Geomagnetic storm: NOAA warns of ‘severe solar storm’

A solar flair from the sun.

Several solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) are causing scientists to warn about the effects of a “severe solar storm.”

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a warning for a severe geomagnetic storm for Friday evening. There could be other solar eruptions causing similar conditions through the weekend.

The Associated Press reported that it is the first time a storm of this magnitude has happened in almost 20 years.

What caused the storms?

This week “a large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares,” NOAA said. Five were linked to CMEs that were heading in our direction. The sunspot in question is about 16 times the diameter of Earth, according to the AP.

What is a CME?

A CME is a coronal mass ejection, which is a blast of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. The ejections can have billions of tons of plasma, the AP reported.

What can a CME affect?

A CME can disrupt communication, the power grid and navigation, as well as radio and satellite operations. They can also cause aurora displays around the globe as far south as Alabama and Northern California, NOAA said.

“As far as the worst situation expected here at Earth, that’s tough to say and I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” said Shawn Dahl, a NOAA space weather forecaster, according to the AP. “However, severe level is pretty extraordinary, It’s a very rare event to happen.”

A 2003 geomagnetic storm took out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa, the AP reported.

Ohio has the rare opportunity to see the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, tonight.  

According to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, a G4 is impacting Earth. This is the strongest such storm since 2005. 

 Tonight, the northern lights may be visible as far south as Ohio. We won't be able to see the vibrant green or reds that folks further to the north will see, but a faint glow along the northern horizon is possible tonight.

Those who would like to try and see the lights should find an open area with a clear view of the northern horizon. You'll need to be far away from city lights. Allow your eyes time to adjust for the best chances of seeing the lights. Our best chance at seeing the lights will come between 11 PM and 4 AM. 

Our problem locally will be cloud cover. A system approaching from the northwest will bring increasing clouds right during peak viewing time from 11 PM to 4 AM tonight. 

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