Archive of the most severe solar storms to hit Earth: The largest was in 1859, The Carrington Event, followed by the New York Railroad Storm of 1921

From: solarstorms.org

This is a growing collection of major space weather events in history. This page contains a brief paragraph of the main effects of each solar storm, and a link to an archive of articles written about each storm that you can find in a variety of newspapers and magazines during the time of the storm. These accounts are a rich source of information about how each storm affected various technologies, and captivated the general public. Currently [August 15 , 2005], the archive includes 306 articles.

August 28, 1859 – The Superstorm. [The Carrington Event] This storm was observed world-wide and is, historically, one of the greatest events recorded in the last 150 years. Extensive eyewitness accounts and scientific studies, telegraph disturbances and the unique sighting of a spectacular solar flare make this event one of the most interesting solar storms to read about. [Newspaper Archive]

[…]

May 13, 1921 – The New York Railroad Storm The prelude to this particular storm began with a major sunspot sighted on the limb of the sun vast enough to be seen with the naked eye through smoked glass. The spot was 94,000 miles long and 21,000 miles wide and by May 14th was near the center of the sun in prime location to unleash an earth-directed flare. The 3-degree magnetic bearing change among the five worst events recorded ended all communications traffic from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi. At 7:04 AM on May 15, the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th street was put out of operation, followed by a fire in the control tower at 57th Street and Park Avenue. No one had ever heard of such a thing having happened during the course of an auroral display. The cause of the outage was later ascribed to a ‘ground current’ that had invaded the electrical system. Railroad officials formally assigned blame for a fire destroyed the Central New England Railroad station, to the aurora. Telegraph Operator Hatch said that he was actually driven away from his telegraph instrument by a flame that enveloped his switchboard and ignited the entire building at a loss of $6,000. Over seas, in Sweden a telephone station was ‘burned out’, and the storm interfered with telephone, telegraph and cable traffic over most of Europe. Aurora were visible in the Eastern United States, with additional reports from Pasadena California where the aurora reached zenith. [Newspaper Archive]

[…]

March 13, 1989 – The Quebec Blackout Storm Astronomers were busily tracking “Active Region 5395” on the Sun when suddenly it disgorged a massive cloud of superheated gas on March 10, 1989. Three days later, and seemingly unrelated to the solar paroxicism, people around the world saw a spectacular Northern Lights display. Most newspapers that reported this event considered the spectacular aurora to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle in recent memory. At 2:45 AM on March 13, electrical ground currents created by the magnetic storm found their way into the power grid of the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority. Giant capacitors tried to regulate these currents but failed within a few seconds as automatic protective systems took them off-line one by one. Suddenly, the entire 9,500 megawatt output from Hydro-Quebec’s La Grande Hydroelectric Complex found itself without proper regulation. Power swings tripped the supply lines from the 2000 megawatt Churchill Falls generation complex, and 18 seconds later, the entire Quebec power grid collapsed. Six million people were affected as they woke to find no electricity to see them through a cold Quebec wintry night. People were trapped in darkened office buildings and elevators, stumbling around to find their way out. Traffic lights stopped working, Engineers from the major North American power companies were worried too. Some would later conclude that this could easily have been a $6 billion catastrophe affecting most US East Coast cities. All that prevented the cascade from affecting the United States were a few dozen capacitors on the Allegheny Network. [Newspaper Archive]

Entire Article Here
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