The Final Countdown

So I’ve talked repeatedly here about the solar weather events of late resulting from the current solar maximum. Since that time, I’ve learned much more about the threat and its impact. Hopefully you and your loved ones have already begun preparing for a possible large-scale geomagnetic event. If you have, you are headed in the right direction. If you haven’t, I can only assume you have some roadblocks. Maybe you think it won’t really happen or maybe your budget won’t allow you to purchase preparedness supplies for a “just in case event”. However, given the preparatory chaos surrounding Hurricane Sandy (and let’s be honest, any pending natural disaster event), I want you to be as prepared as you can. And no notice is one of the hardest parts of the solar weather reality. Our ability to predict these things isn’t what we would like, but the truth of the matter is you can get as much as 56 hours notice that a catastrophic coronal mass ejection is headed straight for earth with a magnetic alignment that means…we’re screwed. If you are positioned to get as much notice as possible then perhaps in that amount of time you can fill in some gaps in your preparedness supplies. Unfortunately we see time and time again with natural disasters that even with pictures and accurate forecasts of devastating hurricanes, folks still don’t react appropriately. It never ceases to amaze me.

Anyway, despite the fact that we are decades behind in our ability to forecast space weather, there is a government agency responsible for providing alerts for space weather activity (which depends on information relayed from satellites). Unfortunately, most people don’t know about it, can’t wade through it, or discern how to use it. I’m going to do all that for you. I’m going to tell you where to go to sign up for the alerts for geomagnetic events, which alerts to sign up for, and how to react to them. If you follow the steps below, you can have as much notice as possible for solar weather events that could affect you and your loved ones.

The Space Weather Prediction Center, part of NOAA’s National Weather Service, provides space weather alerts, forecasts, watches, and warnings for solar weather events. Explore this link to see their educational resources flyer. It lists education and outreach resources.

Now, back to the alerts. Go to:

On the righthand side of the page is a log-in box. Underneath the box there is link for “new user? Register Here”. Select that link. Complete the form. Yes, I’m sorry. You have to create an account complete with yet another password :-(. Now go check your email to verify the account. Then return to the link above and log in. Select the very first link on the page “Subscribe (add or change subscription preferences). Next select the link “geomagnetic storm products”.

Now lets select the alerts/warnings that are most pertinent for you. Quite honestly we experience geomagnetic events quite often, but they just don’t reach the threshold of @#$%! that means you would have been aware. What you are looking to get warned about are events that will catastrophically effect our nations electrical grids. This means that you want to be alerted/warned about Kp 8 and greater events. There are other scales that you may see such as the G scale. You can refer to the chart located here to understand the correlation between the various scales:

I suggest registering for the following alerts/warnings: (check the box to the left of…)

  • ALERT: Geomagnetic K-index of 8 (G4)
  • ALERT: Geomagnetic K-index of 9 (G5)
  • WATCH: Geomagnetic Storm Category G4 or Greater Predicted
  • Click “submit”

These are the biggies. If we see one of these headed our way, we will be very concerned. Now, what do you do if these happen? What does it really mean for you? These mean that we have an indication that there is a large coronal mass ejection (CME) headed for earth. However, even if these alerts are issued, it is possible that it will be later be determined that the magnetic field alignment turns out to not be a threat. Conceivably you could receive an alert from NOAA and then later find out that the CME is actually not as bad as expected. True enough it could turn out to be a false alarm; however, this system is the best, and other than waiting to see it on TV, the only way to know that we are at risk. NOAA will be watching to see what they learn from the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite. With the earlier warnings give as much as 56 hours notice, the ACE is much closer to earth and will provide us with about an hours notice. That will serve as our final warning. However, if you aren’t prepared an hour won’t be enough. Hopefully you are preparing for all hazards for which you would be covered even for solar events, but if not, signing up for the above warnings will give you a couple of days worth of advance notice to get what you can. Just keep in mind, once the media gets the word out there, other’s will be scrambling as well. And of course, there are those who will never prepare no matter what. They will eventually be begging for the support of those of us who did prepare. Help educate those that you care about now.

It Happened

Well, it happened. I received my first alert from the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). It was late and it woke me up, so it was a stark reminder that I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t mind though. It was neat and I was delighted to have the experience to share with you. If you are new to The Keep, then you will have to read my post, This is a Test, from July 6, 2012 to catch up. In that post I introduce the CMAS.

Anyway, I’m just beginning to doze the other night when my cell phone, which sleeps under my pillow and doubles as my alarm clock, erupts in the single longest fit of vibrating I’ve ever witnessed. I picked it up to see who the heck was texting/calling so late but also because I recognized that there was something different about this particular buzzing.

