Home > Solar Storm, Sun > Who’s ready for a solar super storm? Not us, emergency officials warn

Who’s ready for a solar super storm? Not us, emergency officials warn

April 18, 2012


Satellite captures giant eruption from sun
Satellite captures giant eruption from sun: NASA’s solar orbiter captured an enormous eruption from the sun today, Space.com reports.
This visually spectacular explosion occurred Monday on the sun’s Northeastern limb, seen at left, and was not directed at Earth. Emergency management officials want to prepare should one ever threaten Earth. / NASA

INDIALANTIC — Atomic particles explode off the sun’s surface, with the force of millions of hydrogen bombs, clobber Earth’s magnetic field in less than a day and black out the electric grid for days or longer.

Such a solar “super storm” happened in 1859. Called the Carrington Event, solar wind smacked the Earth within 18 hours, though the trip usually takes four days. Auroras lit the night sky as far south as Cuba, and in Boston and London, people read the newspaper under the nighttime glow.

A similar event now could cause $2 trillion in damage to the United States’ power grid, experts say. And Florida, while well-versed in hurricanes, has no experience with such massive magnetic storms. So on Tuesday, about 100 emergency managers gathered at Crown Plaza in Indialantic to learn how to brace for a solar super storm. While such powerful storms are rare, scientists say it is just a matter of time before one bombards Earth again.

“A space weather event is going to introduce a whole different set of dynamics,” William Bryan, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, told emergency managers from throughout the state. The three-day training exercise, closed to the general public, was funded under the federal stimulus bill.

“This threat of geomagnetic disturbance has a lot of attention in Washington,” Bryan said during his keynote address. “This is not science fiction. It’s real. These things are really happening and could really have an impact on us.”

Solar wind induces the dramatic green glow of the northern lights.

The main concern for the power grid is the more powerful solar events called Coronal Mass Ejections, huge solar wind bursts that can disrupt Earth’s magnetic field.

“Just billions of tons of plasma gas blasting out,” explained Bill Murtagh, senior forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

Earth’s magnetic field can get temporarily “smooshed” under the onslaught of solar wind, disrupting radio communications, GPS and damaging satellites.

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