A geomagnetic storm is unavoidable in the near future, likely causing blackouts, satellite failures, and more. Articles explaining this probable magnetic superstorm are pretty dire, using words like cataclysmic and suggesting we don’t even know how bad it might get. We need to look to the past to evaluate what exactly may be in store for us. Jeffrey Love of the U.S. Geological Survey reexamined the intensity of a disturbance on the Sun, or solar flare that happened 100 years ago and found it more powerful than previously understood. As we near the 100th anniversary of this 1921 magnetic superstorm, Love looks at the impact it had on electrical systems of the time, including telegraph systems operated by the New York State railroad. The analyses of the historical magnetic storms tell us about the potential for future magnetic storms to disrupt the electric transmission network on which our modern society depends.
Jeffrey J. Love is a Research Geophysicist in the Geomagnetism Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Jeffrey holds a PhD in geophysics from Harvard University. Over his career, his research has encompassed a variety of subjects related to the Earth’s magnetic field. These days, he works in collaboration with colleagues on three subjects: 1. Using monitoring data and survey data to evaluate geoelectric hazards of concern to the electric-power grid industry. 2. Statistical analysis of the rare occurrences of extremely intense magnetic storms. 3. Analysis of historical records of past space-weather events and their impacts.