May 19, 2024
This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare, as seen in the bright flash in the lower right, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on May 9, 2024. A severe geomagnetic storm watch has been issued for Earth starting Friday and lasting all weekend _ the first in nearly 20 years. (NASA/SDO via AP)

Strong solar storm could disrupt communications and produce northern lights in Canada, U.S.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – An unusually strong solar storm could produce northern lights in the U.S. this weekend and potentially disrupt power and communications.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning when a solar outburst reached Earth on Friday afternoon, hours sooner than anticipated. The effects were due to last through the weekend and possibly into next week.

NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

The storm could produce northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, according to NOAA. But it was hard to predict and experts stressed it would not be the dramatic curtains of color normally associated with the northern lights, but more like splashes of greenish hues.

“That’s really the gift from space weather — the aurora,” said Steenburgh. He and his colleagues said the best aurora views may come from phone cameras, which are better at capturing light than the naked eye.

Snap a picture of the sky and “there might be actually a nice little treat there for you,” said Mike Bettwy, operations chief for the prediction center.

The most intense solar storm in recorded history, in 1859, prompted auroras in central America and possibly even Hawaii. “We are not anticipating that” but it could come close, said NOAA space weather forecaster Shawn Dahl.

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