Sunspots disrupt electricity

October 29, 1991|By New York Times

Unusually powerful sunspot activity over the weekend created a disturbance in Earth's magnetic field yesterday, disrupting electrical systems around North America and putting some utilities on alert.

Equipment failed in scattered places, but so far no power losses have resulted. Physicists said the disturbance probably would continue through the week and could intensify as the sun, acting on cues that are mostly invisible to scientists, continued to release bursts of energy.

At the Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland Interconnection, a utility consortium in Valley Forge, Pa., that serves most of those states plus Delaware and the District of Columbia, a spokesman said that monitoring equipment had detected the disturbance but that no special steps had been taken.

Illustrating the cosmic uncertainty of the problem, John Ponder, of the Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland pool, said that while his organization had been notified of the danger and had seen raised readings on instruments that measure stray currents in the ground, "the forecasting is so inaccurate we can't implement anything on a forecast."

A transmission link between New England and Quebec failed at about 9 a.m. yesterday, an event the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributed to sunspots.

In the West, the atmospheric administration said, utilities recorded voltage variations of up to 5 percent. A spokesman at the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon said voltage-regulating devices failed briefly yesterday.

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