Thursday, September 11, 2014

Significant coronal mass ejection from solar flare likely on the way to Earth on 9/11; experts say little danger to power grid "this time"

While the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic brace for possibly severe weather, most major outlets at first paid little attention to large “solar flares” Tuesday and Wednesday.  The second of these was the largest, an X1.6 flare (smaller than the X4.9 flare in February).  Experts were not sure if a sizable coronal mass ejection was produced, but it if was, it will probably arrive Friday and can indeed disrupt some communications on the daylight side (more in polar latitudes) and conceivably some power grid disruption.  The “Space” link for the story is here

AOL and the Weather Channel sensationalized the event, as if to draw visitors for ads.


I checked with two weather professionals by Twitter on local Washington DC stations and both said that significant power disruptions from this sized event were very unlikely.  But a much larger one could be, and we may have barely missed “a big one” in July 2012.  

NBC Washington, around 10:30 AM today, said that cell phone communications and Internet access could be adversely affected by a CME starting late today.  That could include wireless Internet in general. 
The official NOAA (Space Weather Prediction Center) forecast is for a moderate geomagnetic storm Sept 12 becoming strong Sept 13 because of the second larger coronal mass ejection, link here.  There is a chart PDF that explains the terms. A "strong" storm could cause some voltage problems and spike false alarms (maybe in home security systems).  It doesn't sound like Armageddon. Maybe electronics should be unplugged or well shielded by UPC's or only stronger surge protectors,  

The European Space Agency has a blog posting suggesting that the strength of a CME will not be known until the flare passes a Lagrange Point near the Earth, about one hour before first impact.  Get out your calculus and physics books;  this sounds like a good free response question for an AP test.  
CNN's Amanda Barnett makes a flippant comment "You might want to keep a flashlight handy" in her article Thursday, and I don't think that's funny. 

Generally, power companies could make their big transformers more resistant to big CME's by building in excess capacity, over what customers use, to handle the overloads and short circuits created by CME magnetic field reversals.  But in an area with heat waves, that's hard to do.  The wrong-loop in the 2003 failure in the northeast, while manmade, is similar to what a CME could simulate.  
Picture:  Mars, from Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Mars has almost no magnetic field, which is one reason it lost most of its atmosphere and would be very hard to live on even after terraforming.  

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