Profitable Preparedness Podcast – Episode 48
Where we help hardworking people in the preparedness community break out of corporate America to live a totally free life.
What is an EMP?
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is an intense burst of electromagnetic (EM) energy caused by an abrupt, rapid acceleration of charged particles, usually electrons.
A lightning strike produces a localized EMP that gives rise to large electrical currents in nearby wires. A single current surge can damage sensitive hardware such as computers and peripherals. All electronic and communications systems should have some form of protection against the effects of an EMP. Transient suppressors, also called surge protector s, AC outlets, and modem jack s offer limited protection against the EMPs that occur during thundershowers. The best method of protection is to unplug AC cords and modem lines of computers when they are not in use.
The detonation of a hydrogen bomb at a high altitude generates a powerful EMP over a large geographic area. This induces damaging electrical currents in wireless antennas, telephone lines, and utility wires. A strategic nuclear weapon used in this way, for the purpose of disrupting the communications and/or electrical infrastructure, is called an electromagnetic bomb .
All of the major world powers have dedicated a lot of time and money to figure out how to effectively weaponize EMP’s as a means to destroy a rivals infrastructure. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that when planning military strategy that crippling a rivals communications, electricity, water and sanitation services would put the adversary at a major disadvantage. Not to mention the social and political pressure it would put on the rival government as the citizens become restless and unruly due to quickly deteriorating living conditions.
In addition to the potential EMP sources listed above, another very probable source is a coronal mass ejection or CME. A CME is a large release of plasma and accompanying magnetic field from the solar corona. They often follow solar flares and are normally present during a solar prominence eruption. The plasma is released into the solar wind
CME’s can happen several times a day when the sun is most active. During its quieter periods, CMEs occur only about once every five days. The underlying cause of CMEs is not well understood. Astronomers agree, however, that the sun’s magnetic field plays a major role.
The History of CME’s and EMP’s
Carrington Event – August 1859
the biggest solar storm on record happened in 1859, during a solar maximum about the same size as the one we’re entering, according to NASA
That storm has been dubbed the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize the link between activity on the sun and geomagnetic disturbances on Earth.
During the Carrington Event, northern lights were reported as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, while southern lights were seen as far north as Santiago, Chile. (See pictures of auroras generated by the Valentine’s Day solar flare.)
The flares were so powerful that “people in the northeastern U.S. could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora,” Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said at a geophysics meeting last December.
In addition, the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment—some bad enough to set fires, said Ed Cliver, a space physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Quebec March – 1989
The Day the Sun brought Darkness
On March 13, 1989 the entire province of Quebec, Canada suffered an electrical power blackout. Hundreds of blackouts occur in some part of North America every year. The Quebec Blackout was different, because this one was caused by a solar storm!
On Friday March 10, 1989 astronomers witnessed a powerful explosion on the sun. Within minutes, tangled magnetic forces on the sun had released a billion-ton cloud of gas. It was like the energy of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. The storm cloud rushed out from the sun, straight towards Earth, at a million miles an hour. The solar flare that accompanied the outburst immediately caused short-wave radio interference, including the jamming of radio signals from Radio Free Europe into Russia. It was thought that the signals had been jammed by the Kremlin, but it was only the sun acting up!
On the evening of Monday, March 12 the vast cloud of solar plasma (a gas of electrically charged particles) finally struck Earth’s magnetic field. The violence of this ‘geomagnetic storm’ caused spectacular ‘northern lights’ that could be seen as far south as Florida and Cuba. The magnetic disturbance was incredibly intense. It actually created electrical currents in the ground beneath much of North America. Just after 2:44 a.m. on March 13, the currents found a weakness in the electrical power grid of Quebec. In less than 2 minutes, the entire Quebec power grid lost power. During the 12-hour blackout that followed, millions of people suddenly found themselves in dark office buildings and underground pedestrian tunnels, and in stalled elevators. Most people woke up to cold homes for breakfast. The blackout also closed schools and businesses, kept the Montreal Metro shut during the morning rush hour, and closed Dorval Airport.
The Quebec Blackout was by no means a local event. Some of the U.S. electrical utilities had their own cliffhanger problems to deal with. New York Power lost 150 megawatts the moment the Quebec power grid went down. The New England Power Pool lost 1,410 megawatts at about the same time. Service to 96 electrical utilities in New England was interrupted while other reserves of electrical power were brought online. Luckily, the U.S. had the power to spare at the time…but just barely. Across the United States from coast to coast, over 200 power grid problems erupted within minutes of the start of the March 13 storm. Fortunately none of these caused a blackout.
In space, some satellites actually tumbled out of control for several hours. NASA’s TDRS-1 communication satellite recorded over 250 anomalies as high-energy particles invaded the satellite’s sensitive electronics. Even the Space Shuttle Discovery was having its own mysterious problems. A sensor on one of the tanks supplying hydrogen to a fuel cell was showing unusually high pressure readings on March 13. The problem went away just as mysteriously after the solar storm subsided.
