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Disturbing new evidence on protecting (or rather, not protecting) the North American Power Grid from solar weather.

Matt Chester asked if I'd reshare my post from LinkedIn on the calculations of the maximum of the May 1921 geomagnetic superstorm.

An article from Dr. Jeffrey Love et. al. calculates the impact of the May 1921 geomagnetic superstorm, also referred to as the May 1921 New York Railroad Superstorm.

The paper (available at

estimates the maximum of the storm (Dst, or Storm Time Disturbance) to be -907 ± 132 nT, with a geoelectric field (measure of the hazard to artificial conductors like electrical power lines that can be used to estimate the amount of current caused by the storm in a conducting pathway) of 19.40 V/km in western Connecticut.

Given that, the current official standard for protecting the North American power grid from solar storms (12 V/km), is inadequate for protecting the grid against a sudden, massive, and prolonged outage from a geomagnetic superstorm like the one in May 1921 or the 1859 Carrington storm which is thought to have been significantly more powerful than the May 1921 superstorm. This standard means that most utilities won’t protect their parts of the grid to standards that are realistic for superstorms.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 3, 2019 3:28 pm GMT

Given that, the current official standard for protecting the North American power grid from solar storms (12 V/km), is inadequate for protecting the grid against a sudden, massive, and prolonged outage from a geomagnetic superstorm like the one in May 1921 or the 1859 Carrington storm which is thought to have been significantly more powerful than the May 1921 superstorm. This standard means that most utilities won’t protect their parts of the grid to standards that are realistic for superstorms.

Have you seen any movement from the utility industry into looking more seriously into these concerns, or from those who set the standards, Drew?

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