Although no damage has been reported thus far, geomagnetic storms have the potential to affect power grids and GPS tracking devices. Two jets of magnetic plasma were ejected from the sun on Sunday, before hitting the Earth earlier than predicted and with greater intensity, writes Seth Borenstein of AP.
Solar storm stronger than expected
On the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 1-to-5 scale for geomagnetic effects the solar storm ranks a 4, the strongest solar storm to hit Earth since fall 2013. It is almost 10 years since a level 5 storm has hit Earth.
The solar storm surprised forecasters, who predicted that it would arrive between late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, when it hit just before 10 a.m. EDT. The strength of the storm also caught them by surprise, given that they were only expecting a level 1.
“It’s significantly stronger than expected,” said Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center. Instead of the glancing blow that forecasters had predicted, the storm scored a direct hit on Earth. Its strength could also be down to the combined effects of the two jets of plasma, but scientists are still unsure if that is the case.
Keep your eyes on the sky
NOAA scientists expect the event to last between 24 and 36 hours, and although the solar storm has decreased in intensity its effects could still be apparent. The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, are expected to be visible in various areas of the south of the U.S., but forecasters have made no predictions as to the extent of their visibility.
Early Tuesday morning there were reported sightings of the aurora in Alaska, Canada and Europe, as well as in Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where those earthlings awake early in the morning were treated to an incredible light show. Some photos uploaded to social media showed a spectacular green aurora, and users were not slow to point out the fact that the solar storm timed its arrival perfectly, with many people celebrating St. Patrick’s day.
It is predicted that people in Tennessee and Oklahoma will also be able to watch the show, but the view from other states may be impeded by clouds.