“Wired” offers major article on the grave threat of major solar storms, and proposes a simple technical solution

Model Railroad power station, Timonium MD, 2015-10

The mainstream corporate media is slowly paying more attention to the risk our civilization can face from solar storms. This may finally be out of self-interest.

Now, Wired Magazine(Conde Nast), on pp.80-89 of what appears to be the July-August issue for 2022, on p. 80 in print (I get a physical subscription mailed to my UPS business address), Matt Ribel offers a detailed booklet article with illustrations by Mark Pernice, “Star Destroyer”, as part of a “Back Channel” series. Online, the title is “Here Comes the Sun—to End Civilization”, link (subscription paywall) above. (An odd quote from the libretto of Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder”, at the end, reviewed here April 13, 2022 ).  Ironically, the title of the magazine reflects why huge solar storm incident could be so destructive to our modern way of life, when the Carrington Event on Sept. 1, 1859 was not so (indeed, the War Between the States to come would be, for half the country).  There was another storm almost as large in 1921, and a more moderate storm in Quebec in 1989.  It sounds plausible that latitudes closer to poles may be even more vulnerable.

Paul Beckwith and societal collapse, July 2022

The article starts out by the author’s pretending to be a photon “in a crowded nightclub”, although dirty dancing might not find much to strip away.  At 27 million degrees there is no COVID or monkeypox.  But pretty soon he is back into the discussion of the problem.  A large enough coronal mass ejection, with the Earth in the “right” place, and hitting when the Earth’s magnetic field happens to be polarized in the opposite direction (call it “heterosexual”) will cause enormous direct currents on transformers in our power grids, particularly in parts of the country where the rocks are more conductive (like the Northeast).  And transformers are not very easy to replace.

We had a narrow miss with a large CME that blew off in the Earth’s path about one week early in July 2012.

I had written about this topic on July 8, one of Bret Weinstein’s podcasts,  with a comment Aug. 3 adding a particularly graphic video showing how the western world would completely collapse over about three days.  The collapse would start in space, then gradually shut down Internet and cellular and other communications.  After power failed, many basic functions, like drinking water would fail.  Cooling of nuclear power plant ponds could fail.  There is some debate as to whether magnetic storage of data would be damaged (as it would from certain EMP attacks, mainly level 1), but a video by Anton Petrov about  a years ago warned that it would.

Anton Petrov and solar sunspot cycles

The article discusses some of the worst-case scenarios mapped out by John G. Kappenman (who spent a lot of time at Minnesota Power), and a DHS study called JASON. 

Kappenman and others have said that transformers could be effectively protected by certain kinds of capacitors.  It would cost about $500 million a year for about a decade, or about $2 per American a year. That reminds me of reducing the downstream liability (literally) risk for a water leak in a high-rise building by replacing a shower head or cartridge. 

The article discusses the apparent insufficiency of NERC standards and the general lack of progress in American utilities to come closer to meeting to the recommendations regarding capacitors.

Major power lines near Woodbridge VA 2019-6

The experience of the Texas grid (which is separate from the rest of the U.S.) in February 2021 is shocking, and it isn’t clear why it was so close to total collapse.  The performance in California with respect to wildfires starting is not good either.

Physics Girl has a recent video on the topic from April 2022, and calls a coronal mass ejection “Sun vomit”.

She mentions our likely future dependence on electric vehicles and charging stations for climate change.

Physics Girl on solar storms

Years ago, I visited the North Anna nuclear generating station in Virginia, SW of Fredericksburg, not too far from the Twin Oaks Intentional Community.

Every 11 years we have about a 10% risk of a destructive solar storm, a risk which adds up over a century (risk higher at the height of the cycle, to be reached next in 2025).  Do the math. (It’s a good test problem.)

An article I recovered off my old blogging platforms links to video links of talks by Sam Feinburg (2017) and Taylor Wilson (maybe 2015).

I’d say, the solar storm problem may well be even more urgent than climate change, and it certainly matters a lot more than pronouns and bathroom bills (on “The Left” and “The Right”, both).

The author ends the article by asking the utility industry to add the capacitors. “Soon, please”.  I concur.

(Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 6:30 PN EDT by John W Boushka)

Matthew Cappucci’s “Looking Up”, the life of a young adult (Harvard-MIT) weather nerd

Storm west of I-35 n of OKC on May 23, 2022, torrential rains from warm front approach

The most natural way for me to introduce Matthew Cappucci’s book “Looking Up: The True Adventures of a Storm-Chasing Weather Nerd” may be to recount a recent travel narrative of my own, in just a bit.

Old Town Books, Alexandria VA 2022-8-9

The publication details are: Pegasus Books, ISBN-978-1-63936-201-1, hardcover, 293 pages, 24 pages of color photos   (Amazon SiteStripe link).

Fox5DC interviews Matthew Cappucci

For my own experience first:  From May 19-24, I made an American Airlines trip with car rental, unusually expensive due to COVID circumstances [I needed to revive and use my AA miles or lose them] , from home in northern VA (this time out of Reagan) to DFW, and drove up 287 from Forth Worth, thru Wichita Falls eventually to Amarillo, then through the Oklahoma Panhandle to see Black Mesa, then through NE New Mexico past the volcano stubs, to Trinidad CO, where we had snow flurries Saturday night May 21.  Then I took US 160 back to Kansas, went through Greensburg (which had a terrific tornado in 2007), stayed in Wichita, then headed down I-35 to return to Dallas.  On the way down, I ran in to someone significant at a stop, total coincidence, then witnessed the eastern edge of a storm, drove through torrential rains from a warm front, ate at a Waffle House in Moore, OK (the most exposed town in the nation to high end tornadoes), visited the Arbuckle mountains (there is a zip line which I did not try), then back to Dallas, to the same Comfort inn at Loop 12 and 35E, with a Waffle House next to the property, that I stayed the first night.   Trouble is, Comfort Inns offer their own complete breakfasts for free, which you can’t beat.  (That’s why I usually book them.)   I did get to the Waffle House late when it was open only for takeout, and the items were greasy.  I had to drive to a RaceTrac (like a Wawa) two blocks away to find healthier foods (delicious yogurt/fruit dessert combos).

another interview

Now I love to name specific streets in Dallas, having lived there nine years in the 80s, in areas varying from Cedar Springs to Park Lane (north Dallas) to Lake June (Pleasant Grove).  There is no numeric/alphabetic system for naming streets in Texas Cities, like there is in Salt Lake City, or Washington DC or NYC for that matter.  Cappucci mentions Richardson, known for its school district (it’s post segregation but “de facto” and would prompt discussions of anti-racism) – Plano (where EDS lives) is even fancier.  I worked for credit reporting company Chilton in Oak Lawn, but now (after two mergers) it is Experian, 25 miles north on US 175 in McKinney. Really, I was all over the state the years I lived there and have returned numerous times.  The fact that the politics have gone to shreds is a tragedy.

Gibbous moon over Alexandria VA 2202-8-9

The lifestyle there was good in the 80s with Reagan, but we saw the catastrophe with the power grid there in February 2021.  Even with climate change, the state has its blue northers. I might have moved back in 2017 and gone through this.

Now, during that weekend, Matthew was chasing storms up north, then headed down I-35 to Texas.  For part of the weekend, it seemed like he was always on a tether  about 300 miles long.  While I was driving I-35 in OK and witnessed the eastern edge of a huge storm, he was heading out to Lubbock for Monday night’s tornado outbreak, which materialized (post book publication) from the same storm.  

Condo near Alexandria VA and rainbow and red coloration of building at sunset after severe T-storm July 2022

I also wanted to note the isolation of the US 160 drive back to Kansas, with only a few tiny towns, and no cell service in some parts, on Sunday morning.  If you break down, you’d better be handy with changing tires, etc., which I am not, even with rentals.  I want Matthew to do the US 160 drive on a future trip.

Now, for the book.  Cappucci provides no table of contents or index, and does not even number the chapters!  I counted 29 of them (varying greatly in length).  He was mystified that I thought this was unusual for a book. 

The writing style is detailed as to autobiography.  His career at Harvard (crossover to MIT) was indeed unusual for an undergraduate, as he was allowed to design his own curriculum, and a lot if included storm chasing and then international travel.  He winds up taking the reader to Chile (the observatory, although he misses some of the desert, he gets to see some of the controversial pre-Inca culture), then to Vietnam (still communist but open), where he bought some shirts!, then  Alaska.

