It’s a scenario straight out of Cold War-era science fiction: A plucky adversary detonates a nuclear weapon dozens of miles above Middle America. The goal isn’t to incinerate St. Louis, but rather to grind daily life from coast to coast to a halt.
A three-pronged electromagnetic pulse hits everything within line of sight of the blast, frying almost every electrical circuit it touches. It’s as if lightning struck every house in every city within a day’s drive at once. The pulse also couples with interstate power lines, both above and below ground, and ripples outward, overloading distant systems. Communications networks go silent, as do Wall Street trading floors, air traffic control towers and intensive care units across the region. Water taps and gas station pumps go dry. Grocery shelves quickly go empty. In the best-case scenario, society laments its over-dependence on electronics and patiently learns how to pick up the pieces in the new dark ages.