England’s farmers may be praying for a sustained downpour amid the current drought, but Whitehall has a more exotic weather threat on its mind.
Explosions on the sun that blast solar winds towards the Earth have been identified for the first time as one of the biggest threats to the UK’s ability to carry on normal daily life, according to a new official government register of major risks to the country.
A significant event on the sun could leave large swaths of the country without electricity, lead to the immediate grounding of planes, disable communications and even destroy household appliances.
The danger has been prioritised in the Cabinet Office’s National Risk of Civil Emergencies as the sun enters the most active point in its 10-year cycle — its solar max — raising the chances of a damaging burst of radiation, plasma or energetic particles.
More significantly, the UK is regarded as particularly vulnerable because scientific advances have made the country more dependent on technology than ever before. Ministers have been advised by scientists that the most advanced technology is also the most delicate and that “high levels of energetic particles produced in the atmosphere by solar radiation storms can greatly enhance error rates in ground digital components found in all modern technology”.
The newly published risk register lists severe space weather alongside terrorist attacks, coastal flooding and pandemic influenza as likely sources of “serious damage to human welfare”.