What is an “EMP” and why should you be concerned about it?

Iran is boasting that in three days, on February 11, it will do something that will “stun the West.” What could it be? Maybe nothing. It could be just empty blather. Or, may God forbid it, there could be something of substance to it. Personally, I prefer to think it’s just blather. However . . .

I note that Iran also recently launched a low-orbit satellite whose trajectory is similar to that of an ICBM. I’m not suggesting that this is an ICBM, but its implications are clearly troubling to those who study such things.

Which brings me to the EMP issue. I read One Second After last year, a Tom Clancey-esque novel by William R. Forstchen Ph.D., which depicts the devastating results of an EMP caused by the detonation of a nuclear device 50 or more miles above the United States. I recommend you read this book.

Forstchen writes on his blog:

EMP is shorthand for Electro Magnetic Pulse. It is a rather unusual and frightening by-product when a nuclear bomb is detonated above the earth’s atmosphere.

We all know that our atmosphere and the magnetic field which surrounds our planet is a thin layer which not only keeps us alive, but also protects us from dangerous radiation from the sun.

On a fairly regular basis there are huge solar storms on the sun’s surface which emit powerful jets of deadly radiation. If not for the protective layer of our atmosphere and magnetic field, those storms would fry us. At times, though, the storm is so powerful that enough disruptive energy reaches the earth’s surface that it drowns out radio waves and even shorts electrical power grids. . . this happened several years back in Canada.

View the detonation of a nuclear bomb, two hundred miles straight up, as the same thing, but infinitely more powerful, since it is so close by.

As the bomb explodes, it emits a powerful wave of gamma rays. As this energy release hits the upper atmosphere it creates a electrical disturbance know as the Compton Effect. The intensity is magnified. View it as a small pebble rolling down a slope, hitting a larger one, setting that in motion, until finally you have an avalanche.

At the speed of light this disturbance races to the earth’s surface. It is not something you can see or hear, in the same way you don’t feel the electrical disturbance in the atmosphere during a large solar storm.

For all electrical systems though, it is deadly.


Those who might remember ham radio operators, or even the old CB radios of the 1970s, can recall that if you
ran out a wire as an antenna you could send and receive a better signal. The wire not only transmitted the very faint power of a few watts of electricity from your radio, it could receive even faint signals in return.

As the pulse strikes the earth’s surface, with a power that could range up to hundreds of amps per square yard, it will not affect you directly; at most you’ll feel a slight tingling, the same as when lightning is about to strike close by, and nearly all the energy will just be absorbed into the ground and dissipate.

The bad news, however, is, wherever it strikes wires, metal surfaces, antennas, power lines it will now travel along those metal surfaces (in the same way a lightning bolt will always follow the metal of a lightning rod, or the power line into your house). The longer the wire, the more energy is absorbed, a high tension wire miles long will absorb tens of thousands of amps, and here is where the destruction begins as it slams into any delicate electronic circuits, meaning computer chips, relays, etc.

In that instant, they are overloaded by the massive energy surge, short circuit, and fry. Your house, via electric, phone, and cable wires, is connected, like all the rest of us, into the power and communications grids. This energy surge will destroy all delicate electronics in your home, even as it destroys all the major components all the way back to the power company’s generators and the phone company’s main relays. In far less than a millisecond the entire power grid of the United States, and all that it supports, will be destroyed. . . . (continued)

The section describing what would happen to airplanes in flight during this kind of an EMP attack is particularly chilling.

Also, read this related article by Newt Gingrich: “A Single Nuke Could Destroy America”


  1. Just another mad Catholic


  2. Susan L

    Jesus, I trust in thee.

  3. Mitch

    mad catholic,ditto

  4. LarryD

    Now how am I supposed sleep at night with a report like this?Pray pray and then pray some more.

  5. Julie

    Any ideas on what one might do to avoid any damage?

  6. Charlotte

    You know, Patrick, I know you put this here for whatever reason – interest, etc. But this is very upsetting and I am a total mess tonight after reading this. What good can come from posting something like this? And how about a Catholic response? I don't want to call you irresponsible for doing this, but it borders on it. I like you and I respect you, but to me, this is over the top fear mongering.

  7. jan4nc

    It would not surprise me they would try this as Feb 11th is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. S _ _ _ _ hates the Blessed Virgin and would pick a day like this to try to hurt her children (us)! Mary and Jesus will help us no matter.

  8. MarcelloPapa

    @Susan L. ditto… Jesus I Trust in Thee…

  9. Carmen

    Agreeing with Charlotte and wondering what the point of this was.

  10. Susan L

    I think the point of it was to let us know. If this should happen (God forbid) then we will understand sooner than the rest of the country what is going on. If the cars aren't working then at least we know what is available and what isn't. We'll understand to ration our food, our medicines. Don't be upset with Patrick. I'm scared of this, too, but I'm choosing to trust Christ to get us through whatever.Pray for fortitude. For what it's worth, I don't think it will happen. We all have to pray and rethink our lives though.

  11. Jaystar and alower

    My dad said that Iran's plan is to send down a beam of energy to zap all of the Toyotas, rendering them useless. Good thing we bought American!

