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Space weather storms can cause lots of damage to electrical power systems. That damage can cost lots of money. Electrical engineers are learning better ways to protect these systems.
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Image courtesy L. J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Inc.

The Cost of a Blackout Caused by Space Weather

Did you know that a storm in space could cause the lights to go out in your house? That's what happened to people in Canada in 1989. In March 1989 a space weather storm hit Earth. It caused an electrical blackout over a large area. Six million people in eastern Canada lost electricity for 9 hours or more.

The blackout of the HydroQuebec power grid cost a lot of money. HydroQuebec, the electrical utility company, lost more than $10,000,000. The blackout cost HydroQuebec's customers somewhere between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Loss of money wasn't the only problem. When electricity goes off, lots of other things shut down too. Public transportation stops and alarms for security systems quit working. A blackout during cold winter weather could be dangerous for many people. It can take several hours or even days to start electricity flowing again after a blackout. That would leave people in the cold for a long time.

Last modified February 17, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA