Many homesteaders have heard of the Carrington Event of 1859.
This massive solar storm struck the very early wired telegraph grid, and was so intense that in some places, telegraph operators reported they could send messages even with their batteries disconnected. The event produced auroras that were seen close to the equator and illuminated the night sky so bright that Americans could read their newspapers on their porch.
This historical storm that pummeled the Earth was caused by a coronal mass ejection striking the magnetosphere, and remains to this day one of the largest electromagnetic storms on record.
Of course, in 1859, unless you were a telegraph operator getting zapped by poorly grounded or isolated instruments, or were dependent on a message getting through in a hurry, an electromagnetic storm wasn't a big deal. In fact, it was more of a cultural novelty, as people who had never seen the Northern Lights in the sky got to enjoy the amazing show caused by the disturbance in the upper atmosphere.
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But 2016 isn't 1859, and the grid is far more complicated than it was during pre-Civil War days. Today, a solar storm the size of the Carrington Event could destroy transformers and other key parts of the power grid, knock out satellite communications, and take out ground-based communications. Radio and other wireless transmissions like cellphones could be disrupted, and transmitting facilities damaged. According to a 2013 study by insurer Lloyd' of London, a Carrington-sized storm is "almost inevitable" in the future, simply because one occurs about every 150 years. The study found that:
Blackouts would last anywhere from 16 days to 1-2 years, depending on if spare parts for the grid are accessible. If "new transformers need to be ordered, the lead-time is likely to be a minimum of five months," Lloyd' found. This is because transformers are custom-made.
The highest-risk areas would be "along the Atlantic corridor between Washington D.C. and New York City." Other high-risk regions include Midwest states, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, and the Gulf Coast.
The total economic loss would be as much as $2 trillion.