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27 April 2016

Powerless

Powerless by Tim Washburn reads like a great disaster movie.

It is the middle of the night in Boulder, Colorado when an alarm goes off at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center. The intern on duty was never trained on what to do if an alarm sounded - it was so unlikely to happen.

Satellites have detected a coronal mass ejection. A CME is a geomagnetic solar storm of invisible matter that can cause mass power outages if it hits Earth. Think a giant solar flare. The largest CME on record hit in 1859 - back when the use of electricity was pretty low compared to today.

The scientists best guess is that the storm would hit the northern hemisphere in as few at seventeen hours. If so, it will kill all electronics - from the power grid to cell towers, from the pumps that control fresh water and sewage to the controls at the nuclear plants. Basically, life as we know it will grind to a halt.

President Harris and his advisors have to decide whether to tell the public - causing a mass panic and wars over water and canned goods - or allow it to be a surprise and risk every person in a hospital or on an airplane.

Zeke Marshall lives on the edge of his parents land in Oklahoma. He is a retired army vet who makes furniture. His workshop has been losing power off and on all morning. He doesn't know that soon power from Anchorage to Boston to London will be out. But his time in Afghanistan may give him the skills to survive and maybe even make it to Dallas to collect his sister and her family and bring them home.

Washburn has written a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, worst-case scenario - one that could actually happen. This is a great read for fans of disaster movies, natural disasters and Earth science. It illustrates how much we rely on electricity for every part of our lives.

Washburn, Tim. (2015). Powerless. New York: Pinnacle Books.

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