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The March 1940 superstorm: Geoelectromagnetic hazards and impacts on American communication and power systems

June 22, 2023

An analysis is made of geophysical records of the 24 March 1940, magnetic storm and related reports of interference on long-line communication and power systems across the contiguous United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada. Most long-line system interference occurred during local daytime, after the second of two storm sudden commencements and during the early part of the storm's main phase. The high degree of system interference experienced during this storm is inferred to have been due to unusually large-amplitude and unusually rapid geomagnetic field variation, possibly driven by interacting interplanetary coronal-mass ejections. Geomagnetic field variation, in turn, induced geoelectric fields in the electrically conducting solid Earth, establishing large potential differences (voltages) between grounding points at communication depots and transformer substations connected by long transmission lines. It is shown that March 1940 storm-time communication- and power-system interference was primarily experienced over regions of high electromagnetic surface impedance, mainly in the upper Midwest and eastern United States. Potential differences measured on several grounded long lines during the storm exceeded 1-min resolution voltages that would have been induced by the March 1989 storm. In some places, voltages exceeded American electric-power-industry benchmarks. It is concluded that the March 1940 magnetic storm was unusually effective at inducing geoelectric fields. Although modern communication systems are now much less dependent on long electrically conducting transmission lines, modern electric-power-transmission systems are more dependent on such lines, and they, thus, might experience interference with the future occurrence of a storm as effective as that of March 1940.

Publication Year 2023
Title The March 1940 superstorm: Geoelectromagnetic hazards and impacts on American communication and power systems
DOI 10.1029/2022SW003379
Authors Jeffrey J. Love, E. Joshua Rigler, Michael D Hartinger, Greg M. Lucas, Anna Kelbert, Paul A. Bedrosian
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Space Weather
Index ID 70247338
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center; Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center