Severe solar storm threatens power grids and communication systems


Earth is bracing for its most intense geomagnetic event in two decades on Friday night. The storm could wreak havoc on power grids, navigation, radio and satellite communications, and more. On the bright side of this rare event, Canadians may be treated to a spectacular auroral show.

NOAA, which monitors space weather, expects the northern lights to be visible from southern California to Alabama. The storm is expected to last through the weekend, with the northern lights likely to be seen across Canada, where clear skies are expected Friday night and possibly again on Saturday evening.

Friday’s storm is expected to be a “severe” G4 event on a scale from G1 to G5, though it may qualify as a “low G5,” according to NOAA’s Shawn Dahl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colorado, on Thursday. The storm was triggered by a series of “moderate to strong” solar flares that erupted from the Sun on Thursday, Dahl said.

The Canadian Hazard Information Service’s Robyn Fiori noted that a powerful geomagnetic storm in 1989 caused a power outage in Hydro-Quebec, but today’s storm is unlikely to cause any grid outages. Fiori said the storm won’t affect cellphone communication, but it could interfere with ham radio, which is used to communicate between communities in the north of Canada. If you live in an area where the sky is clear of clouds and light pollution, you may be able to witness a spectacular aurora display. That’s what space weather is all about.


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