Tag Archives: solar weather

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: https://pss.swpc.noaa.gov/LoginWebForm.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fproductsubscriptionservice%2f

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: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/#GeomagneticStorms

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.

Bubble, Bubble…Sun, We Might Be in Trouble

I had a post some time back about the beginning of groanings regarding solar storms (reference post: You Are My Sunshine). I’ve been doing more research and I personally believe this is worth revisiting. I know more now then I knew back then. To be sure the probability of having a catastrophic event is very low. However, the impact if it occurs would be DEVASTATING. This is a low probability, high impact event. And if you need an illustration to drive home the reality of this. Consider, hypothetically, a rare, deadly disease that occurs in a small (<5) percentage of children (or if you don’t have children, picture yourself). Now imagine that your child has that disease. Do you care anymore that <5% of kids ever get stricken? No, of course you don’t because it’s happening to you!

My point is that if the worst happens, it won’t matter that it wasn’t likely. What will matter is what did you do to prepare?

The major concern is the power grid. Imagine not having power for months or years. Imagine the level of social breakdown that will occur if this nation doesn’t have electricity for that amount of time. Did you know that grocery stores only carry a few days worth of food for the area at a time. We rely on an always moving transportation system to deliver our goods. If we don’t have electricity then we don’t have operating oil refineries and eventually we run out of gas. If we run out of gas, that next shipment of chicken breasts isn’t going to make it to Safeway. And even if it did, they won’t be able to keep it refrigerated and neither can you. Total social breakdown would be inevitable. People will get desperate, just like I’ve discussed in other posts.

Go to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) website and dig around. The government has been looking into and discussing the effect of Electromagnetic Pulses on the national power grid since the 70’s. And they are still discussing it. The problem hasn’t been solved. Check out the attached executive summary, also from ORNL. It is four pages of content and two pages of resources. Of interest are the dates of those resources because although the main paper is undated they are….2010. This paper is recent.