THE NEAR AND THE
Scientists Look to the Skies
– Insurance Coverage for Natural and
Man-made Disasters, on which I am only
a co-author and of which Chapter 12 covers man-made or combination human
and natural disasters. One such example
is solar storms. Good heavens! Don’t we
have enough trouble with earthly storms?
Now we have to worry about storms on
the sun? Is the sky falling? Scientists at
the Atmospheric & Environmental Research agency who wrote the National
Underwriter article, published Sept. 5,
2011, Nicole Homeier, Kyle Beatty and
James Martin Griffin, think that there is
sufficient risk for which we must prepare.
Why? How, and what exactly is a “solar
storm”? If the last major one occurred in
1859, then what seems to be the big deal?
“The sky is falling!” shouted Chicken Little, and they all ran for cover.” Today it seems as if we are all running for cover from something: floods, wildfires, tornadoes, inflation, deflation in housing values, global warming, ice storms, hailstorms, bankruptcies or foreclosures,
obesity, contaminated food supply, or some other newsworthy event. Perhaps we can
blame it all on the media. If they didn’t report all that bad stuff, then we would not know
about it and worry. The reality, however, is that we do have media, and the media can
sometimes scare the hell out of us.
I have been a part of that media since first joining the news department of the Wall
Street Journal back in 1961. In reviewing the multitude of publications I receive to aid
in preparing for the semiannual updates to my four textbooks published by Thomson
Reuters West—ranging from the American Bar Association’s The Brief and the Defense
Research Institute’s For the Defense to Best’s Review and National Underwriter—I often
come across articles, statistics, or court cases that are surprising. Several I have shared
in these columns over the years, and others have made only the one-shot introductions
to the supplemental updates, citing what may be a current event, but not something of
long-lasting interest to that textbook’s reader.
One item from a recent issue of National Underwriter did warrant long-term pres-
ervation, which it will receive in the next supplement to Chapter 12 of CAT Claims
A solar storm is a plasma flare from
the sun that causes a magnetic outburst.
It has a horrendous affect on electrical
systems, wires, transformers, and grids.
The 1859 storm caused electrical shocks
to telegraph operators and melted telegraph wires. There were no telephones
or electric grids back then. On March 13,
1989, however, just a little more than 22
years ago, a solar flare knocked out the
Hydro-Quebec power grid at 2: 44 a.m.,
collapsing the entire power system for
that province and causing damage to its
equipment. On the same day electrical
disturbances and flares attacked power
grids around the globe. In New Jersey,
a $12 million transformer at the Salem
nuclear plant sustained permanent insulation damage from the magnetize
plasma from the sun, taking six months
Solar storms may have done little damage in a non-technological pre-21st century world, but such a storm today, warns
the AER writers, “can disrupt radio communication, aviation communication
and navigation, and can interfere with the
Iconoclast p. 44 A