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Solar storms cause GPS in tractors to temporarily break during height of planting season

Solar storms disrupts farming tech, planting operations
Solar storms disrupts farming tech, planting operations 00:28

MINNEAPOLIS — The rare geomagnetic storms that brought dazzling colors across the night sky caused some chaos.

Some navigational systems in farming equipment broke down over the weekend, the New York Times reports.

Many tractors use GPS to plant precise rows to avoid gaps and overlap. Farmers rely on it to plant more efficiently and precisely.

The disruption comes during the height of planting season in the Midwest and Canada.

"I've never dealt with anything like this," Minnesota farmer Patrick O'Connor told the New York Times.

He says he got into his tractor at 5 p.m. Friday to plant corn when he received a warning from his GPS.

Landmark Implement, a John Deere dealer in the Midwest, warned farmers about the disruptions. It said the event "extremely compromised" the accuracy of some of its systems.

"...We expect that the rows won't be where the AutoPath lines think they are," Landmark Implement said in a press release. "This will only affect the fields that are planted during times of reduced accuracy. It is most likely going to be difficult - if not impossible - to make AutoPath work in these fields as the inaccuracy is most likely inconsistent."

Strong solar storms can impact life in space and on Earth. GPS and communications satellites, and even the power grid can be interrupted.

Friday's geomagnetic storm was the strongest in more than 20 years.

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center says moderate to strong geomagnetic storms are "likely" on Monday, as well as minor storms on Tuesday. More solar flares are possible.

NOAA officials said there were reports of "power grid irregularities and degradation to high-frequency communications and GPS" due to the storm.

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