A geomagnetic storm watch is now in effect for Wednesday, May 15, and Thursday, May 16. US space weather forecasters at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) expect charged particles from the Sun to wash over the Earth this week. The storm watch comes five days after the Sun released a monstrous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of hot gas known as plasma. The SWPC noticed three separate CME events this month, with the first two ready to strike this week.
The forecaster said: “The G1 Minor geomagnetic storm watch is now in effect for both 15 and 16 May, 2019, due to anticipated CME effects.
“A series of three observed Coronal Mass Ejections have taken place since May 10, 2019.
“The first two CME events are expected to arrive on May 15 and the third is anticipated to arrive the later half of May 16.”
There is some disagreement over when exactly the geomagnetic storm will strike, but May 15 and May 16 are the two most likely dates.
The incoming storm will be a Minor G1 event, which can have a moderate effect on power grids and satellite operations.
On the three day forecast, the SWPC does not expect any “minor or greater” radio blackouts.
Minor geomagnetic storms have, however, been known to confuse migratory animals which rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
The SPWC explained: “A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth.
“These storm result from variations in the solar wind that produces major changes in the currents, plasmas and fields in Earth’s magnetosphere.”
Coronal Mass Ejections typically take a few days to reach the Earth but some have been known to take as little as 18 hours.
Once CMEs reach Earth, they can create a number of disruptive effects on the ground.
From power grid fluctuations to full-on tech blackouts, the most common side-effect of geomagnetic storms is the creation of aurora near the north and south poles.
Aurora near the north pole – the Northern Lights – are created when solar winds excite particles of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere to the point where they give off light.
Tomorrow and on Thursday, the SWPC expects aurora effects to extend down south to the northernmost US states.
These states include Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.
The SWPC said: “While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents in the power grid and pipelines.”