40% Chance of a Major-severe Geomagnetic Storm, which is expected to peak in 24 hours, and has brought up many interesting discussions. The staff at AstronomyReport.com entertained the idea of determining the worst possible outcome from the known set of current criteria. These aren't predictions of what is going to happen, only what may, in the most extreme circumstances, happen.">
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What is the worst case scenario? (5/16/2013)

Tags:
space weather, solar storms, solar flares, sun, nasa, sdo, sunspot 1748
X2.7 Class Solar Flare as seen by NASAs SDO AIA 131 Imager
X2.7 Class Solar Flare as seen by NASAs SDO AIA 131 Imager

Our latest report from the NOAA shows a 40% Chance of a Major-severe Geomagnetic Storm, which is expected to peak in 24 hours, and has brought up many interesting discussions. The staff at AstronomyReport.com entertained the idea of determining the worst possible outcome from the known set of current criteria. These aren't predictions of what is going to happen, only what may, in the most extreme circumstances, happen.

Short-term scenario

The worst case short-term problem may be the potential for new solar flares while we are receiving the effects of the first 4 X-Class solar flares. The incoming flares will reduce the effectiveness of our magnetosphere to shield us from X-Rays and High-Energy Particles while the first storm is affecting us. The NOAA event probabilities indicate a 60% chance of X-Class solar flares, and and 80% chance of M-Class solar flares over then next 3 days.

Below is an excerpt of the NOAA event probabilities:

   III.  Event probabilities 16 May-18 May
   Class M    80/80/80
   Class X    60/60/60
   Proton     99/90/90
   PCAF       yellow

Another way to look at it, if during the storm you're on the daylight side of earth, there is a possibility that the magnetosphere in your area is being weakened. If an X-Class flare erupts while the magnetosphere is weakened, you will be at increased risk of X-Ray exposure.

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The exposure risks vary depending on the size and location on the sun of the solar flare. A medium M-Class flare on the edge of the Earthside facing part of the sun will likely only be worrisome to astronauts and commercial aviation. A large X-Class flare could be more problematic, due to the affects on our utility system, though increased health risks would potentially apply to anyone in the High-Latitudes.

During the Geomagnetic Storm these effects may be felt:

  • Widespread voltage control problems and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid.
  • Spacecraft may experience surface charging and tracking problems, corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
  • Oil and Gas pipeline currents will require preventive measures, to ensure damage to pumping equipment doesn't occur.
  • High-Frequency radio propagation sporadic possibly affecting telecommunications systems.
  • GPS navigation degraded for hours
  • Low-frequency radio navigation disrupted
  • Aurora has been seen as low as Alabama and northern California (typically 45 geomagnetic lat.)

The Long-term scenario

The worst case long-term scenario is that during a magnetic reconnection event caused by the solar wind and geomagnetic storms that are currently incoming the Earth's magnetic field gets spun into Geomagnetic Excursion. Geomagnetic excursions can last for thousands of years, and during that time the Earth's magnetic field declines in field strength to between 0 and 20% of normal.

If Geomagnetic Excursion occurs, we would be more susceptible to the affects of X-Rays and High-Energy Particles. By lessening our field strength 20%, we would see increases in the size of storms by one order of magnitude. So S1 storms would become S1, and S2 storms would become S3, and so on.

The long term affects of higher magnitude storms would require more precise forecasting of such events, so as to inform industry and the public of the dangers. Solar forecasting and auroral mapping can, and is, already used to such effect by the aerospace industry for satellites, but the increased severity of future storms would likely require that astronauts, and high-altitude/high-latitude airline traveler be informed, so that people aren't subjected to too much radiation.

Electric utilities, pipeline systems and waste treatment facilities will also see an increased risk. High-Energy Powerlines will need to be hardened or be taken offline during storms, so as to not permanently damage equipment that is very expensive and time consuming to replace. Pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps during extreme geomagnetic storms and would be dangerous to use, as they could permanently damage pumps and flow regulating equipment. Wastewater treatment facilities are vulnerable if the local electric grid fails. Many use electric pumping systems and will require a working backup generators with enough fuel to run through a solar storm, so as to avoid allowing untreated water to be dumped in to our waterways.

Satellite and wireless communication systems, including Amateur Radio could be affected during storms so as to reduce quality and potentially deny service to users. This could include satellite television, satellite radio, cellular phone networks, and long range microwave repeaters for emergency services.

GPS and navigation systems for aircraft, shipping, and mobile oil-drilling platforms would also be susceptible to disruption during geomagnetic storms. Routing delays for aircraft and shipping may be more likely, as well as an overall increase in fuel consumption. Oil platforms would need to be disconnected to ensure that drilling equipment isn't damaged and that oil spills don't occur during platform drift.

Personal and consumer electronics would likely suffer from long term X-Ray damage. Unshielded systems that haven't been radiation hardened may see a degradation in usability over time and may eventually lead to failure. Many military and strategic electronic systems would be unaffected.

Though not immediately dangerous, this solar storm and arrival of the second of the double peaked solar maximum, could be an intense period of emergency management. Coupled with the predicted early and large wildfire season in the U.S., this summer could be very taxing indeed. City, State, Regional and Federal emergency management personnel will have a variety of situations to deal with. If this is you, take a deep breath, look out the window and enjoy the quiet. The storm is coming!

