Greg Glenn: Astrophysics and Baseball

Posted: September 2, 2018 by tallbloke in Astrophysics, Electro-magnetism, Geomagnetism, Solar physics, solar system dynamics

I was at the Dodger game Saturday when the power went out….completely.  It was the 12th inning, with the score tied at 4-4 (Dodger Vs Padres).  This was a serious matter!

I thought I was joking when I told my friends “It’s probably caused by massive ground currents from a CME (coronal mass ejection)”.  Lo and behold, when I woke up Sunday morning, I discovered that a surprisingly significant stream of energy from an earthbound solar filament hit the ionosphere at the same time as the outage.

The following chart shows measurements of the Earth’s geomagnetic field in the time period when the power outage occurred:


UTC is 7 hours ahead of PST, so the power outage at Dodger Stadium, which occurred in Los Angeles at 9:44 p.m., shows up on the chart on August 26th at 04:44 a.m.  That appears to be exactly when the KP Index from NOAA hit Kp = 7.0, categorized as a “Severe Storm”.

Per the following link:

“Assessing the impact of geomagnetic storms on the electrical power grid involves a number of considerations.  The path for current flow that responds to the varying external currents in the upper atmosphere follows artificial current paths on the ground (the power lines) as well as various natural current paths (e.g. conducting structures below the ground and nearby bodies of water).  Once the natural current paths are accounted for, the net geo-electric field that is imposed on the artificial current paths results in a quasi D.C. (periods of 10 seconds to 10’s (tens) of minutes) current in the power lines.  These geomagnetically induced currents cause the ‘exciting current’ in power transformers to operate out of their designed range, resulting in saturation of the magnetic core material inside the transformer.  Once the core saturates, the transformer no longer provides any back ‘electromotive force’ (a kind of electrical inertia) and the currents and voltages in the windings become abnormally large. Depending on the transformer design, this can lead to heating of the surrounding structures due to induced ‘Eddy Currents’ which has the potential to damage parts of the transformer.  An additional impact of transformer saturation is that the voltages and currents no longer have a simple sinusoidal (60 cycle) form and this can cause protective equipment elsewhere in the grid to trip when it shouldn’t.  These equipment ‘trips’ can take needed equipment off line and cause voltage stability problems.  An additional issue for the system is that all of the transformers that are saturating show up as a significant inductive load on the grid as a whole.  This means that a system that is near peak levels of demand prior to the geomagnetic storm event may not be able to meet the total power demand when the geomagnetic storm occurs, leading to partial or system wide blackouts.” 

A further investigation found that Lockheed Astrophysicists analyzing the link between solar particle streams and grid disruptions discovered a 25% higher increase in disruptions during and after solar storms > Kp=5.22.

From the following link, slide No. 13: Solar Flare Induced Disturbances in the Electric Grid and their Economic Impact


 Note that in the left hand box, when the Kp Index is > or = 5.22, there is almost immediately a 25% increase in grid related disturbances.  As I mentioned, the surprisingly high stream from the coronal hole hit at Kp 7.0 and the power went out within an hour.

Coincidence?   Perhaps, but I think not.

First, Tamitha Skov, an Aerospace Corp physicist using NASA data, predicted on August 23rd a major solar storm potentially hitting Earth on August 25th  through 26th.


Second, a strong disturbance was also detected in Norway at around the same time as the Dodger game blackout.


“ELECTRICITY FLOWS THROUGH THE SOIL OF NORWAY: When a geomagnetic storm erupts, most eyes naturally turn to the sky, looking for auroras. But during the surprisingly strong G3-class geomagnetic storm of Aug. 26th, there was action underfoot as well. Probes buried in the ground in Norway detected strong currents of electricity moving through the soil. This chart recording made by Rob Stammes at the Polarlightcenter in Lofoten shows wild swings in current during the storm’s peak:


The currents were remarkably strong,” says Stammes, who has been monitoring ground currents outside his Arctic observatory for many years. “During the magnetic storm, voltages surged to 10mv/m or 10v/km. That’s about 10 times stronger than normal. These are pretty rare readings without a strong solar flare during solar minimum.”

Why does electricity flow through the ground during a geomagnetic storm? It’s basic physics. Changing magnetic fields cause currents to flow in wires and other conductors. In most places, soil can conduct electricity due to the presence of dissolved salts and minerals. So when the local magnetic field begins to vibrate, electricity naturally begins to flow. Currents induced by geomagnetic storms can cause voltage fluctuations in power systems and in rare cases complete blackouts.”

Anyway, the Dodgers got their mojo on just after the lights came back on and completed a freaky run by Justin Turner, winning the rather lengthy game by 5-4.

Dodger Win Against Padres on 8-25-18

Whether or not the local utility gets their mojo on and retrofits their circuits to better withstand ground currents remains to be seen.




