Also from from NPR All Things Considered comes a report, again from Jon Hamilton, about the effect of solar storms
Extract of transcript
A massive solar storm could leave millions of people around the world without electricity, running water, or phone service, government officials say.The exercise was conducted by the Space Weather Prediction Center, part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (attached to the Department of Commerce). The exercise found that satellites would be disrupted, affecting telecommunications including telephones and banking/credit card transactions. It would also affect the electricity grid, blowing transformers and in turn affecting water pumps and probably sewerage.
That was their conclusion after participating in a tabletop exercise that looked at what might happen today if the Earth were struck by a solar storm as intense as the huge storms that occurred in 1921 and 1859.
Solar storms happen when an eruption or explosion on the surface of the sun sends radiation or electrically charged particles toward Earth. Minor storms are common and can light up the Earth's Northern skies and interfere with radio signals.
Every few decades, though, the sun experiences a particularly large storm. These can release as much energy as 1 billion hydrogen bombs.
Solar flares and storms are related. Flares are regular occurrences while storms are intensive.
It might be time to revive Y2K disaster recovery plans on an ongoing basis.