Twenty years later, the March 1989 ‘Quebec Blackout’ has reached legendary stature, at least among electrical engineers and space scientists. It is a dramatic example of how solar storms can affect us even here on the ground. Fortunately, storms as powerful as this are rather rare. It takes quite a solar wallop to cause anything like the conditions leading up to a Quebec-style blackout. Typical solar activity ‘sunspot’ cycles can produce least two or three large storms, so it really is just a matter of chance whether one will cause a blackout or not. As it is for hurricanes and tornadoes, the more we can learn about the sun’s ‘space weather,’ the better we can prepare for the next storm when it arrives!
Starfish Prime Test – July 9th 1962
On 9 July 1962, the United States conducted the ‘Starfish Prime’ nuclear test, one of a series of five aimed at testing the effects of nuclear weapons in high altitudes / lower outer space. The explosion took place 400 kilometres above the Johnston Atoll in the Northern Pacific Ocean. It had an explosive yield of 1.45 megatons – approximately a hundred times that of the Hiroshima bomb (around 13 kilotons).
The event took place at the height of the Cold War and its nuclear arms race. Shortly before, in October 1961, the Soviet Union had conducted the largest-ever nuclear explosion, the 50 megaton Tsar Bomb. In 1962, political tension found its expression in an all-time high of nuclear testing: 178 tests – more than twice the annual Cold War average (see chart). Only three months after ‘Starfish Prime’, the world found itself at the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The ‘Starfish Prime’ test experimented with radiation belts in the Earth’s magnetosphere known as Van Allen belts, they consist of energetic particles located in the inner region of Earth’s magnetosphere. James Van Allen had discovered them shortly before, in 1958, and agreed to cooperate with the military in a study on how they could be disrupted by nuclear explosions.
The consequences for the magnetosphere were completely unpredictable at the time. Also its crucial role in shielding life from solar winds was not understood until later. The Starfish Prime test resulted in a temporary alteration of the shape and intensity of the lower Van Allen belt, which created artificial aurora borealis that could be seen across the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii to New Zealand.
The test also revealed the destructive impact of the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) produced by a nuclear explosion. Located at more than 1,300 kilometers from the test site, the Hawaiian Island of Oahu received a power surge that knocked out numerous electric devices. The damage to both civilian and military electrical systems led physicist Lowell Wood to declare that if the Starfish test had taken place at the Nevada test site, the consequences “would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in history books.”
When the 1.44 megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead detonated at an altitude of 250 miles (400 km), it made no sound. There was a very brief and very bright white flash in the sky that witnesses described as being like a huge flashbulb going off in the sky. The flash could be easily seen even through the overcast sky at Kwajalein Island, about 2000 km. to the west-southwest.
After the white flash, the entire sky glowed green over the mid-Pacific for an instant, and a bright red glow formed around “sky zero” where the detonation had occurred. The initial fireball lasted less than a second before being dissipated along the Earth’s magnetic field lines. This was followed by a bright red-orange auroral display lasting more than 7 minutes. Long-range radio communication was disrupted for a period of time ranging from a few minutes to several hours after the detonation (depending upon the frequency and the radio path being used).
In a phenomenon unrelated to the EMP, the radiation cloud from the Starfish Prime test subsequently destroyed at least 5 United States satellites and one Soviet satellite. The most well-known of the satellites was Telstar I, the world’s first active communications satellite. Telstar I was launched the day after the Starfish Prime test, and it did make a dramatic demonstration of the value of active communication satellites with live trans-Atlantic television broadcasts before it orbited through radiation produced by Starfish Prime (and other subsequent nuclear tests in space). Telstar I was damaged by the radiation cloud. The damage to Telstar 1 increased each time that it traveled through the belt of radiation, and it failed completely a few months later.
Kazakhstan – October 22, 1962
A few hours after the sun rose in Kazakhstan on that cloudy October morning, the Soviet Union detonated a 300 kiloton thermonuclear warhead in space at an altitude of 290 kilometers (about 180 miles) over a point just west of the city of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan. The test was generally known only as Test 184(although some Soviet documents refer to it as K-3). It knocked out a major 1000-kilometer (600-mile) underground power line running from Astana (then called Aqmola), the capital city of Kazakhstan, towrd the city of Almaty. Some fires were reported. In the city of Karaganda, the EMP started a fire in the city’s electrical power plant, which was connected to the long underground power line. (Most details about this underground line are very sketchy, and the reported length seems to be impossibly long for a single length of line carrying any kind of alternating current without some sort of re-generating station. It is probable that the reported length was the combined length of a few different lines branching out from the industrial city of Karaganda, a major center of the coal-producing region.)
