5 solar storms likely to disrupt power grids

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WASHINGTON -- Earth is likely to be bombarded
with an unusual rapid-fire blast from five solar storms
that could disrupt power grids, communications and
airplane navigation in the northern United States
today and Sunday, space weather forecasters
warned Friday. But they said the same machine gun-like
geomagnetic blasts also could pull the spectacular
northern lights sky show farther south, where more
people will be able to see the colored lights dance in
the northern sky.

. . .

Satellites around the globe could be knocked around
by the particles and "some intermittent problems
could be expected," Combs said.

Contra Costa Times

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), November 25, 2000


Saturday, November 25 2:05 PM SGT

Strong solar storms to wreak havoc in northern latitudes WASHINGTON, Nov 25 (AFP) - Across the United States this weekend, fire alarms and anti-theft devices may be triggered for no reason, pictures on television screens may flicker and fade to black, and entire communities could be plunged into sudden darkness.

Such unusual goings-on things could result from what scientists describe as a wave of major geomagnetic storms expected to strike beginning late Saturday and last for several days.

In an alert issued Friday, the US government's Space Environment Center said "a major solar flare from a large, active sunspot group" was observed on the Sun from Boulder, Colorado, last Thursday, at 8:13 am local time (1513 GMT), likely producing "additional major events."

The solar radiation storms and strong geomagnetic storms categorized by the center as "G3", officials said.

Under such storms "power system voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices, surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth- orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems," the center pointed out.

The list of possible calamities doesn't end there, however.

The storm wave could cause interruptions in navigation satellite communications and become a real headache for high-frequency ham radio operators, according to the center.

"In the worst case scenario, power can be lost," Norman Cohen, a space environment forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told AFP.

He said failures of power grids were more likely to occur "at higher latitudes in both hemispheres," but the geomagnetic storms -- to continue for at least several days -- would affect the whole planet.

"It will be global event. And we won't know the magnitude until it actually starts," Cohen stressed.

He said the flare observed on the surface of the Sun on Thursday has spawned a large cloud of plasma, which is heading towards the Earth.

"From its appearance, we have been able to determine that it was Earth-directed," Cohen explained. "It will be a major event."

The magnitude of the storms was expected to reach six or seven on a scale of nine, according to the forecaster.

As a result, orbiting satellites may experience "some orientation problems" and "will need correction from ground control," Cohen said.

That may affect some communications, but television networks and cellular phones should be working normally, said the forecaster. If interruptions were to occur, they should be brief.

Power grids, however, may be worst-equipped to withstand the geomagnetic onslaught from space.

In 1989, most of the power grid in the Canadian province of Quebec went down for an expended period of time due to such a storm, Cohen reminded.

On the bright side, night-time skywatchers in areas far beyond the Arctic could be treated to a spectacle they have never seen before.

Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as Northern Lights, could be seen in North America as far south as the US states of Oregon and Illinois, the center said.

"Most of Europe will be able to see it too," added Cohen.

He said in Illinois and Oregon, the aurora will probably be visible starting at around midnight Saturday. In Europe, it is most likely to be detected on Sunday and following days after dark.

http://english.hk.dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/technology/afp/article .html? s=hke/headlines/001125/technology/afp/Strong_solar_storms_to_wreak_hav oc_in_northern_latitudes.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 25, 2000.

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