  12. Tina in Ashburn

    I've been reading bits about EMP here and there. It is indeed frightening. What the threat actually illustrates is our unnatural manner of living. We are dependent on man-made things, based on fragile links of every sort.The cited experts discuss preparation and stockpiling of electric, electronic supplies. I would suggest preparing folks to return to a more realistic manner of living.How about wells? Candles? Mechanically-based transportation? Firewood? Trying to restore what has taken 40 years to build seems pretty unrealistic.The philosophical analysis points to Satan's idea of RE-creation of life in his image. We have unnatural light, genetically-modified foods, synthetic medicines driving planned dependencies [insulin, cardiac and vascular medicines vs naturally-based cures known in the past]. The present generation doesn't know how to kill a chicken or preserve food or even know how to till, plant and harvest. We have forgotten how to communicate – imagine, Paul Revere alerted a nation to the British invasion using a horse and lights in a tower. How far have we gotten from this?Its almost diabolical – we are completely dependent on unnatural methods of living. One snap of the fragile thread, and humanity suffers. Katrina was a prophetic demonstration of this fragility.Like the Tower of Babel, this unnatural life may meet its end, as it should. Is it time to get back to God and His plan for living amidst His creation?

  13. Tina in Ashburn

    Isn't there an unapproved prophecy describing everything stopping suddenly – cars, planes, etc and only mechanical things working? Was it Garabandal? Does anybody remember? Did the prophecy involve staying in one's house with blessed candles to avoid the outside air for three days [the Three Days Darkness]? As can be typical with prophecies, the timing and sequence of events is fuzzy. And always dependent on the Mercy of God, and humanity's good will.A fulfilled prophecy comforts us. When occurrences are foretold, not only are we more prepared, but the thought "ah, things were supposed to happen this way" allows us to be more accepting.

  14. Patrick Madrid

    Charlotte and Carmen, I can understand how you feel, and I'm sorry for having scared you with this info. That wasn't my intention. Rather, as Susan and JoLapiana mentioned, I'm raising this issue so folks can be aware of the danger of this scenario so that they can be better prepared, spiritually and physically, in the event that it should ever happen: being in the state of grace, deepening one's prayer and sacramental life, etc., as well as taking some prudent precautions like building up the food storage, emergency supplies, water, etc., just in case. Certainly, Iran could just be talking tough and not have any actual threat behind the bluster. I hope and pray that that's the case. But whether we find ourselves dealing with something like a man-made EMP (a large enough solar flare could do the same thing, of course), or the devastating effects of a natural disaster, the more we are aware of these kinds of potential threats, the better we can prepare for them. Don't you agree?Also, everyone else, thank you for the good and insightful comments.

  15. peregrinus PF

    I have not addressed this issue in awhile, but I am convinced that today's modern society is overdependent to the point of codependent on modern conveniences. We need to go low-tech or no-tech & learn basic survival skills. In fact, I am planning to build a house in a couple of years. Yes it will have the high tech conveniences of today's society. But it will have many low-tech or no-tech features too. I am planning a root cellar heating via fireplaces and wood/coal stoves or furnaces. If I can pull it off, I am even planning to go "off the grid" if possible.I am also looking into growing and (maybe) raising my own food and learning preserving techniques like smoking meats.Sound drastic, but the alternatives are not acceptable.

  16. Ismael

    @Tina in Ashburn:I agree with you.

  17. Dave

    I'm not sure that Iran would dare do something like this, as they would probably face nuclear retaliation. Not that it would be right (it wouldn't) but I have to believe it would happen.I'd be more worried about a major solar flare doing the same thing, and I think it is very prudent to look into ways to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on technology.

  18. Susan L

    Dave, I'm hoping and praying that you're right but who would retaliate? The United States wouldn't be able to.

  19. Patrick Madrid

    I think we could retaliate, specifically with our nuclear subs and surface ships that were deployed away from where an EMP were to hit (if it ever happened). My son is a nuclear reactor operator on a U.S. Navy submarine, and he's mentioned that, with our subs patrolling all over the world, if something were to devastate the US homeland (God forbid), some of those subs would be ordered to retaliate against whoever did it. It would be a very bad situation, all the way around.

  20. West Coast Catholic

    I just finished a book with a similar scenario. 'Counterspace – The Next Hours After WWIII'Working professionally in the field of engineering Satellites, this book lays out a realistic EMP attack on our Satellite assets.An upper atmosphere explosion would disable a large portion or our space assets, causing us to be as blind as a bat. Not a good thing in this dangerous world.Scary stuff…WCC

  21. jim.carroll

    Remember that "love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18) Start praying for G_D to drive out your fear. In its place, G_D will let you know what He wants you to do to prepare, not just for this but for everything that is coming.You may find it useful to start reading some of the preparedness sites and blogs, such as "American Preppers Network" (http://www.americanpreppersnetwork.com/). The forum there has dozens of people willing to help you become prepared for almost anything.

  22. Tim Burke

    "To fear the break-up of the world because man happens to have hit upon a weapon of destruction is just plain silly, is a lack of faith. As if the world could come to an end behind God's back, before he was ready for it, before mankind had been brought to the point God had planned it should reach." ~Hubert van Zeller in his book "Prayer and the Will of God".Now, this doesn't mean that I don't think we should prepare ourselves. We should have faith in God and His plan, and trust that He is in control of everything. We need to pray, not that an event like this should not happen, but rather we should pray that our souls will be ready for whatever happens.

  23. siothrun

    you've all got not very much time to get yourselves to australia….i don't think they're planning anything for us down here.

  24. Susan L

    Well now we know what the big announcement is. Iran has nuclear power.Keep praying.

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