A solar flare is an intense burst of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots. Flares are our solar system’s largest explosive events. They are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours.
Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it (Watch the video below).
Most of the East Coast was subject to a blackout in communication in wake of the solar storm. The signal and switching system for the the New York Central Railroad were completely shut down because of the event.
A fire took hold of 57th Street and Park Avenue because of the incident as well. A telegraph operator stated that his switchboard burst in flames, which caused the entire building to become engulfed by fire. A comparable fire was reported from a telephone station in Sweden that morning too. The solar storm impacted telephone, telegraph and cable traffic throughout Europe (2).
What does this 1921 event mean to us today?
The impact of a storm today would be far more severe, considering our dependence on technology for so many aspects of our lives, including paying bills, buying groceries, sending emails and even pumping gas.
Grid expert and Congressional EMP Commission member Peter Pry said in testimony that a storm on par with the 1921 one “could kill up to 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse” because the grid would be down for so long. That’s more than 280 million people.
The consensus among experts is that Earth would only have a 24 hour notice before a solar storm crashed into the planet. Individuals would be well advised to stock up on food, water, batteries, physical cash and other basic necessities.