2012-2013) to be the “weakest since 1928” with $1 trillion damages in the worst case.
As with hurricanes, even a weak storm today can be devastating as we are more vulnerable. With hurricanes it was building on the shore line. With solar storms, it is our dependence on technology that will make us more sensitive to solar storms. So, even a weak storm can be a significant event.
Recent reports are actually lowering expectations for a strong cycle. See http://bit.ly/123Wmb for an article that appeared yesterday; while it says that “Earth could get hit by a devastating solar storm at any time” it goes on to report that “If the prediction proves true, Solar Cycle 24 will be the weakest cycle since number 16, which peaked at 78 daily sunspots in 1928, and ninth weakest since the 1750s, when numbered cycles began.” The article indicates that the NOAA solar panel’s predictions appear to lessen the potential risk to the high energy electrical grid system of the 2012-13 solar flares set out in a Jan. 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report.
Obviously this is something to watch and plans for “loss of lifelines” are always prudent.
Some Official Resources:
Space Weather Prediction Center: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov
NOAA Solar Cycle Progression: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle
Predictions of the magnitude and timing of Cycle 24
Steve Davis, All Hands