Coming Solar Flare Storm: This Wednesday’s Will Be Worst Since 2005

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Two songs are going ’round and ’round in my head on this Monday morning. First, “Stormy Monday” (written by T-Bone Walker, performed by The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and many more). The other one floating around is “Monday, Monday” by the Mamas and the Papas.

Specifically, these are the lyrics I can’t shake: “They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad. Wednesday’s even worse; Thursday’s awful sad.” (This video from 2009 features the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton – go ahead and watch; I’ll see you back here in 11min 08sec.) And the other lyric is “Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day. Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way. Whenever Monday comes you can find me cryin’ all of the time.”

Long Duration M3.2 Class Solar Flare and CME. Click image to be directed to NASA.gov for more information including the video of this solar flare recorded the past Thursday. Image: NASA

Of course it is Monday. And we do have storms brewing. Significant storms, actually. This coming Wednesday a Texas low pressure center will tap into the Gulf of Mexico humidity bank and make a significant withdrawal — three to five inches of rainfall may be, remarkably, quite common across eastern and southeastern Texas. That, and the threat of tornadoes, too. ImpactWeather’s StormWatch supervisor Mike Venske posted details on this growing concern earlier this morning and you can read it here.

But there’s another storm brewing — already underway, actually, and it’s the strongest of its type since 2005. However, you probably won’t hear it when your favorite TV meteorologist steps in front of the weather graphics. This one comes from a solar storm near the surface of the sun and the associated coronal mass ejection (CME) and is expected to reach Earth at 8 AM CST Wednesday — about the same time the upper Texas Coast is being pounded by heavy rainfall and severe thunderstorms.

A solar flare recorded on August 1, 2011 obscures almost the entire Earth-facing hemisphere of the sun. Click for larger image. Image: NASA

CME’s are waves of electromagnetic radiation ejected from the surface of the sun into space. When these waves are directed toward Earth they can disrupt radio transmissions and cause damage to satellites, electrical transmission lines and other electrical equipment resulting in potentially massive and long-lasting power outages.

The sun goes through regular solar cycles approximately every 11 years and CMEs are nothing new. However, not until the use of electricity became more common did man begin to relate flares on the sun to disruptions in the power grid. In 1859 the largest geomagnetic perturbation was observed and it was thought to be associated with a CME. In 1971 the first CME was detected, and more recently on August 1, 2010, four large CMEs were detected which triggered large-scale aurorae three days later. The 11-year solar cycle is expected to peak next year and some are calling it the worst case scenario.

Worst solar storms in history.

What can you do? Not much. First, if you live on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, allow some extra time for your Wednesday morning commute, and don’t forget your umbrella — the weather looks nasty. As for the CME, be aware and be ready. You should expect possible power disruptions as this sort of occurrence may damage transformers. Your cell phone may experience technical difficulties. If you rely on satellite data, be prepared for disruptions there, too. Navigation systems may be effected, especially HF radio propagation which can fade at higher latitudes. The aurora may be seen as low as New York, Idaho and the mid-Aleutians, so maybe make plans to step outside after dark (and look up!).

Of course, these disruptions will not be the game-changers some expect the CME in 2013 to be. However, ImpactWeather strongly believes in being prepared — not just for severe weather, but for anything that might move you out of your day-to-day comfort zone. We’ve also written before about the importance of an emergency kit and a go bag (and what to put in them). With awareness of the potential, with your emergency plan crafted and with your emergency kit/go bag stocked and ready, you’re already more prepared than nearly everybody else in the country.

Writing this blog has gone a long way to move those song lyrics out of my head, and I feel like songs about Wednesday should now be waiting “on deck” for my Wednesday blog. Tori Amos has a song called “Wednesday,” and it opens with “Nothing here to fear, I’m just sitting around” — maybe that’s a good one for us wishful thinkers.

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