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The Carrington event

On September 1st 1859 an incident known as the Carrington event, so named after the British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington, caused mayhem in telegraph offices where equipment began to fail and paper caught fire. Telegraph operators received moderate electric shocks if they were using the equipment at the time.

Of course in 1859 there was no electrical grid to fail, and computer chips that would be fried should a similar event happen now, were not even imagined.

Carrington, reflecting an image of the sun onto a sheet of white paper saw a cluster of dark spots on the paper. With no preamble to the main event he then witnessed two huge flashes of intense white light emanating from the dark cluster of sunspots. It was all over in a few seconds, but within hours the effects would be seen or felt across the globe. What Carrington had seen was a solar flare. All over the world there were reports of bright colours in the night sky, auroras caused by the flare hurling electrified gas particles at planet Earth. The flare is estimated to have had the power of 10 billion atomic bombs.

So, if telegraph offices were left inoperable and fires were caused near to the equipment, what would be the result if this happened today?

Well, not a lot according to British scientists. A report by the Royal College of Engineering who state that statistically a storm of this magnitude is likely to hit every 100-200 years feel that the lattice style electricity grid used in the UK offers protection against such events and that the nations infrastructure is reasonably well prepared.

Professor Paul Cannon from the panel tasked with assessing the risk likened the level of disruption to that experienced by the UK when ash fallout from the Icelandic volcanic eruption affected air travel.

Chris Train, director of market operation at The National Grid said: “Our grid is organised as a lattice which means it has resillience built in. That’s very different to the Canadian grid for example, which is point to point with long lines in series. You can see how that kind of system might be vulnerable to cascade”

The report did concede that satellites would be affected and that this in turn would affect sat nav systems down on the ground….so it might be advisable to have a map in your car. (They really said that, I couldn’t make this up )

The report also stated that some mobile phone systems are not as robust as they could be, and that those on aircraft at the time would receive a higher dose of radiation.

Having said that global positioning would be affected at the time I would assume that a higher dose of radiation is not the first thing that will come to the mind of a pilot who has no idea where he is, and as it’s possible he is driving an enormous glider at this point, the computer chips on the flight deck having been fried as the storm passed over the aircraft. I am sure everyone will be reassured by the reports recommendations that putting some alternative sensors into aircraft to help out with “electronic glitches” that may occur.

Glitches? I wouldn’t call plummeting from 35,000 feet a glitch, personally I would feel its a major disaster, especially if me or mine were on board at the time.

In March 1989 a solar storm crashed the Hydro-Quebec power grid and resulted in loses estimated to be in hundreds of millions of dollars, again in 1994 a solar storm caused major disruption to communications satellites, network television and nationwide radio across Canada. Neither of these storms was particularly powerful in comparison to the Carrington storm, makes you wonder what the results would have happened if it had been.

To add to the confusion of whether the UK is able to deal with a Carringtonesque event both the BBC and Sky are carrying the story. The BBC headline is UK ‘can cope with solar superstorm’ whereas Sky says Solar Superstorm: UK ‘Must Brace for Threat’ Both quote the same research.

The report concludes that such an event would be disruptive but not cataclysmic, something both the BBC and Sky manage to agree on.

For me, I think I’ll just continue hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Take Care

Lizzie

22 comments to The Carrington event

  • david075

    I say an event like that would be a disaster, just a case of how big a disaster

    • Northern Raider

      Only for sheeple and mainstream society especially those who believe in the big state and the welfare state. Preppers, Survivalists, smallholders, homesteaders, off-gridders etc and the other free thinkers prolly wont be bothered.

  • Luci ferson

    Like northern raider said, for a lot of us it would be more of an inconvenience than a serious threat.
    however the after effects of it could be a lot worse depending on the depth of damage done.
    I imagine the uk with no comms or tv would soon resort to a riot state within days especially if the cash points and the supermarkets wont be working.
    hungry frightened people get very scarey very quick if they have nothing to do.

  • Luci ferson

    my greatest fear isnt of anything that could happen, its the people who are left afterwards.

  • Evening All.

    Well I have to disagree on this one. For those fortunate enough to be off grid or even to ave a home with a chimney then yes, it will be a pain in the bum but not a disaster. For those preppers who live in less than optimum accommodation, such as modern houses or flats it will be a huge event. One that old quite easily threaten their survival.

    Take care

    Liz

  • Highlander

    Thank you Lizzie,.. this is a good post,… its just a pity that only the converted get to read it, its the kind of information that should be `out there` for all to read.

    I also agree that for most of us, the event in itself will be of little consequence, but what follows after a few days, when food supplies start to run dry,..that’s when we will be thankful for what we have

  • Highlander

    Agreed. I think the ‘event’ will be deal able, is always the aftermath that will be an issue or preppers. Having said that, it as taken me years to get enough cash together to move from my modern box with no chimney to a Victorian with open fires and enough garden to grow stuff in.( I hope to e out of ere with 8 weeks) I think I am very lucky to do this, many preppers will be stuck should a Carrington event take place.

