In the U.S, alone researchers estimate the cost on the fragile economy would be up to $2.6 trillion, according to a 2008 National Academy of Sciences study.
The report warned that power outages after an extreme solar storm could last months or even longer if it wiped out the transformers.
A catastrophic solar storm came terrifyingly close in 2012 but passed the Earth’s orbit without striking the planet.
With scientists predicting a 12 per cent chance that one could hit by 2022, the White House is preparing a contingency plan.
‘Frankly, this could be one of the most severe natural disasters that the country, and major portions of the world, could face,’ space weather consultant John Kappenman told Gizmodo.
John P. Holdren Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, admitted the solar storms posed a ‘significant challenge’.
‘Space weather is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has the potential to cause substantial detrimental effects on the Nation’s economic and social well-being,’ he said.
‘This is a real and present danger, this is a real threat,’ added Bill Murtagh, assistant director to the Washington Post.
A space weather action plan and strategy have now been drawn up which will focus on preparing the United States for the disaster.
The six-step plan includes establishing a benchmark to accurately measure the threat of events, such as the Richter magnitude scale used for earthquakes and focus on improving forecasting technologies.
One of the big dangers of space weather is that forecasters currently have just 15 to 60 minutes warning time before an extreme event.
The plan would allow for new satellites in space and new technologies on the ground to give a more adequate warning of the disaster.
Research will also be carried out into the potential effects a weather event would have on America and its critical infrastructure, which will allow the government to create a response and recovery plan.
Schools, academia, government agencies, the media, the insurance industry, nonprofits, and the private sector will all be involved if the worst does happen, according to the strategy.
The government has already taken steps towards their goals such as replacing old satellites which are crucial to forecasting the solar storms.
They are also working on a way to protect and regulate the electric grids from a space storm, to stop power being wiped out completely, and are assessing a proposal to replace Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers destroyed by a solar event.
But the strategy warned that ‘much more needs to be done’ to protect America from the threat.
The U.S. government are also taking a global view and the last step involves working with other countries to prepare for such an event.
The steps are similar to contingency plans for natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and wild forest fires.
Major solar flares are caused by a build-up of magnetic energy that releases blasts of radiation across the solar system.
While there is a steady stream of particles buffeting the planets of the solar system from the sun – known as the solar wind – flares and eruptions send intense blasts of radiation and particles.
HOW SOLAR FLARES IMPACT EARTH
Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.
Astronauts are not in immediate danger because of the relatively low orbit of this manned mission.
They do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks. The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field.
Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.
A positive aspect, from an aesthetic point of view, is that the auroras are enhanced.
Geomagnetic storms are more disruptive now than in the past because of our greater dependence on technical systems that can be affected by electric currents.
These vary in frequency with the activity of the sun and often blast off in directions far away from the Earth. However, severe solar events are thought to threaten the Earth every 100 years or so.
The last major coronal mass ejection to hit the Earth, known as the Carrington event, was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm in 1859 and is thought to have been the biggest in 500 years.
While a large solar flare in March this year knocked out radio transmissions in some parts of the world.
A massive solar phenomenon would disrupt transport networks, cause blackouts and disrupt satellites, according to studies.
GPS systems could go down leaving train networks and shipping badly affected, while satellite communication and high frequency radio communication used by aircraft, could also go down meaning global transport would be hit.
Oil drilling also relies heavily on GPS for accuracy and could result in a fall in oil production and dry up of fuel for motorists at the tanks
Power grids could also be effected, leading to blackouts in some areas.
Experts warn individuals to be prepared by stashing an emergency kit with enough fresh water, food and medication to last for the first 72 hours.
While some extreme doomsday preppers put aside several years worth of food, water and medication and have even invested their money in gold rather than banks.
Others suggest using a Faraday cage – a conductive, grounded, metal container that shields its contents from electrostatic and electromagnetic influences.