Solar Storm not as large as forecast

by Dave Hennen
CNN Senior Meteorologist

The ongoing solar storm may not be as big as advertised, according to NOAA.  The current ongoing geomagnetic storm has reached only G1 intensity on scale from G1 (weak) up to G5 (extreme).   Yesterday,  forecasters thought the level would reach the strong G3 category.

Communications in the Polar Regions have been impacted, with some airlines flying different routes around the poles to avoid loosing communication.  Overall, however interruptions have been limited.

A strong storm can lead to problems with power grids, GPS systems, and can be a danger to satellites and Astronauts.  NASA reported this morning that the Astronauts on the International Space Station were in no danger.

Physicist Joseph Kunches with the Space Weather Prediction Center likens the challenge of forecasting these events to hitting a major league pitchers fastball.  “The problem is the pitch comes from the sun from 93 million miles away.”    NOAA has a satellite called ACE, which like a flag in space, can measure the solar wind, or the amount of particles heading towards earth.  “We don’t see the pitch until it’s relatively close to earth”.

“Like a hitter we try and figure out if the pitch is coming down the middle of the plate or is low and outside” said Kunches.   Forecasters also try and figure out which way particles are oriented which has major implications on how strong the event will be. “Like a curve ball, the orientation can change, we didn’t see the spin with this event.”

He also added that the event is not over and the current low impact it is having could increase if it becomes better aligned later today.  By tomorrow morning the current geomagnetic storm should be diminishing.

Viewers tonight however could still see quite a show, as the highly charged particles interact with the earth’s magnetic field to produce Auroras (Northern Lights).  The Northern Lights may be visible as far south as the northern tier of states according to Kunches.

Scientists continue to monitor the sunspot which produced the latest solar storm.  It will remain perfectly aligned to the earth through the weekend, and could send more solar activity our way.

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