Warning: Solar Flares May Cause More Havoc Than Y2K

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Friday March 19 2:31 AM ET

Warning: Solar Flares May Cause More Havoc Than Y2K

By Bernard Hickey

LONDON (Reuters) - A burst of solar flare activity around the millennium could wreak more havoc on satellite systems and power grids than the Year 2000 computer problem, a senior British Y2K planner said Thursday.

A surge of solar flares or solar storms that can shut down power grids and burn out satellites was expected to peak in late 1999 and early 2000, a conference for Y2K planners was told.

``Solar flares could do damage far beyond anything the Year 2000 could do, and it could hit us on that weekend,'' said Michael Lewis, the deputy chief executive of Britain's Association of Payments and Clearing Systems (APACs).

The last peak in the 11-year cycle of solar flares was in March 1989, when surge of atmospheric magnetic activity shut down the Hydro-Quebec power grid in Canada, leaving 6 million people without power for days.

Lewis, who is helping coordinate the British banking system's Y2K response, said the dangers of solar flare activity happening in tandem with the Y2K computer problem could not be ignored.

``It's not a 'my wife has been abducted by aliens story.' It's a serious problem. It comes in cycles and it happens to coincide with the millennium this time,'' Lewis later told Reuters.

``It's something that people tend to forget. It can knock out communications satellites.''

A sneak preview of how solar flare activity could paralyze communications came in May last year when it is believed solar flare activity knocked out the Galaxy 4 satellite over the United States.

For three days' chaos ensued as 40 million pagers stopped working, television and data broadcasts were disrupted, and many credit card transactions were blocked.

The satellite's operator, PanAmSat, had to ask users to redirect their antennas to other satellites. The outage caused havoc in the U.S. medical system because many doctors relied on their pagers to be alerted about patients.

This next solar flare peak is expected to have a much heavier impact on communications satellites than in 1989.

This is because so many more satellites have been put in place and are used more widely for mobile phones, the global positioning system (GPS), and as a route for the Internet.

Lewis said communications and power failures caused by solar flares could compound a loss of public confidence in communications and computer systems just when it was most needed -- around the millennium.

-- flb (fben4077@yahoo.com), March 19, 1999


Don't think solar flares could or would cause more havoc than the y2k bug, but I certainly believe it could add to an already insurmountable problem.

-- flb (fben4077@yahoo.com), March 19, 1999.

There was already a thread with this exact same title, about the exact same article, posted a day earlier:

Warning: Solar Flares May Cause More Havoc Than Y2K at http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=000cof

Folks, before starting a new thread about some news article please check back at least a couple of days (yes, I realize that may be over a hundred threads -- but if you do this checking, you won't start the hundred-and-whateverth by duplicating an existing thread) to see whether someone else has already started one about that article.

-- No Spam Please (No_Spam_Please@anon_ymous.com), March 20, 1999.

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