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December 09, 2016
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Not the end of the world, but…

Tony Staffieri

Solar flares can penetrate the electromagnetic shield that protects the earth, interrupting electronic communications and satellite transmissions, interfering with navigation systems and wrecking havoc with our electric grid (which is already overwhelmed and very fragile). In our everyday lives, they can affect the electronics in everything from microwave ovens and TVs to automobiles, planes, buildings and more. Our modern way of life, totally dependent on electricity, truly is vulnerable to solar flares.

History reminds us of what can happen. “On September 1, 1859, an electromagnetic storm raged across our planet. The sky lit up with a brilliant aurora, bright enough to erase the darkness of night, and telegraph systems sparked and malfunctioned, (in the U.S. and the U.K.) shocking their operators as they struggled to send their messages.” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859) The impact this flare had on the rudimentary technology of 1859 did little to disrupt people’s lives, but our world today is different.

In more recent times, a solar flare on March 13, 1989 knocked out power to six million residents in Quebec and, closer to home, it destroyed a $12-million generator/step-up transformer owned by the Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey.

For people living in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, who lost electricity during the recent earthly storm named Hurricane Sandy, it’s not very hard to imagine the consequences of an even more destructive solar storm that could take out our electrical grid. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would do what it could, but we should not count on them to deliver food, water, heat and power to us quickly. If NASA’s predictions are correct, we must be ready to withstand loss of power for weeks or even months.

Consider, too, what will happen after two or three weeks without power, when nearby friends and relatives in the big cities leave and head to the smaller towns in our region. (On a smaller scale, this actually happened after 9/11.) Imagine people filling our guest rooms, sleeping on our floors and sharing our food. Complete strangers will be asking for our help. Right now in Narrowsburg, up to 70 families already depend on the Narrowsburg Ecumenical Food Pantry. We are a hamlet of less than 500 people. Do the math.

None of us is really ready for an event of this magnitude. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated—stuff happens, sometimes really bad, life-altering stuff.

As I learned in Boy Scouts: Always be prepared.