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Rare geomagnetic storm could produce northern lights in Illinois and other states – NBC Chicago

A “very rare” geomagnetic storm reached Earth hours earlier than expected Friday, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue its first rare geomagnetic storm warning in nearly two decades.

Operators of power plants and orbiting spacecraft have been recommended to take precautions in advance, as geomagnetic storm G4 poses a risk to high-voltage transmission lines and satellites, which could tower disrupt navigation and communications. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also been notified.

But all over the world, people sat and watched as darkness set in and stunning light shows surfaced.

Others stood there and waited patiently, knowing there was nothing else they could do.

“For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Geomagnetic storm conditions are expected to continue through the weekend as more coronal mass ejections head toward Earth.

CMEs are “large expulsions of plasma and magnetized particles from the solar corona,” according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. These ejections can increase in size as they approach Earth and cause geomagnetic storms upon arrival.

Conditions will peak around 1 a.m., when the solar storm reaches level 8 on the KP index, a nine-point scale that measures the strength of the aurora.

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The storm could produce northern lights in a number of states, including Illinois, and extend as far south as Alabama. But where you’ll be able to see them in the Chicago area remains up in the air.

Scattered showers and storms could hamper visibility, according to the NBC 5 Storm Team.

If we’re lucky and the skies are clear, don’t expect spectacular curtains of color normally associated with the Northern Lights. Instead, we’ll see hints of greenish hues, experts say.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, usually come from charged particles emitted by the sun during solar storms. The colorful displays are created when clouds of these energetic particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field and interact with atoms and molecules in the planet’s upper atmosphere.

The Northern Lights typically light up the night sky at high latitudes, but during periods of intense solar activity they can be spotted farther south than usual.

Although this geomagnetic storm is considered “very rare,” how often does a storm of this magnitude occur?

Only three other “severe” geomagnetic storms, rated G4, have been reported in the past five years. The last “extreme” event, a G5 storm, occurred around Halloween in 2003, leading to power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.

The most intense solar storm in recorded history, in 1859, brought auroras to Central America and perhaps even Hawaii. “We’re not predicting that,” but it could be close, said Shawn Dahl, a NOAA space meteorologist.

Even after the storm passes, signals between GPS satellites and ground receivers could be jammed or lost, according to NOAA. But there are so many navigation satellites that the outages shouldn’t last long, Steenburgh noted.


NBC Chicago

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