“Extraordinary” Solar Storm Headed Toward Earth, How It Could Affect You


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a geomagnetic storm watch that is expected to turn into a warning late Friday.

This marks the first time in 20 years that the rare watch was issued. According to NOAA, the sun produced some strong solar flares on Wednesday that emitted outbursts of plasma. At least seven of these outbursts, known as coronal mass ejections, are en route to the Earth and could disrupt power grids, spacecraft, GPS, radio, satellite navigation and more.

“The flares seem to be associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth,” according to NOAA. A similar solar storm in 2003 knocked out power grids in Sweden and caused damage to power transformers in South Africa.

NASA/WireImage (image from solar storm of 2003)

A G4, or severe geomagnetic storm, is the second-highest grade in the US government’s classification system. The radiation from the event is expected to hit the Earth’s magnetic field on Friday and will be active through the weekend.

Changes in the upper level of the atmosphere (the ionosphere) can cause transmissions from the Earth to satellites to be blocked and can prevent radio transmissions from “bouncing off” the ionisphere.

Systemes such as GPS satellites only work when their signals are able to penetrate the ionosphere, so scientists predict that the “critical technology used by planes, ocean-going vessels, and in the agriculture and oil and gas industries” could be affected. In addition, shortwave radio transmissions that are crucial to communications to and from ships, aircraft, emergency services and the military could be temporarily disrupted by the storm.

Will The Solar Storm Affect You?

Scientists state that cell phone usage and cell phone GPS systems should not be affected. “The GPS features on your phone also typically use a mix of pure GPS and cellular tower-based location tracking, so even if GPS signals are disrupted, phone users may still be able to maintain a rough location fix,” CNN reported.

The greatest risk for the population is the failure of power grids. According to NOAA, severe weather in outer space can affect power grids and cause “possible widespread voltage control problems.”

Past solar storms caused massive hours-long blackouts due to damage to transformers and other electrical equipment. A blackout could also temporarily cause cell towers to lose power and website hosting sites to fail.

Read more about how to prepare for a solar storm HERE.


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