NOAA 03-130
Contact: Connie Barclay
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Environment Center (SEC) said that a powerful geomagnetic storm emitted from the sun sped through space at five million mph and reached Earth Wednesday at 1:13 a.m. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Reports received by NOAA indicate that power grids in the northern United States and Canada are feeling the effects of the extreme geomagnetic storm. Utilities are experiencing power surges and are closely monitoring their systems. NOAA received a report that the aurora borealis, or northern lights, was visible as far south as El Paso, Texas.

NOAA space weather forecaster Larry Combs said, “It took the geomagnetic storm just 19 hours to reach Earth after it occurred on the sun. That’s one of the fastest traveling solar storms this cycle.” The storm came in as a G-5 or “extreme” geomagnetic storm on the NOAA space weather scales, which run 1 to 5. In terms of frequency, this level of storm can occur 4 or 5 times during the 11-year solar cycle of activity.

The solar flare also caused an S-4 radiation event, which is the fourth largest in history since NOAA began keeping records in 1976. It’s also the second largest radiation event during this solar cycle. Combs said that the geomagnetic storm is expected to affect the Earth for the next 12 hours, but NOAA is forecasting this type of activity to continue for the next week.

“NOAA’s Space Environment Center is home to the nation’s early warning system for solar activities that directly affect people and equipment they rely on,” explained Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph. D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Massive solar storms like this create brilliant northern lights, but can also threaten crucial man-made systems interrupting energy delivery, navigation, communications and other vital operations. Early detection and warning can avert potentially serious shutdowns. SEC’s 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week operations are critical to protecting space- and ground-based assets.”

Through the Space Environment Center, NOAA operates the Space Weather Operations branch that continuously monitors, analyzes and forecasts the environment between the Sun and Earth. In addition to data gathered from NOAA, NASA and Department of Defense satellites, the Center receives real time solar and geophysical information from ground-based observatories around the world. Space Weather Operations forecasters from NOAA and the U.S. Air Force use the date to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide alerts of extreme events.

NOAA’s Space Environment Center plays a leadership role in the space weather community and helps foster a space weather services industry.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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