During the last 12 hours we were experiencing a "Proton Event 10MeV Integral Flux exceeded 10pfu", according to the NOAA Space Space Weather Alerts and Warnings Timeline. We see these storms most often associated with solar flares. There is an extended warning in effect:

 Space Weather Message Code: WARPX1
 Serial Number: 393
 Issue Time: 2013 May 16 1131 UTC

 EXTENDED WARNING: Proton 10MeV Integral Flux above 10pfu expected
 Extension to Serial Number: 392
 Valid From: 2013 May 15 1232 UTC
 Now Valid Until: 2013 May 17 1200 UTC
 Warning Condition: Persistence
 Predicted NOAA Scale: S1 - Minor
 Potential Impacts: Radio - Minor impacts on polar HF (high frequency) radio propagation resulting in fades at lower frequencies.

NOAA Space Weather Scales:

G 1 Geomagnetic Storm
Minor
Power systems: weak power grid fluctuations can occur.

Spacecraft operations: minor impact on satellite operations possible.

Other systems: migratory animals are affected at this and higher levels; aurora is commonly visible at high latitudes (northern Michigan and Maine)**.
Kp = 5
G 2 Geomagnetic Storm
Moderate
Power systems: high-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms, long-duration storms may cause transformer damage.

Spacecraft operations: corrective actions to orientation may be required by ground control; possible changes in drag affect orbit predictions.

Other systems: HF radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes, and aurora has been seen as low as New York and Idaho (typically 55 geomagnetic lat.)**.
Kp = 6
G 3 Geomagnetic Storm
Strong
Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.

Spacecraft operations: surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.

Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50 geomagnetic lat.)**.
Kp = 8, including a 9-
G 4 Geomagnetic Storm
Severe
Power systems: possible widespread voltage control problems and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid.

Spacecraft operations: may experience surface charging and tracking problems, corrections may be needed for orientation problems.

Other systems: induced pipeline currents affect preventive measures, HF radio propagation sporadic, satellite navigation degraded for hours, low-frequency radio navigation disrupted, and aurora has been seen as low as Alabama and northern California (typically 45 geomagnetic lat.)**.
Kp = 8, including a 9-
G 5 Geomagnetic Storm
Extreme
Power systems: widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.

Spacecraft operations: may experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites.

Other systems: pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40 geomagnetic lat.)**.
Kp = 9

Heliosphere Density: This model shows the expected path of a solar storm released from the sun on May 13th. The incoming storm is expected to join with a solar wind stream at the time they impact the earth.

This double-whammy of a hit is expected to happen on May 17th at 4pm MST. The resulting storm may cause a form of magnetic reconnection that will cause our magnetosphere to realign.

While our magnetosphere reconnects X-rays and other high-energy particles can slip through to Earths lower atmosphere. Electronics not radiation hardened will likely fail, irreparably. Health risks may exist for airborne travelers.

Sunspot 1748's Solar Events (Time UTC):

The table below shows each of the solar flares that sunspot 1748 has shot out.

Event# Start Stop Peak GOES Class
#1 2013/05/12 20:17:00 20:32:00 20:31:00 M1.9
#2 2013/05/12 22:37:00 22:52:00 22:44:00 M1.2
#3 2013/05/13 00:32:00 00:46:00 00:39:00 C9.3
#4 2013/05/13 01:53:00 02:32:00 02:16:00 X1.7
#5 2013/05/13 07:02:00 07:09:00 07:06:00 C2.4
#6 2013/05/13 08:02:00 08:11:00 08:07:00 C2.0
#7 2013/05/13 08:35:00 08:44:00 08:38:00 C4.5
#8 2013/05/13 09:24:00 09:37:00 09:29:00 C2.8
#9 2013/05/13 10:34:00 10:40:00 10:37:00 C1.7
#10 2013/05/13 11:57:00 12:09:00 12:03:00 M1.3
#11 2013/05/13 12:47:00 13:00:00 12:52:00 C4.0
#12 2013/05/13 13:55:00 14:40:00 14:40:00 C5.3
#13 2013/05/13 15:48:00 16:16:00 16:05:00 X2.8
#14 2013/05/13 21:26:00 21:34:00 21:29:00 C2.9
#15 2013/05/13 21:58:00 22:11:00 22:05:00 C8.3
#16 2013/05/13 23:59:00 02:00:00 01:11:00 X3.2
#17 2013/05/14 12:18:00 12:24:00 12:22:00 C1.8
#18 2013/05/14 17:44:00 19:15:00 18:49:00 C2.0
#19 2013/05/14 21:56:00 22:04:00 22:04:00 C4.3
#20 2013/05/15 01:25:00 01:58:00 01:48:00 X1.2
Multiple X-Class flares reported by the NOAA GOES Xray Data
Multiple X-Class flares reported by the NOAA GOES Xray Data


Multiple X-Class flares reported by the NOAA GOES Xray Data
The bar chart at the bottom indicates the storms Kp Index, which can be used with the Space Weather Scales to determine the affects the storm may have.

Related Imagery:

Sunspot 1748 Close Up 1600x1300 2013-05-13 - As seen by NASA's SDO Spacecraft

Sunspot 1748 - 4096x4096 - 2013-05-13 - As seen by NASA's SDO Spacecraft
Sunspot 1748 - 1280x720 - 2013-05-15 - As seen by NASA's SDO Spacecraft

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