    Take care

    Liz

  • Luci ferson

    sadly im still stuck with a modern townhouse,
    but ive removed the gas fire, and the flue is now nothing but a clear airway to the roof with a closable vent.
    I was going to put a solid fuel burner in the hole were the gas fire came out, but decided against it as I assume all the smokeless fuel would be snatched up and used within the first week. (dont want to burn anything that lets people know the house is occupied)
    I can always put a real fire back in at a later date if things quieten down,
    and like liz , I dont plan on staying here too long, as soon as its quiet enough to move I want to be getting to my allotment as I figure it wont take long for hungry people to remember there is allotments (food) on outskirts of town.
    The sooner I can get closer to it the better.

    now for my question.

    I would like to store some radio equpiment in a way that should a large carrington affect occur, or something similar, e.m.p. etc. then it wouldnt be damaged.
    What would be the simplest and the best way to do this.
    usually the simplest isnt the best,

    • moosedog

      If you type the word faraday into the search box at the top right of the Survival UK page you will find several articles about storing electronic equipment safely.

      • Luci ferson

        thanks moosedog
        much appreciated.
        its easy to find exactly what your looking for, if you know the exact right word to search lol.

  • prepper1

    As a prepper living in the suburbs it wouldn’t affect me much.

    BUT that’s because I’m willing to do without electricity, heating etc and just get on with it.

    If more people just got on with it, pulled up their breeches and got stuck in then it’d be fine.

    But again like Luci said above the people would quickly become bored.

    What effect that would have, or whether they’d find another interest instead of jezza and trish who knows…

    • bigpaul

      i’ve always assumed that whatever event happens it will involve the shutdown of the power grid, and so have organised my prepping for a life without electricity.

      • Luci ferson

        yup like bigpaul I assume first things to die would be electricity in any magor event.
        although i havent planned on entirely doing without electricity. the small amount of electricity I will have will be mainly solar and thats only after ive scavanged everyones gardens for thos crappy little light things.
        they may not be of much use for most things, but theyre easy to wire up as a small dc light inside with the solar panel discretely hidden outside.
        other than those I dont plan on using electricity for much at all. ( mp3 player excused, life without some music would be too hard to bare)

  • fred

    Excellent, Lizzie, excellent.

  • prepper1

    Thats why my preps don’t include solar or any other energy production, apart from a wood burning gas bottle stove.

    I want to make the transition from powered to un powered as soon as possible.

    I fail to see any point dragging it out bu trying to keep electrical items working post shtf.

    Whilst yes some would be handy… pull up them breeches, bite the bullet and away you go…

  • bigpaul

    any electrical gadget post SHTF is just going to take up space you could use for something else, throw them out, from your kettle to your computer, the only thing that might be useful is a CHEST freezer which you could use as a ROOT CELLAR. i too have a wood burning gas bottle stove which i’m not allowed to fit now (Housing Association) but will come into its own WTSHTF. i believe that the Sheeple will find it hard (read impossible)to live in the transition period between power down and living permanently without electricity and we may see “society” being transformed.

    • Luci ferson

      yup, cant see much use at all for most electrical equipment,
      the sooner we adjust to life without it the better.
      it may never come back on.
      anyone who is generating power in anyway, wouldnt really be using it for anything other than the most important things.
      communications radio
      the odd light just cos its easy.
      I cant see them using it to get a tv and bluray player working, and anything a power tool can do you can get a hand tool that does the same and creates a lot less noise.

      id probably consider a freezer but i think its a luxory id have to go without, I dont think id have enough to put in it to make it worthwhile feeding it whatever energy form it uses.

      I plan on staying as silent and smokeless as I can be for as long as possible. (I havent got much of a defence plan)

  • Luci ferson

    i did have the idea to build a portable solar harvester.
    just using loads of panels from solar garden lights.
    so when I am working outside i could just unpack it, and set it up.
    then when i go back inside at night just pack it back up and take it home again, with nice fresh batteries.

    Maybe il get round to building one after an event.
    electricity isnt really high up on my list of survivals neccessitys , and ive still got far too many things to work on.
    I imagine prepping is a nightmare for those who have sick people who require machinery to live.
    dialysis machines etc.

  • Luci ferson

    Although i have seen a documentary about a russian who has treated himself at home with a home made dialysis machine for the last 20 years, because he cant afford the hospital bills.
    I really should have taken more notice, was no use to me but could be someday.

  • Luci ferson

    Looks far too scarey for me, hope the day never comes that I ever need to do anything like that to myself or anyone else.

  • River Song

    So the BBC and Sky say “Don’t Panic”

    Interesting that the Cabinet Office says it’s on its threat matrix

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