Space Weather storms

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:40 PM GMT on March 31, 2009

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Twenty years ago this month, on March 13, 1989, I was aboard NOAA's P-3 weather research aircraft, bumping through a turbulent portion of a fierce winter storm in a remote ocean area between Greenland and Norway. We were searching for clues on how to make better weather forecasts for the regions of Norway and the northern British Isles battered by these great storms. Our 2-month project, based in Bødø, Norway, was called the Coordinated Eastern Arctic Research Experiment (CEAREX) . Today's flight took us through the heart of an extratropical storm developing at the edge of the sea ice that covered the ocean waters east of Greenland.

As I looked over at the white-capped, forbidding waters of the Greenland Sea, I reflected today's flight was not particularly dangerous by Hurricane Hunter standards, though the storm's tropical storm-force winds made the ride a bit rough at times. However, we were a long way from civilization. Should an emergency require us to ditch the aircraft in the ocean or the nearby remote island of Jan Mayen, we'd be tough to find unless we were able to radio back our position before going down. Far from any land areas, our communication life-line to the outside world was HF radio (ham radio), which relied on Earth's ionosphere to bounce signals off of. Three hours into the flight this life-line abruptly stopped working.


Figure 1. Sea ice swirls in ocean eddies off the coast of Labrador, Canada, in this photo I took during a 1989 CEAREX flight.

"Jeff, can you come up to the cockpit?" Aircraft Commander Dan Eilers' voice crackled over the intercom. I took a break from monitoring our weather instruments, took off my headset, and stepped forward into the cockpit of the P-3.

"What's up, Dan?" I asked.

"Well, HF radio reception crapped out about twenty minutes ago, and I want to climb to 25,000 feet and see if we can raise Reykjavik Air Traffic Control to report our position. We're flying at low altitude in hazardous conditions over 500 miles from the nearest airport, and it's not good that we're out of communication with the outside world. If we were to go down, search and rescue would have no idea where to look for us."

I agreed to work out an alteration to the flight plan with our scientists, so that we could continue to collect good data on the storm while we climbed higher. The scientists weren't too happy with the plan, since they were paying $20,000 for this flight, and wanted to stay low at 1,500 feet to better investigate the storm's structure. Regardless, we climbed as high as we could and orbited the storm, issuing repeated calls to the outside world over our HF radio. No one answered.

"I've never seen such a major interruption to HF radio!" Commander Eilers said, worriedly. "We can go back down to 1,500 feet and resume the mission, but I want to periodically climb to 25,000 feet and continue trying to establish communications. If we can't raise Air Traffic Control, we should consider aborting the mission".

I agreed to work with the scientists to accommodate this strategy. They argued hotly against a possible cancellation of this mission, which was collecting some unique data on a significant winter storm. So, for the next four hours, we periodically climbed to 25,000 feet, issuing futile calls over our HF radio. Finally, after an uncomfortable eight hours, it was time to go home to our base in Norway. As twilight sank into Arctic darkness, a spectacular auroral display--shimmering curtains of brilliant green light--lit up sky. It began to dawn on us that the loss of our HF radio reception was probably due to an unusual kind of severe weather--a "Space Weather" storm. An extremely intense geomagnetic storm was hitting the polar regions, triggering our brilliant auroral show and interrupting HF radio communications.

The geomagnetic "Superstorm" of March 13, 1989
As it turned out, the geomagnetic storm of March 13, 1989 was one of the most intense such "Space Weather" events in recorded history. The storm developed as a result of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the sun four days previously. The CME event blasted a portion of the Sun's plasma atmosphere into space. When the protons and electrons from the Sun arrived at the Earth, the planet's magnetic field guided the highly energetic particles into the upper atmosphere near the magnetic poles. As a result, the lower levels of the polar ionosphere become very ionized, with severe absorption of HF radio, resulting in my uncomfortable flight over the Greenland Sea with no communications. The geomagnetic storm didn't stop there--the storm's charged particles triggered a strong magnetic impulse that caused a voltage depression in five transmission lines in the Hydro-Quebec power system in Canada. Within 90 seconds, automatic voltage compensation equipment failed, resulting in a generation loss of 9,450 MW. With a load of about 21,350 MW, the system was unable to withstand the generation loss and collapsed. The entire province of Quebec--six million people--was blacked out for approximately nine hours. The geomagnetic storm also triggered the failure of a large step-up transformer at the Salem Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey, as well as 200 other failures on the North American power system. Auroras were observed as far south as Florida, Texas, and Cuba during this geomagnetic "superstorm".


