On March 13, 1989, the public utility Hydro-Québec went out. The entire region of Québec suffered a power cut for nine hours, hindering several aspects of public life for the whole day.
Space weather (the circumstances in outer space near Earth that are strongly impacted by the sun ) was soon recognized as the cause of the blackout.
“The initial story was, ‘OK, there had been a lot of activity on the sun and then a big magnetic storm, and a number of power systems had problems,’ but there wasn’t a lot of detail there,” announced David Boteler. He is a scientist with the Canadian Hazards Information Service at the government’s National Resources Canada. “Trying to do a hindsight investigation, we’re very conscious of that lack of data, and there’s been quite a bit of work done trying to fill in the gaps.”
Boteler spoke about the 1989 blackout as an aspect of the June 8th panel presentation at a joint meeting of two groups within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and the Space Studies Board.
“It’s not just any old magnetic storm,” Boteler explained. “We think it was actually the shock of that second CME arrival that caused the Hydro-Québec blackout.”
The Hydro-Québec blackout is presently a go-to example of how solar activity can influence life on Earth and an exemplary tale that we may still not understand enough about space weather to foresee, preempt or at least swiftly heal from a similar geomagnetic storm.