August 28, 1859 - The Superstorm
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.
December 14, 1862 - The Civil War Aurora
This aurora was seen by Civil War soldiers in Fredericksberg Virginia. According to a letter by Milo Grow "There was a brilliant exhibition of Aurora Borealis soon after dark last night. For half an hour it shows very brilliantly reaching to the mid heavens in colors of yellow and red. " And in the David Ballenger letters "On the night of the second day of the battle there was a singular appearance in the elements, the most singular that I ever saw in my life. Some said it was an Aurora Borealis, or Northern Light, but if it was it was a little different from any I ever saw before. It rose on the side of the enemy and came up very near parallel with our line of battle, and right over us. It turned as red as blood, but when it commenced rising it looked more like the appearance of the moon rising than anything else I know to compare it to" (1862 December 23). " And by John W. Thompson, Jr. "Louisiana sent those famous cosmopolitan Zouaves called the Louisiana Tigers, and there were Florida troops who, undismayed in fire, stampeded the night after Fredericksburg, when the Aurora Borealis snapped and crackled over that field of the frozen dead hard by the Rappahannock ..." And also in 1905 by Elizabeth Lyle Saxon in A Southern Woman's War Time Reminiscenses " It was near this time that the wonderful spectacle of the Aurora Borealis was seen in the Gulf States. The whole sky was a ruddy glow as if from an enormous conflagration, but marked by the darting rays peculiar to the Northern light. It caused much surprise, and aroused the fears even of those far from superstitious. I remember an intelligent old Scotch lady said to me, "Oh, child, it is a terrible omen; such lights never burn, save for kings' and heroes' deaths."
November 18, 1882 - The Transit of Venus Storm
It produced a compass bearing deflection of nearly 2 degrees, All telegraphic transactions east of the Mississippi River and north of Washington D.C came to a halt. The Chicago stock market was severely affected all day. A large sunspot was then seen covering an area of more than three thousand millions of square miles. Simultaneously with the appearance of the spot, magnetic disturbances at the observatory in Greenwich increased in frequency and violence, other symptoms were noticed throughout the length of the British Isles. Telegraphic communication was greatly interfered with. The signal bells on many of the railway lines were rung, and some of the operators received shocks from their instruments. Lastly, on November 17, a superb aurora was witnessed, the culminating feature of which was the appearance, at about six o'clock in the evening, of a mysterious beam of greenish light, in shape something like a cigar, and many degrees in length, which rose in the east and crossed the sky at a pace much quicker than but nearly as even as that of sun, moon, or stars, till it set in the west two minutes after its rising. The daily press was burdened with accounts of widespread magnetic disturbance, in some places telegraphic communication was suspended. In Milwaukee the carbons in the electric lamps were lighted, rendered incandescent by currents of electricity flowing on the wires. At other locations, switchboards in telegraph offices were set on fire and sending keys were melted, while electric balls were seen hovering on the telegraph in Nebraska.
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
January 25, 1938 - The Fatima Storm
The Great Aurora was seen over the whole of Europe and as far south as Southern Australia, Sicily, Portugal and across the Atlantic to Bermuda and Southern California. The Japanese invasion of China was the main news on the international front All transatlantic radio communication was interrupted. Crowds in Vienna awaiting the eminent birth of Princess Juliana's baby cheered the aurora as a lucky omen. Fire department of Salzburg was called out to quench what residents thought was their town in flames. So many alarms were rang that the fire department dashed about in all directions, which only served to increase the level of panic among the citizens. This same impression of the aurora also struck Londoners during the January 1938 aurora who also thought their entire city was aflame. In England, a hook-and-ladder brigade was summoned to Windsor Castle to put out a nonexistent fire. In San Diego, forest officials in the town of Descanso about 40 miles east, were routed out of bed on January 22 to respond to reports of 'great fire in the back country'. After making the trip to check things out, all they discovered upon arrival was the crimson aurora borealis in the northern sky, last seen in these areas on February 1888. In Bermuda, many people thought that a ship was on fire at sea. Steamship agents took the precaution of checking with wireless stations to learn if there had been any S.O.S calls. Meanwhile, in Scotland, many of the more superstitious people living in the lowlands 'shook their heads and declared the northern lights always spelled ill-omen for Scotland. The phenomenon also had some side effects. It was responsible