X5 class storm is severe, but also surprisingly common
The most common side effect of being hit with massive solar flares is that the Aurora Borealis show gets pushed much farther south than usual. Over the last two nights, people have reported seeing the "Northern Lights" as far south as New York and Washington State.
But news agencies love to be alarmist, and we're still in the first quarter of The Great "World's Gonna End" Panic of 2012. So we get news reports warning of potential "planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation." Sounds scary, right?
Thanks, national news media! As if people don't have enough scary stuff to crap their pants over on a daily basis… sure, go ahead and make my grandma scared of solar flares, too. Good work.
At any rate, on a calmer note, it is true that an X5 storm is fairly substantial. This level of storm has blown out power grids and caused massive blackouts in the past. In 1989 a solar storm caused a nine-hour blackout over the Eastern seaboard that left over 9 million people in the dark. But the national power grid has undergone a lot of transformation and improvements over the last few decades. The likelihood of another such blackout happening again is very small indeed.
(Even if it did, I hasten to point out that a blackout is, like… not really that big a deal. It's not as if it opens the portal to Hell or anything. You just have to eat dinner on crackers, and then go to bed early because it's dark and you're bored. Complaining about a temporary blackout is definitely what you would call a First World Problem.)
As ABC News reluctantly points out, down at the very bottom of their article where no one will see, in every 11-year solar cycle you will typically see about 175 of these X5 events. This means we get hit on average by 15 of these storms a year, more than once a month. End of the world? Hardly.