So for me at the top of my phone (HTC Rhyme) there is sort of an alter ribbon that gives the typical information: signal strength, battery life, 3G status, download status, etc. Well, when I unlocked the phone, there was a red triangle with a white exclamation point inside of it in the information ribbon. I went “grabbed” it and a text popped up. The text was entitled “Emergency Alert”. It read, “Severe Alert: Flash Flood Warning this area till 11:45 PM EDT. Avoid flood areas. Check local media -NWS”

Other than the unusually long buzzing, the only difference in this text and others was that I was required to select “accept” before it would close.

So, I guess CMAS is here and is operational for at least some smart phones. I am excited. I think this is the right step for this technology driven nation. Job well done for those who worked tirelessly to create this program. Thank you for watching over me while I slept and thank you for the heads up.


PS – One other really important thing happened…baby Lilly arrived. This post is dedicated to her and her wonderful Mama and Daddy. Welcome Lilly, may God’s grace and blessings abound, baby girl.

Adventures of a Pork Rind

Yesterday as we were house cleaning, I found a treasure trove of old bottles of sunscreen. At first I felt annoyed because have you bought any sunscreen lately? Highway robbery! Anyway, my second thought was, “hey, do we have sunscreen in the go-bag?” Upon investigation, I found that I had a small travel-type tube in the go bag. Trust me, there are way too many people in our family for that to be enough.

My mental image is one of those apocalyptic moments where my family has been forced to leave the shelter of our home and attempt to move out over great distances on foot. If you aren’t ready to go down the apocalyptic path just yet, then instead picture your family standing in an enormous line outside an emergency shelter hoping to score a few beds for the duration or standing in a mammoth line outside to obtain FEMA assistance. If you and your loved ones are out there for any of these reasons without sunscreen and you aren’t blessed with the natural ability to tan, then you’re cooking, and the last thing you need at that moment is a sunburn. Somehow I figure baking yourselves into proverbial pork rinds will seem ridiculous afterwards when all you needed to do was pack some sunscreen.

Your next question is, “Does sunscreen expire?”.  Unfortunately, yes but I think the shelf life is reasonable. According to the Mayo clinic:

“Sunscreens are designed to remain stable and at original strength for up to three years.”

Later in the article, they note that extreme temperatures, over long periods of time can speed up this process of degradation. But as I’ve mentioned before, your go-kit should be located within your home in an easily accessible place, not in your sweltering garage.

I would also like to recommend a small tube of sunscreen for your work go-kits. If you ever find yourself having to walk over great distances to get home from work due to a regional event that might clog roads to the point of abandoning cars or if you are for some reason unable to retrieve your vehicle from work and forced to walk homewards, you will want some sunscreen. I would also recommend sunscreen for your car go-kits. However, you will need to rotate this iteration after every summer because of the heat/storage issue. A simple and cost-effective suggestion would be to take this summer’s leftover sunscreen and use that bottle for your car and just make that a tradition. At the end of each summer season, at least one unfinished container replaces the old bottle in the car go-kit. This will put you on a schedule and keep you from putting a brand new bottle in the car just to have to toss it next season.

Don’t make your apocalyptic event an adventure in becoming a pork rind. Embrace the almighty SPF! Get some sunscreen stashed away for a sunny, emergency day.

Your skin without sunscreen 🙂

This is a Test

Did you know that there is now a national program that is going push weather related safety warnings to your cell phone? The Commercial Mobile Alert System just started last week, although it has been in the works for some time. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) partnered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build a wireless emergency alert system.

There are many state and local alert systems in place already that will deliver similar warnings; however, you have to actually sign up for those programs. The new Wireless Emergency Alert system is national and does not require any action on your part. If you possess a cell phone and cell carrier that supports the system (all do not), then you will receive the alerts. Don’t freak, you will not be charged for these texts. I personally think this is an amazing and yet “no brainer” leap in the right direction for our nation. We’ve all been forced to randomly miss what always works out to be the best part of our favorite television show for the traditional…”this is a test of the emergency broadcast system…” These new texts follow the same principle. Even better though, most folks I know keep their cell phones within arms reach at all times which makes them much more likely to receive these warnings. Also, though they will appear as text messages, they aren’t in fact actually “texts”. These use SMS-Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB) which allows them to be delivered immediately despite any congestion that might exist on cellular lines during an event. They are also location specific, so despite the fact that your phone might be out of Texas, if you are traveling to Georgia, you will receive GA alerts.  They even arrive with a special ring tone to alert you that this is no regular message.

All told, there are three types of alerts that will be sent as a part of this program:

  • Alerts issued by the President
  • Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
  • Amber Alerts

There are methods to opt out of these (why would anyone do that?!) except for those issued by the President.

New cell phones on the market that are out of the box capable are labeled with this logo:


Several sites have more information and they are all worth a glance. Check out these sites for the details:

Space Cowboys

Recently I attended the Space Weather Enterprise Forum (SWEF) in Washington DC. This year the conference, organized by the National Space Weather Program (NSWP) Council,  was entitled “Solar Maximum 2013 – How Space Weather Will Affect You!” So what I’m thinking is that I’m not crazy and even that the larger Space Weather scientific community believes this will affect you!

