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Rare ‘severe’ solar storm may knock out power, communication in US

An electrical transmission tower.(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
May 10, 2024

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a rare warning on Friday over a “severe” geomagnetic storm that it claims could knock out power and communication in the United States.

NOAA said the “severe” geomagnetic storm is “likely” late Friday and through the weekend, although its exact timing remains “uncertain.”

The storm has the potential to impact HF communication, GPS, power grids, spacecraft, satellite navigation, and “other technologies.”

“Only three Severe (G4) geomagnetic storms have occurred so far this solar cycle (since 2019); the last was a brief occurrence on March 23,” NOAA said in a statement.

The last “extreme” geomagnetic event occurred in 2003 with the Halloween Storms.

“NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) — a division of the National Weather Service — is monitoring the sun following a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that began on May 8,” NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said in a statement.

“A large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares since Wednesday at 5:00 am ET. At least five flares were associated with CMEs that appear to be Earth-directed,” it continued. “SWPC forecasters will monitor NOAA and NASA’s space assets for the onset of a geomagnetic storm.”

“CMEs are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. They cause geomagnetic storms when they are directed at Earth. Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations,” the statement added. “SWPC has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action. Geomagnetic storms can also trigger spectacular displays of aurora on Earth. A severe geomagnetic storm includes the potential for aurora to be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California.”