Black Mesa, OK; you can see it from the North along CO highway 160, too

In fact, I visited Hawaii (Oahu, Maui, and Big Island) and drove up one volcano on Maui, then Alaska, on a Braniff (extinct) triangle fare in 1980 and got as far as the slopes of McKinley on private plane, but not to Fairbanks (I ran around with another passenger – an attorney I met on the plane — who had rented a car and I would have gone if I had one more day).  I did see a coastal glacier park.   On the way home, I got to fly over Mt. St, Helens, which had erupted three months before. (I also drove there in a rental on another trip in 1990).  (On Big Island, you can drive Mauna Loa only on a 4-wheel drive truck, not a normal rental vehicle.)

Matthew’s travels (not exactly Gulliver’s of Jonathan Swift, there are no Lilliputians in Matthew’s life) settle down near the end of the book as he describes the paradoxes of his job search, and how he wound up writing weather columns for the Washington Post and working for Fox5DC.  He offers many side stories, like his first airplane parachute jump (an instructor is tethered to the customer — several YouTube celebrities I know did this, even for 18th birthday ritual; a bartender whom I know is trying to become an instructor in VA, and Fox News international correspondent Trey Yingst regularly “jumps out of planes”, in Israel. )

A reader could well visit the YouTube channel of recent Harvard graduate John Fish, for comparison to another interesting experience of a Harvard undergraduate (including a “D1 Story” which is important on its own right for college sports and freedom of speech). . 

It’s pretty easy to imagine a film based on the book.  It would be logical, say, for National Geographic Documentaries be interested.   

I will say that Matthew is always non-political (which is good behavior on a station with conservative ties).  In his columns, he does describe how the intensity of some storms (especially torrential rainfalls and floods, v. extreme droughts) relates to human-induced climate change, all the way back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (2005).  But at the books-signing party at Old Town Books in Alexandria VA last night, he suggested that there be some “winners” from global warming, mainly civilizations farther from the Equator and at higher altitudes.  Civilization as a whole will eventually adapt.  I would note that some of the most severe heat waves have occurred very distant from the Equator (like the heat wave in British Columbia around the time of the summer solstice in June 2021, or most recently in western Europe and the UK in July 2022;  Russia had a heat wave in August 2010;  Heat waves in Siberia, melting permafrost, could release methane and accelerate climate change).

Indeed, on a general level, many other Internet columnists will disagree, that the world can adjust, without revolutionary technological change on the one hand, or enormous individual lifestyle privations on the other (or both).  Yup, look how protestors (like Xtinction Rebellion, sometimes filmed by Ford Fischer on his News2Share channel)  epoxy-glue themselves to highways and get arrested;  they think it takes that self-sacrifice for future generations (or their own).  In fact, even with the “easiest” outcomes,  many regions of the planet will be severely displaced and migrate; moreover, authoritarian political leaders are likely to return to hyper-nationalism and conquer and obliterate other people’s so as not to have to share the world’s likely dwindling resources with them.  Vladimir Putin’s recent (irredentist) behavior provides a template.  There could be incentives to destroy the infrastructures of competing countries with EMP pulse attacks, short of nuclear war.  So this possibility, along with the fact that our discussion of climate change hasn’t paid enough attention to space weather (the possibility of another Carrington event, which we barely missed in 2012) would get a lot attention in any new book by me (if it were non-fiction).  What I plan, actually, is fiction, but I’m wandering off track.

I spoke earlier about the “parts of a book” and chapter and section numbers, and the like.  My own three DADT books have them galore.  In the third book (2014) I experimented by dividing the book into “non-fiction” and “fiction” (the latter offering two indirectly connected short stories), but in the autobiographical chapters I usually start with very vivid detail about what will turn out to be a significant (maybe life-changing) incident, say leading to a story-circle revolution.  I will tend to venture then into philosophical, legal or moral interpretation.  Here, Cappucci will follow up on vivid travel details with descriptions of the science behind violent storms, or, toward the end, the way the television and weather forecasting job markets behave.   Sometimes, like around p. 169, he gets into why planetary climate is changing.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2022 at 3 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)

PBS runs abridged version of “Manzanar, Diverted” on water issue; a review of Stenhammar’s symphonies

Manzanar, my visit May 2012

On Monday, July 18, 2022, PBS stations (POV) aired a 56-minute version of the film “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust”, directed by Ann Kaneko, with Jin Yoo-Kim, and Tracy Rector.  IMDB lists the original film as 84 minutes, and I still wish PBS would present films in their entirety without completely repackaging and rebranding them. IMDB lists no other distributors.  The production company is Intersection Films. 

