Though we typically think of hurricanes and tornadoes as the most destructive weather forces, there’s another threat hovering just outside Earth’s atmosphere that could cause far more damage: solar storms. Estimates based on historical space weather patterns show that Earth may be due for a massive solar storm — an eruption of magnetically charged gas from the Sun’s surface — that could leave millions of people without power for up to two years and cost between $1 and $2 trillion. The impact would be disastrous in today’s technologically dependent society, disrupting everything from power grids and air traffic control to water purification systems.

“[A solar storm] is not something that will happen often, not as often as hurricanes, but the effect could be even more damaging,” Therese Moretto Jorgensen, program director for the National Science Foundation, told Mic. Thanks to an increased presence in space and improved exploration and observation technology, our ability to anticipate large storms and prepare accordingly is improving. But if we want to prevent widespread damage effectively, we’ll need to do more to anticipate it. FULL REPORT