So I spent the day with representatives from various stakeholders including providers, users, and researchers from government, academia, and the private sector. This year’s focus was on  two aspects of our Nation’s critical infrastructure:  electrical power distribution networks and precision navigation and timing provided by Global Navigation Satellite Systems. Please check out the detailed information at the below link:

So as I sat there amongst all of those scientific types, I have to say, I kept thinking I’m just a continuity planner. How can I possibly keep up with their knowledge base and learn all there is to absorb? These are the real Space Cowboys! (Oh, I can hear Steve Miller Band right now…wish I was clever enough to make it play during this post 🙂 ).  And they are, but they all share one trait. They are more than willing to share their knowledge. As a matter of fact, they are dying to communicate with us “regulars” about what all we need to know. So how best can I plug you directly into their knowledge base?

One of our freebies at the conference was an issue of Space Weather Quarterly: The International Journal of Research and Applications. This is a free publication, and I’ve got to say, it is outstanding. The articles are at a level where even us regular folks can understand the information. If you are at all interested in my previous posts regarding space weather, I really recommend you consider visiting the below site and registering for a subscription.   (Look for the Space Weather Quarterly link on the left-hand side of the page, last link under the box labeled “Journal Details”).

Not only is the current edition exceptional, but you can also access back issues via the website as well. I haven’t gotten the opportunity to review as many of the back articles as I would like, but they are on my list of to do’s. Get yourself a subscription, I’m going to want to talk soon about some of these articles in particular.

This solar weather topic is not going away because the risk is not going away. As many meetings as I’m attending professionally on this topic, the one thing that keeps popping up is PREPAREDNESS, not just for our government, but for FAMILIES. Take advantage of this resource. You’ll be glad you did.

Fire Tortilla

Irony. Ain’t she grand? I’ve been trying to get this post done for a week and on the night I resolve to actually get it done…I burn myself. The irony comes in when you find out the topic of the post. Fire protection. HA! Guess I should have thought about that when I reached into the oven to retrieve my sweet and sour chicken using only my kid’s decorative pot holder for safety. (Which by the way cost me an arm and a leg but as you just heard is only marginally useful. Thank God I find it impressively beautiful!) Don’t worry, my finger will survive to type another post, just in case you were worried. I am however, a big baby about pain. I swore after childbirth, I’d never stand by idle and tolerate such ridiculousness…hence the cold beverage aiding with my healing.

Back to fire! If you have ever heard me give my preparedness presentation, you’ve sat victim to my joke about keeping my in-laws in the basement when they stay over. I always hint that I do this because there is no egress from my basement as it has no exit door or sizable windows to speak of. (If you truly know me by the way, you know that I’m actually only kidding. One, they don’t sleep here, they live ten miles away. Two, I love them with all my heart.) The point is that my basement has no viable exit and from time to time my most precious babies actually get permission to play video games in the basement. I’ve been driving myself crazy to come up with a way to mitigate the issue. If there is a fire and my little men are in the basement, how are they going to get out without running through fire?

Found it! Now this is not a cure-all for sure. Certainly the viability of this mitigation strategy is dependent upon the extent of the fire. However, I’m going to purchase a fire blanket. Now these are traditionally used to smother fires, and in particular are recommended for use to protect from/fight kitchen fires. However, an alternative use for fire blankets is to wrap oneself or one’s loved ones in the blanket to essentially run through the fire and escape. Picture yourself or your little ones wrapped up like a little protective fire tortilla!


Traditionally, these blankets have been made of wool and you can certainly still get wool versions. At this point though, you can also purchase fiberglass versions. Some are even treated with chemicals to increase their ability to retard flames. They vary in range from $45.00 (this would be a smaller size, only appropriate for a small child.) to as much as $200.00. I think this could possibly be one of your more expensive purchases; however, if this is to be used as I would be using mine, then I deem it a worthy price. If you Google fire blanket, you will find many to choose from.

If you have babies or small children that you might have to carry out through a fire, because of a similar basement situation or because you can’t navigate an escape ladder (see previous post) while carrying the infant/child, a fire blanket may not only be the difference between life and death but also between severe burns and minor injuries for the little one. This could also so help if you have any elder care responsibilities and they also cannot navigate an escape ladder.

I’ve moved this to the top of our purchasing priority list for emergency preparedness supplies. I hope that you will consider the role a fire blanket might play in your preparedness as well. Be sure to purchase one that is the appropriate size for it’s intended user. (Too small and it won’t be as sufficient as it ought to be. Too large and a small child could trip over it and prolong their exposure to the flames.) Also, these ARE NOT intended to be used to run into a fire to rescue folks. Leave that to the professionals. And most importantly, no matter what, keep it in a place that it is easily accessible. No matter which version you buy, if you or your loved ones can’t get to it quickly, it’s saved no one.