Manzanar, Diverted: Trailer

Manzanar had been one of the internment camps of Japanese civilian Nisei during World War II under President Roosevelt. I have visited the park once, in 2012. It is accessed on US-395 which runs from the Sierras, around Mammoth Lake, down the Owens Valley, dropping 3000 feet in one stretch, through the town of Bishop, before finally reaching a turn toward Los Angeles.  I have driven the 395 stretch several times, the first time in 1971 with ex Army and grad school buddies. 

UCI offers a talk by the director (embedding not allowed) on YT.

The film focuses on the diversion of dwindling water resources (an appendix to climate change) to Los Angeles.  There is legal and moral controversy over whether a distant city “own” their water. Much of it flows off the east slops of the Sierra Nevada.

QA on film at Cal Tech

The filmmaker does a brief comment at the end and says that the “land and water” are the protagonist, not an individual character.  There is some mention of the Nuumu Poyo trail.

I wanted to re-cover another music topic briefly, the two symphonies of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar.

Here is a video with manuscript online posted by Inverted Ninth Chord of Wilhelm Stenhammar – Symphony No. 1 in F Major (1902-1903), Performed by the Sveriges Radios Symfoniorkester, Conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov.  I don’t recall if this is the performance I have on a Records International or Marco Polo CD from the late 1980s.  The work runs 55 minutes in four movements and the heavy use of brass in a relatively “pastoral” key of F Major (the same key as Brahms Third, and yes keys seem to have personalities despite equal temperament) gives a Wagnerian, even Brucknerian feel, especially in the “sunrise” at the very end.  Furthermore, the slow movement (in A Minor) reminds me of the slow movement of Bruckner’s Fourth.  The Scherzo in B-flat however is very gentle.

Stemhammar Symphony #1

The same channel offers  Wilhelm Stenhammar – Symphony No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 34 (1911-1915), Performed by the BBC Philharmonic, Conducted by Vassily Sinaisky.

Stenhammar Symphony #2

The tone of the work (47 min) is almost Baroque, with Bach-like progressions taken to extreme.  The finale is another great fugue, possibly inspired by Bruckner’s 5th Symphony, although the movement as a whole, while 17 minutes, seems terse and drives toward its climax in an efficient fashion. The basic march theme (related to previous movements) will sound familiar.  Again, less well-known composers have contributed many everyday themes and melodies in our culture (especially for Hollywood).

(Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2022 at 11 AM EDT)

Video on major nuclear fusion experiment in Germany

Colorado-Kansas border 2022-5

Future Unity offers the 10-minute video June 12, 2022 “Germany’s New Nuclear Fusion Reactor SHOCKS The Entire Industry!”.

The device shown in the video is interesting in that it has a twisted shape remind one of a Mobius strip.  Topology seems to play a role in making this process work.

The video channel took the precaution of station its Fair Use position for any claims possible for owners of components of the video.  It’s unusual to see this, but it may be a result of the CASE Act and the opening of the CCB (June 16).

The Environmental League of Massachusetts presents a panel discussion by Zoom Dec 8, 2021, “The Promise of Fusion Energy and the Challenges Ahead”.

Panel discussion in MA on fusion

On Twitter, you will find other energy experts say that fusion still consumes more energy than it can produce, for now at least.  But in the long run there seems to be a good chance that fusion energy could help considerably with the climate change issue and, together with decentralization, make the grid(s) safer from disasters (as in the previous post). 

Before, I had reviewed the book “The Boy Who Played with Fusion” by Tom Clines, about Taylor Wilson, who had built a small fusion reactor (essentially a “star”) in his home garage in Arkansas in 2008 at the age of 14.   I believe he works in Reno NV now at the University lab.  Taylor’s site is called “Sciradioactive”.

I made an announcement video today about the consolidation of my websites.

my announcement

I’ve give a narrative progress report and more details about my reasoning soon.

(Posted: Friday, July 8, 2022 at 7 PM EDT)