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Insurance Claims Reveal Hidden Electronic Damage From Geomagnetic Storms 78

KentuckyFC writes: On 13 March 1989, a powerful geomagnetic storm severely disrupted the Hydro-Québec high-voltage grid triggering numerous circuit breakers and blacking out much of eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. Since then, Earth has been hit by numerous solar maelstroms without such large-scale disruption. But the smaller-scale effect of these storms on low voltage transmissions lines, and the equipment connected to them, has been unknown. Until now. Researchers from the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory have analyzed insurance claims for damage to industrial electrical equipment between 2000 and 2010 and found a clear correlation with geomagnetic activity. They say that the number of claims increases by up to 20 per cent on the days of highest geomagnetic activity. On this basis, they calculate that the economic impact of geomagnetic damage must amount to several billion dollars per year. That raises the question of the impact these storms have on household electronic equipment, such as computers, smartphones and tablets, and whether domestic insurance claims might throw some light on the issue.
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Insurance Claims Reveal Hidden Electronic Damage From Geomagnetic Storms

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  • Buy Surge Protectors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:08AM (#47431375)

    If you haven't already bought them, buy surge protectors. After replacing the fourth dishwasher in our less than 8 year old house due to circuitry issues we installed a whole house surge protector. They work and it doesn't take a magnetic storm to cause issues, most of the grid delivery is +/- 15% on voltage just in my area normally.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:22AM (#47431485) Homepage

    99% of the surge suppressors you can buy at stores are useless crap that simply use a $0.29 MOV to shunt a voltage spike. they will do NOTHING to stop most real problems that come in on data lines and NOT power. Those things are designed to stop surges from your vacuum cleaner, your furnace and AC, and the industrial building down the street.

    We have customers whine every thunderstorm asking why did their $9.95 surge suppressor not stop lightning damage... It cant, in fact you can not buy anything on this planet that can stop a close or direct lightning hit.

    I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

  • Is this news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:34AM (#47431579) Journal

    I thought it was common knowledge, ask any admin of a network with 100ft+ lines running between buildings. The gear connected to them often fries when solar flares hit. Sometimes it happens so reliably that they have a procedure to disconnect the lines when a solar flare is coming.

  • Solar activity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @11:49AM (#47431709)

    I confirmed the effect of solar activity countrywide myself a few years ago...
    I used to work in the NOC (Network operations center) for a major Telco. The job is pretty strait forward, there's an application that gets alerts from a vast and very diverse set of equipment all across the country and displays "alarms" when they are having problems. There are always alarms, but many are transient and a lot of the equipment will fix itself. Your job is to know what's bad, how bad it is and how to intervene if you need to. A remote in the backwoods of Georgia has a fire alarm... Call the fire department who will break down the door, hose down the equipment and put 10,000 people out of service for a week? Or notice that the same remote has a minor fan alarm thats not on your display because of the severity and know that what really is going on is the fan burned up and you can just send a field tech to replace it.

    Anyways, that jobs a lot like war. Long periods of boredom punctuated by brief periods of terror. 100k people without 911 service wares at you. But in the slow times it's really boring so I was surfing one day and found this: []
    It's a NASA website that shows the activity in space around the sun/earth. You can even download spreadsheets of past data.
    This got me thinking so I exported alarm activity on the millions of pieces of equipment I watched for the same time period.
    At first it didn't match up, but then I remembered there are local causes to. So I found some data on electrical storms and subtracted that...
    Tada! I had a perfect graph showing the rise and fall of solar activity that matched nicely with my alarm activity. There were a few anomalies, but I'm not scientist. I could see that the effect was more negligible on our fiber networks, but still there. I attributed this to power fluctuations.

    Excited I ran into my bosses office and told him to look at my charts. He said "That's fantastic! Good work! Really interesting! But useless I'm sad to say..."
    I was baffled...
    "Do you want me to block out the sun? This really is neat, but that's about it. We can't do anything about it."
    I thought about it and finally agreed. It's is neat, but also unavoidable. At best we could use it to put more techs on staff on certain days, but that would be about it. And the fact is, there's ALWAYS someone on call... so, though being interesting, it's also irrelevant. About the most interesting part was that fiber made the issue go away... but we already knew fiber was better in just about all cases. This was just more proof.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @12:03PM (#47431799)

    I've done that on a small scale, building a can-crusher. It puts out such powerful magnetic field it's like a mini-EMP - at close range it disrupts recording equipment. Camera electronics crash.

  • Re:Tablets? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @12:19PM (#47431951)
    Let's add some numbers to this. The Carrington Event had a peak change in magnetic field of about 1.5 microteslas. Suppose your table for some reason was 30 cm square and had a hundred turns of wire inside it around the perimeter, giving a total effective area of 9 square meters. In order for that 1.5 microtesla field to induce 1 V in the loop, the magnetic field change would need to happen in about 15 microseconds.... the actual change took hours. Even if it happened in a minute, the induced voltage would be 0.2 microvolts, still assuming your tablet had a huge coil of wire in it. (As opposed to say a 100 mile square loop, because you are looking at ground currents or an distribution system with unusual return path, you would get 600 V then...)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @12:36PM (#47432119)

    Yep. Orlando resident here. Just had some lightning damage Saturday night. I have a whole house surge suppressor, along with good quality point-of-use surge supressors that the electronics are plugged into. Had a close hit. Saw the flash and heard a "pop" noise from the light fixtures at the same instant. Followed 1 second later by the thunder. Took out the 8-port gigabit switch, the power supply for the router, and the power supply for the USB hard drive plugged into the router. Conveniently the power supply for the switch worked on the router, so I moved that and swapped around some other switches and got things back up. Living in Orlando I expect that kind of damage every summer and keep spares in stock.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @01:23PM (#47432533)

    We have customers whine every thunderstorm asking why did their $9.95 surge suppressor not stop lightning damage... It cant,

    Of course it can. Surge protectors are rated for specific Joules - an amount of energy. Around here, each power pole has an insulator that will conduct to the ground extra voltage. Power lines have quite a bit of capacitance too so unless your transformer is hit directly, lightning will most likely not affect much. []

    Many surge protectors tend to come with "connected equipment warranty". If they were useless, as you say, this warranty should be terrible business for the insurers.

    I have seen lightning blow up electronics that were unplugged and sitting in the cardboard box. getting a hard strike 8 feet from the south wall where all the gear was going to be installed. Every single device was fried when we opened the boxes and hooked it up.

    It's called induction.

    Comparing this to geomagnetic storm is ridicules.

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday July 11, 2014 @02:22PM (#47432977) Homepage Journal

    Overstated, not wrong. There's nothing you can buy for the home that won't cost several times more money than the equipment being protected.

    You can buy arresters that will protect against near misses, but if a bolt of lightning hits the outdoor antenna, the TV and arrester will become smoking chunks of plastic and metal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2014 @03:31PM (#47433531)

    Most commercial broadcast transmitters these days are solid state. Lots of modules ganged up. For AM stations, essentially a giant DAC. For FM and TV, more likely lots of power combiners. There probably are some big shortwave broadcasters using big tubes, although Harris and Continental both have SS transmitters. And, of course, if you have a functioning station which was built in the 60s, you're going to keep it going.

    Virtually all communications radio repeaters are solid state, and they are installed in places that get hit by lightning repeatedly.

    Lightning protection is actually fairly well understood. It's not cheap to do it right, so for most consumer applications, it's cheaper to buy new gear in the event of a problem than to make it lightning proof. OTOH, if you're safety of life critical and need 24/7, 99.999% availability, you spend the money.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.