The Quebec Blackout Storm

The Quebec Blackout Storm




Astronomers were busily tracking “Active Region 5395″ on the Sun when suddenly it disgorged a massive cloud of superheated gas on March 10, 1989. Three days later, and seemingly unrelated to the solar paroxicism, people around the world saw a spectacular Northern Lights display. Most newspapers that reported this event considered the spectacular aurora to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle in recent memory. At 2:45 AM on March 13, electrical ground currents created by the magnetic storm found their way into the power grid of the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority. Giant capacitors tried to regulate these currents but failed within a few seconds as automatic protective systems took them off-line one by one. Suddenly, the entire 9,500 megawatt output from Hydro-Quebec’s La Grande Hydroelectric Complex found itself without proper regulation. Power swings tripped the supply lines from the 2000 megawatt Churchill Falls generation complex, and 18 seconds later, the entire Quebec power grid collapsed. Six million people were affected as they woke to find no electricity to see them through a cold Quebec wintry night. People were trapped in darkened office buildings and elevators, stumbling around to find their way out. Traffic lights stopped working, Engineers from the major North American power companies were worried too. Some would later conclude that this could easily have been a $6 billion catastrophe affecting most US East Coast cities. All that prevented the cascade from affecting the United States were a few dozen capacitors on the Allegheny Network. [Newspaper Archive]

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