Tag Archives: grid down

Understanding Solar Flare Terminology

Back in the 1990’s my father and I were getting into amateur astronomy.  We had a pretty cool telescope (Meade LX200) and would spend evenings finding all sorts of galaxies and nebulae.  It was a ton of fun, and we were nerds about it too, forcing everyone in the house to keep the lights off so our night-vision wasn’t ruined.  Also, if we needed to run inside the house to get something, we’d wear two pairs of sunglasses.

Since that time I’ve been on the email list Spaceweather.com (sign up here) where you are kept abreast of the current happenings in outer space, such as comets, near earth asteroids, meteor showers, and solar flares. Another great email alert system comes from the Australian government (sign up here).

This is a timely article because we are entering another peak in solar activity, which follows a very predictable 11 year cycle.  More frequent alerts are coming and they are sometimes difficult to understand, so I wanted to share some information and resources.

The flares are measured as soon as they occur and are given a strength-based label , C, M or X.  Class C and Class M flares are frequent and don’t really cause much noticeable interference, unless you are a ham radio operator working on the very high frequencies.  X Class flares are much more rare and depending on their size and direction, they could cause a lot of damage.

What does this have to do with homesteading?  Well, let me just tell you by sharing an example of the extreme so that you can make sure you understand this terminology and be prepared.  The largest solar event in recent history was in 1859 and has been termed the Carrington Event.  See this wikipedia article for the full scoop, but for now just know that it was a solar flare that caused telegraph lines to become charged to the point where operators were shocked and some stations even burned down.  The interconnected telegraph lines acted like a giant antenna and focused this inbound energy from the sun.  In our hyper-technological age, the effects of a storm of that magnitude would be devastating to our vastly larger and increasingly interconnected power grid.  The result could be short or long term power outages, depending on the level of severity.

Here are just a handful of recent examples:

2003 – The Halloween Storms – a series of flares send CME’s towards our planet creating heavy disturbances in high frequency radio transmissions.  Also, the Wide Area Augmentation System used by the FAA to provide navigation information to aircraft was put out of commission.  Flares measuring X10, X17 and X28 were recorded.  The X28 was not earth directed, though.  The damage was caused by the X10 and X17.

2000 – The Bastille Day event – X5 class flare launched a CME towards Earth causing a large geomagnetic storm.  No damage reported.

1989 – On March 6 an X15 class flare occurred, resulting in a CME that hit our planet on March 9.  This was strong enough and direct enough that the power grid in Quebec collapsed for 9 hours.

I use the above as a reference when reading the alert emails I receive.  Knowing that we only need be concerned about X class eruptions rules out most of the notifications.

What can we do about it?  Be informed –  Subscribe to the above alert systems.  When a large flare produces an earthbound CME, unplug sensitive electronics.  Reduce grid dependency – heat your home and cook with a wood stove, that kind of stuff.  You never know what may happen in the future, and knowing how to perform basic homesteading tasks could serve you well.  This answers one of the ‘why’ questions on why we try to learn the old ways of doing things.  Its not only fun, but does serve as a backup plan for the unknown, no matter how small the risk.

Thanks, Robert.

Back up heat sources

In October 2011 our area was hit by a very large and early snowstorm.  This wet snow stuck to everything and was particularly destructive because most of the trees had still not lost all their leaves.  Branches fell on power lines causing widespread power outages (for three or more days in some instances), but luckily we were spared.

This event got me thinking about heating our home in the winter if we had no electricity for our forced air furnace.  The main motivator was that our new baby girl was less than two months old.  We purchased a kero-sun heater from Lowe’s and a few spare fuel cans.  The thing works great and I have enough fuel for several days of back up heating.

Now, I’ve one-upped myself.  I found an old cast iron wood stove on Craigslist.  It is a Vermont Castings Vigilant which was assembled and test fired on September 25, 1980.  This is the same exact stove that my father had in our house growing up and so I was very comfortable in this purchase.  A quick call to my uncle revealed that he also had the same one and said that this stove was the best one on the market for a very long time.

I’ve read online that there are lots of people that have used the Vigilant for their primary heat source for 30 years.  The owner of this stove had it sitting in their garage for the last ten years and considered it a nuisance, thought it smelled bad and was glad to part with it for the very low price of $180.  For reference, new stoves today are in the $1500 to $3000 range.

Can’t wait to install it and test it out.

Thanks, Robert.

Internet Down

As you may know, I’m blessed in that I have a great job that I can do from home.  This job required 24/7 connectivity with the internet, however.  100% of my job is done on the local server at my employer’s office in California.

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but Courtney and I rely on the internet for almost everything.  Mapquest, online phone directories, communication via email and facebook are just a few.

The first few days here in Colorado were without internet.  We deliberately had our service set up the week before we got here so that there was no excuse for delays because I had to get back to work quickly.  As it turned out, the internet provider had lines crossed in their local service box and it took about a day of “the run around” before they sent someone to fix it.  All told, we were in the dark for three days including the weekend.  Don’t worry, I don’t mean dark in the literal sense.  Electricity was on, but we had no contact with the outside world other than our cell phones which are dumb phones and not smart phones.  It seemed like an eternity.

Thankfully I had the foresight to do some planning, but there were plenty of gaps too.  I downloaded the DirecTv satellite installation guide so I could get to work on that right away.  I’m kind of a nut in that I absolutely love maps, so we had that covered already.  We did not have a phone book for the local area.

The “To Do” list contains the following:

1. Obtain local phone book

2. Obtain old telephone which doesn’t require electricity.  I found one on Craigslist for two dollars and just need to make arrangements to pick it up.   Sometimes a power outage doesn’t mean phone lines are down.  But if your phone requires electricity, then you’re outta luck.  Older phones just plug in and can make and receive calls.

3. Begin gathering key references material.  This includes downloaded information on your computer but also a three ring binder for things I may need to know but can’t research. In here I keep things such as dosage information for medicines/herbal remedies, table for measurement (english/metric) conversions, operator/repair manuals for important tools like your chainsaw or generator, etc.

4. Get a generator and convert it with a tri fuel carburetor kit.

5. Get a weather radio that will sound an alert for local warnings since we’ve relocated to an area with a tornado risk.  This is especially on my mind after the 45 deaths across the country in the second week of April due to storms that also passed through our area.  The storms weren’t yet that bad as they passed through our area, but it was windy nonetheless.

Thanks, Robert.