The EMP also knocked out a major 570 kilometer long overhead telephone line by inducing currents of 1500 to 3400 amperes in the line. (The line was separated into several sub-lines connected by repeater stations.) There were numerous gas-filled overvoltage protectors and fuses along the telephone line. All of the overvoltage protectors fired, and all of the fuses on the line were blown. The EMP damaged radios at 600 kilometers (360 miles) from the test and knocked out a radar 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from the detonation. Some military diesel generators were also damaged. The repeated damage to diesel generators from the E1 component of the pulse after the series high-altitude tests was the most surprising aspect of the damage for the Soviet scientists.
The Difference between EMP’s and CME’s and How They Can Affect Us
There is a lot of misinformation about Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) events, about what they are and how they affect things. One of the big misconceptions is that they are the same. While they may have a similar component and both can cause power outages, there are some striking differences.
The main difference between an EMP attack and a CME impact is what is effected. For EMP, both the power grid and electronics are damaged and destroyed. In a CME impact, mainly the power grid is affected, while electronics are untouched.
There are actually three components, or pulses, to an EMP, they are called E1, E2 and E3:
- E1– The first component is a very fast, high voltage pulse. It is very brief, but very intense.
- It is much faster than lightning and common lightning and surge suppressors will not stop this pulse.
- It induces high voltages in wiring and cables, like power lines, phone lines, etc.
- This is the component that destroys computers and electronic equipment.
- The E2 pulse is a lot like lightning and is easier to protect against, though if the protection circuit was destroyed or damaged by the E1 pulse, may still do more damage.
- The E3 pulse is a long duration pulse and is not like the E1 and E2 pulses.
- It’s a very slow pulse, which can last up for minutes.
- It is caused by the nuclear detonation disrupting the Earth’s magnetic field. Which sounds a lot like what happens during a CME impact.
- This is the wave that shuts down the power grid. It does this by inducing a DC-like current. When enough DC current flows through a transformer, it melts.
While a CME can damage electronics in space, such as those on satellites and on the Space Station, it doesn’t generate any E1 pulse. A severe CME could take out large portions of the power grid out for years, but they would not damage any electronics equipment down here on Earth unless, perhaps, connected to the power grid or other very long lines.
How Long Would it Take for a Country to Recover from an EMP?
Today, if just one of these 500 kiloton bombs like the Mark 18 were detonated 300 miles above the central United States, the economy of the country would be essentially destroyed instantaneously. Very little of the country’s electrical or electronic infrastructure would still be functional. This is not to say that every device would be destroyed, but the interdependence of different electrical and electronic infrastructures makes it possible to stop nearly all economic activity with only limited damage to critical infrastructures. It would likely be months or years before most of the electrical grid could be repaired because of the destruction of large numbers of transformers in the electric power grid. Several countries today have the ability to produce a weapon similar to this 1952 bomb, and send it to the necessary altitude. (England tested a single-stage weapon with a yield of 720 kilotons, called Orange Herald, on May 31, 1957.) The number of countries with this ability will undoubtedly be increasing in the coming years.
For an explanation of why the all of the nuclear weapons so far tested above ground have been suppressed-EMP weapons, and the ease with which those weapons could have been made into enhanced-EMP weapons, see the first half of the web page on Super-EMP Weapons.
The instantaneous shutdown of the power grid would occur primarily because of the widespread use of solid-state SCADAs (supervisory control and data acquisition devices) in the power grid. These would be destroyed by the E1 pulse, but could probably be replaced within a few weeks. The greater problem would be in re-starting the power grid. (No procedures have ever been developed for a “black start” of the entire power grid. Starting a large power generating station actually requires electricity.) The greatest problem would be the loss of many critical large power transformers due to geomagnetically induced currents, for which no replacements could be obtained for at least a few years. The loss of many of these power transformers would greatly complicate the re-start of the parts of the grid that could be much more quickly repaired. The loss of a sufficient number of these large power transformers would effectively destroy the power grid as we now know it. We would have to just hope that there were enough small islands of local electric power to enable a basic subsistence level of economy to exist.
The time that it would take to recover from a nuclear EMP attack has generally been estimated to be anywhere from two months to ten years.
While we believe that it is important to make sure your family is prepared for probable dire situations such as job loss, major illness, natural disasters, house fires, car crashes and unfortunately active shooter situations at schools it is important to have an awareness about the dangers of the world.
We decided to put out a podcast on EMP’s and CME’s to provide an insight in military testing and the devastating potential that the sun can produce.
Will an EMP that would almost guarantee a nuclear response occur in our lifetime? The probability is low. Could a powerful CME erupt from the surface of the sun directly towards the Earth? Maybe, but again not highly probable.
By some estimates, scientists believe that a large scale EMP attack would kill 90% of all Americans within 12 months of the attack. If this podcast starts a discussion about how as a family you would deal with a life without electricity, cell phones, computers and maybe cars then we are not caught flat footed.
We have included a link to preparing for an EMP, but as a warning… This is a prepper’s wet dream and you could go down a prepper rabbit hole very easily.
Here is an EMP preparedness link: https://offgridsurvival.com/emppreparedness/
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