Strong Solar Geomagnetic Storm Predicted Overnight Tonight Through Friday

...Strong Solar Geomagnetic Storm Expected Tonight and Friday...

When we think of sun spots and stronger geomagnetic storms, we tend to think of the impacts as the brilliant displays of the Northern Lights.  But what is really going on here?  Sun spots are dark spots on the sun that are several thousand degrees colder than the surrounding sun surface, and caused by local areas of intense magnetic activity.  Much like a thunderstorm exploding upwards on a hot/humid afternoon, the sun can violently release this built up magnetic activity into space, known as a coronal mass ejection (or CME for short).  The solar wind carries this burst of highly energized particles out through space at over 300 miles PER SECOND!!  If they are directed toward earth there can be many impacts, arriving several hours to more than a day after the solar eruption.

As the highly electrically charge particles interact with the very upper levels of our atmosphere and the earth's magnetic field, we can see vibrant displays of the northern/southern lights, known as the Aurora Borealis (or Aurora Australis).  However, there are many negative impacts from a strong geomagnetic storm, ranging from radio blackouts, satellite interruptions, electrical grid problems, and increased radiation to aircraft at high altitudes flying across the northern latitudes. The NWS Space Prediction Center ranks these potential geomagnetic storms based on expected intensity, and that scale is linked at the bottom of this page.

So what's the big deal?  Well, a strong solar eruption was observed yesterday and the CME was directed toward earth.  Although, the Aurora Borealis might be observed tonight this far south (a fairly rare event), unfortunately, it looks like we'll be cloudy.  One would likely have to travel to northern Iowa or Minnesota for a clear view.

Key Points

  • A very energetic solar eruption was observed Tuesday afternoon that produced an R3 (strong) radio blackout and a S2 (moderate) solar radiation storm on Earth.

  • The most delayed aspect of a solar eruption is the arrival of the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) which generally follows a day or two after the solar eruption and can cause a Geomagnetic Storm.

  • The NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is predicting the arrival of the CME from Tuesday's eruption to arrive at Earth during the early morning hours of Thursday EST.

  • Since the eruption was intense and Earth-directed, SWPC is predicting that the Geomagnetic Storm will be strong, or category G3.

  • All of this activity stems from a very large sunspot region #1944 that had been relatively quiet until Tuesday.

  • Due to the nature of solar events, there will be very little new information until the time the CME reaches the NASA ACE spacecraft just upstream of Earth. Once it reaches those sensors, SWPC can issue short-term, higher-confidence warnings.

  • Region 1944 will be in a position to affect Earth for most of the next week as it continues to make its way across the sun, so subsequent activity is possible.

Potential Impacts from a G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm

  • Navigation:
    • GPS devices may be impacted; loss of satellite lock and increased range error.

  • Power systems:
    • Voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.

  • Satellite operations:
    • Surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
  • Radio:
    • HF (high-frequency) radio may be intermittent.

  • Other:
    • Intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent.

    • Aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically to around 50 degrees latitude).

What is the Space Weather Prediction Center?

The NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) provided an update during their routine briefing to FEMA Headquarters. The NOAA Liaison to FEMA is also engaged with FEMA HQ regarding the latest forecasts and potential space weather impacts.

SWPC has around 38,000 accounts registered in their email subscription service, and frequent updates are being sent through that system.

SWPC is also updating customers through web page updates and social media.

SWPC has a system in place to notify power grid officials if conditions warrant, but this event is not expected to pose a significant threat to critical infrastructure.


NWS Space Weather Prediction Center

NOAA Space Weather Scale for Geomagnetic Storms

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