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Magnetic Storm Disrupts Radio Communications, Causes Power Surges

June 13, 1991

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) _ Radio communications in Alaska were disrupted and power surges were reported when a geomagnetic storm that has battered Earth for more than a week intensified, scientists said.

The storm of charged particles, caused by a series of solar flares, reached major levels Wednesday afternoon before ebbing somewhat today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.

″I talked to the solar forecast center two hours ago,″ Bill Brennan, a spokesman at NOAA in Boulder, said shortly before noon. ″It has moderated but we do expect strong geomagnetic conditions all day long.

″The forecasters say there is a strong possibility of one or two more solar flares during the next day or two,″ he said. ″If that were to occur, there would be geomagnetic activity into the early part of next week.

″We don’t know the intensity because that would depend on the strength of the solar flares,″ he said.

Solar flares occur when sunspots, which are areas of strong magnetic fields, disintegrate and release enormous amounts of energy. A cloud of particles that follows the flare creates geomagnetic storms on Earth.

Such storms cause homing pigeons to lose their way, upset military command systems, cause compass needles to act erratically and produce northern and southern lights. Such a storm in 1989 disrupted power in Canada for nine hours.

Solar flares can also pose a hazard to satellites and astronauts in space. But NASA said the current activity shouldn’t endanger space shuttle Columbia, which began a mission June 5 and is scheduled to return to Earth on Friday.

Wednesday’s disruptions in Alaska, New Jersey and Virginia were believed cause by a solar flare that erupted late Monday, the fifth since June 5.

Cohen said the flare was believed responsible for sudden increases in power-line voltage reported by utilities in New Jersey and especially in Virginia.

″Their voltage was varying pretty significantly,″ he said.

Utilities were warned about the flares this week so they could adjust their operations to prevent equipment damage caused by the power surges.

Another flare, which erupted Tuesday night, could continue the disruptions, said NOAA forecaster Norm Cohen.

″This is quite exciting and quite exhausting because it rarely happens,″ David Speich, a space scientist at NOAA, said of the phenomenon.

Solar flares occur in 11-year cycles. The current cycle began in 1986 and is believed to be near its peak. It has produced some of the strongest activity since the 1950s.