  1. Hifast says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    Two mid-game power outages this season for the Dodgers:

    Saturday 25 Aug 2018 Dodgers vs Padres as described above.

    Monday 31 July 2018 Dodgers vs Brewers power outage due to Mylar balloon.

  2. pochas94 says:

    I trust the utilities to understand what would happen to the grid during a Carrington event. Do they?

  3. oldbrew says:

    March 1989 geomagnetic storm

    The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of an ejection known as a coronal mass ejection on March 9, 1989.[1] A few days before, on March 6, a very large X15-class solar flare also occurred.[2] Three-and-a-half days later, at 2:44 am EST on March 13, a severe geomagnetic storm struck Earth.[3][4] The storm began on Earth with extremely intense auroras at the poles. The aurora could be seen as far south as Texas and Florida.
    – – –
    That was just over a week before the spring equinox. Equinoxes are known to be the most active time of the year for another magnetic phenomenon: auroras.

    Around the time of the equinox, Earth’s magnetic field is best oriented for “connecting-up” with the Sun.

  4. Greg says:

    I DON’T trust that the local utilities are prepared for a Carrington level event.

    After several large power outages in 2017, I shot off a few emails to the local utility, LADWP, hoping to alert them that solar storm damage to the grid can be prevented. I didn’t get a response from their engineers in 2017 and I haven’t gotten one from them in 2018, only from their public relations person.

    Here’s some additional information about the 2017 events in Los Angeles:

    Since L.A.D.W.P had expensive power outages on April 21st (at LAX) and July 8th (Northridge), both days that had ionosphere shockwaves with >5 Kp index, they might want to know in advance when similar conditions exist. I started researching how utilities can mitigate transformer thermal overloads. It turns out that there are mechanisms that they can employ. You have to know you have a problem before you can solve it.

    Here’s a detailed report written after some GICs caused transformer failures:

    Slide #25 indicates that there are possibly some mitigation techniques that can be employed, such as GIC blocking devices.

    I found a company, SEL, that provides such a service to utility companies:

    “It is possible to detect the occurrence of a GIC and implement mitigation strategies to prevent potential disruption to the power system. One approach is to use indirect measurements of geomagnetic effects. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides close to real-time measurements of the earth’s magnetic field strength at 100 worldwide locations, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides average magnetic field strength taken from one location (Boulder, Colorado). The other approach is to use direct measurements based on measuring dc offset and harmonic content of transformer currents.

    SEL relays provide the capability to filter, measure, and detect the effects of GIC through measurements of dc offset and harmonic content. For some protection schemes, the ability to filter the harmonic content allows the relay to perform the protection function with no impact during a GIC event.

    SEL’s recommended approach is to use a combination of direct and indirect methods to implement a wide-area mitigation scheme. During a known solar storm and when the harmonics become excessive, the operator can select a response based on the characteristics and operating environment of the power system. GIC is more of an issue for heavily loaded transformers. If there are susceptible transformers that cannot be replaced by more reliable designs, then these transformers should have their loading reduced during a storm, or even in anticipation of a storm.

    Because solar flares can be detected more than a day in advance of the arrival of the corresponding Coronal Mass Ejection, if a very large storm is anticipated, SEL recommends suspending routine system maintenance that could take critical lines out of service.”

    Maybe the local utility, LADWP, is aware of when solar storms are coming, maybe they’re not. It can’t hurt to find out what they know and alert them of possible solutions. They will contact me only if they’re curious.

  5. oldbrew says:

    The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event)[1] was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859.

    That was 3 weeks before autumn equinox (see comment above).

  6. Greg says:

    Happy 159th Anniversary Carrington event. I just noticed that the incredibly large Carrington CME hit the Earth on September 1st and 2nd, 1859, so EXACTLY 159 years ago. Seems like a good day to post about CMEs.

  7. oldmanK says:

    Re Greg’s question: All three phase aerial transmission lines are earthed at the star point via a robust reactor. That is because lightning strikes can inject a very high current, sometimes enough to cook to a cinder the reactor and its series resistor (experienced that twice). In no instance did it trip the generators.

    However there are other protective devices on generators that can be induced to respond, even on small currents that should not be there. But the fact that the trip was not widespread, it is more likely that the trip was due to a local station fault. The sources can be many in number, like elect leakage due to dampness, dry connections, failed electronics, and frequently cats and mice.

  8. Bob Weber says:

    Nice catch Greg. It was a great storm to witness as it happened. The EW app images will be live soon.

  9. oldmanK says:

    Mylar balloon caused power outage in Brewers-Dodgers game

    “The city utility says electrical wires can be melted when metallic balloons come in contact with power lines, causing fires, property damage or an outage.

    There are approximately 150 Mylar-related outage incidents citywide annually.”

  10. Greg says:

    The mylar balloon incident at Dodger Stadium actually did occur, but it occurred a month earlier on July 31st. In fact, it was the power outage previous to the one I experienced.