for delaying express trains on the Manchester to Sheffield line after electrical disturbance hit the signaling apparatus. Numerous false impressions were aroused among Cannock Chase people. One person thought there was a big fire at a local colliery and phoned the fire brigade. In some quarters it was said the world was coming to an end. Short wave radio sets were interfered with and the teletype system at the local office of the Western Union was started up by the phenomenon. Astronomers in New England said the lights differed from previous auroral displays with such intensity and color and direction of the beams. The immense arches of crimson light with shifting areas of green and blue, radiated from a brilliant Auroral Crown near the zenith instead of appearing as usual in parallel lines. It was also considered to be one of the Fatima Prophesies by Roman Catholics worldwide
March 25, 1940 The Easter Sunday Storm
On Easter Sunday calls to grandma by millions of people were halted between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM creating pandemonium at nearly all Western Union offices. [New York Times, March 25, 1940, p. 1]. A telephone cable between Fargo North Dakota and Winnipeg was found with its wires fused together, presumably from the voltage surges. Consolidated Edison of New York also reported 1,500 volt dips in three electrical generators in New York City located in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In Bangor Maine, lightning arresters were burned out as well. The New York Times noted that United Press reported earth currents at 400 Volts in Boston, 450 in Milwaukee, and more than 750 Volts near St. Louis. All tolled, the Associated Press's entire investment of 185,000 miles of leased wires were put out of service. Practically every long-distance telegraph or telephone office in the country was doing repair work in what was considered one of the worst such events in history. AT&T land lines had been badly disrupted by 600 volt surges on wires designed for 48 volts. In the Atlantic Cable between Scotland and Newfoundland, voltages up to 2,600 volts were recorded during the storm. Coast Guard radio stations were blocked, although compasses were not affected. Excessive voltage in the Boston and Kene telegraph lines 'blew fuses'. In several instances fuses were 'blown' and vacuum tubes ran the risk of damage due to these influences.
August 2, 1972 - The Space Age Storm
Solar astronomers reported that Active Region 331 had produced three powerful flares during a span of 15 hours. The intensity of these flares, classified as 'X2' were near the limits of the scale used to classify solar flare X-ray power. The next day, the Pioneer 9 spacecraft detected a shock wave from the first of these flares at 11:24 UT accompanied by a sudden change in the solar wind speed from 350 to 585 km/sec. Space weather forecasters at the Space Environment Services Center in Boulder Colorado issued an alert that predicted a major storm would arrive at the earth between August 4. They were not disappointed. Armed with vastly improved technology and scientific ideas, they were able to realize William Ellis's 1882 dream of predicting a solar storm. At 4:00 UT, aurora were seen simultaneously from Illinois to Colorado and the events of this storm were widely reported in major international newspapers. At 22:30 UT AT&T reported a voltage surge of 60 volts on their coaxial telephone cable between Chicago and Nebraska. Another 30 minutes shutdown of phone service on Bell's cable link between Plano, Illinois and Cascade, Iowa was also attributed to the storm. Both the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation and Canadian National Telecommunications reported that the current surges in their lines had damaged components in their system ranging from noise filters to 'carbon blocks' Taxi drivers received orders from distant cities and were forced to turn down lucrative transcontinental fares! Paul Linger of the Denver Zoo said that the disruption of the Earth's magnetic field by the storms would disorient pigeons who depend upon the field for their sense of direction.
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.
October 29, 2003 - The Halloween Storm
This Halloween Storm spawned auroras that were seen over most of North America. Extensive satellite problems were reported, including the loss of the $450 million Midori-2 research satellite. Highly publicized in the news media. A huge solar storm has impacted the Earth, just over 19 hours after leaving the sun. This is one of the fastest solar storm in historic times, only beaten by the perfect solar storm in 1859 which spent an estimated 17 hours in transit. A few days later on November 4, 2003 one of the most powerful x-ray flares ever detected, swamped the sensors of dozens of satellites, causing satellite operations anomalies….but no aurora. Originally classified as an X28 flare, it was upgrade to X34 a month later. In all of its fury, it never became a white light flare such as the one observed by Carrington in 1859. Astronauts hid deep within the body of the International Space Station, but still reported radiation effects and ocular 'shooting stars'.