Figure 2. Red and green colors predominate in this view of the Aurora Australis (Southern Hemisphere aurora) photographed from the Space Shuttle in May 1991 at the peak of the geomagnetic maximum that also brought us the March 13, 1989 geomagnetic "superstorm". The payload bay and tail of the Shuttle can be seen on the left hand side of the picture. Auroras are caused when high-energy electrons pour down from the Earth's magnetosphere and collide with atoms. Red aurora occurs from 200 km to as high as 500 km altitude and is caused by the emission of 6300 Angstrom wavelength light from oxygen atoms. Green aurora occurs from about 100 km to 250 km altitude and is caused by the emission of 5577 Angstrom wavelength light from oxygen atoms. The light is emitted when the atoms return to their original unexcited state. Image credit: NASA.

Solar Maximum is approaching
The sun waxes and wanes in brightness in a well-documented 11-year cycle, when sun spots and their associated Coronal Mass Ejections occur. We just passed through solar minimum--the sun is quiet, with no sun spots. We are headed towards a solar maximum, forecast to occur in 2012. Geomagnetic storms are at their peak during solar maximum, and we'll have to be on the lookout for severe "Space Weather" starting in 2010. I'll talk more about severe "Space Weather" storms in my next post, when I'll discuss the greatest Space Weather storm in recorded history--the famed "Carrington Event" of 1859--and what damages it might wreak were it to happen today. An extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2008 says that a repeat of the Carrington Event could result in the most costly natural disaster of all time.

Resources
MetaTech Corporation's animation of the March 13, 1989 geomagnetic "superstorm".
spaceweather.com
NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC)

Jeff Masters

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TORNADO WARNING JACKSONVILLE FL - KJAX 814 PM EDT THU APR 2 2009
FLASH FLOOD WARNING NASHVILLE TN - KOHX 710 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING TALLAHASSEE FL - KTAE 805 PM EDT THU APR 2 2009
SVR T-STORM WARNING MEMPHIS TN - KMEG 702 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009

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375. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Fiji Meteorological Services
Special Weather Bulletins
=========================

At 2100 PM UTC, Tropical Depression 14F (1002 hPa) centered at 14.6S 178.8E is reported as slow moving. Position POOR based on Multisatellite visible imagery with animation. Expected clockwise winds of 25 knots within 120 NM of the center possibly increasing to 30-35 knots in the next 24-36 hours.

Tropical Depression 14F is likely to develop into a tropical cyclone in the next 24-36 hours. The system is currently slow moving but is expected to start moving southeast in the next 12-24 hours on its forecast track, TD 14F is expected to lie to the west of Niuafo'ou in the next 24-36 hours. Winds may increase to damaging gale force winds over Niuas in the next 24-36 hours.


A TROPICAL CYCLONE ALERT IS NOW IN FORCE FOR WALLIS AND FUTUNA.

A STRONG WIND WARNING REMAINS IN FORCE FOR WALLIS AND FUTUNA.



For Wallis and Futuna
-------------------
West to northwest winds 20-25 knots with gusts to 35 knots over open waters. Fresh to strong and gusty overland. Winds possibly increasing to damaging gale force winds in the next 24-36 hours. Period of rain, heavy at time with squally thunderstorms. Rough to very rough seas. Moderate northwesterly swell developing. Flooding including sea flooding of low-lying coastal area possible.

A TROPICAL CYCLONE ALERT IS NOW IN FORCE FOR TONGA.

A STRONG WIND WARNING REMAINS IN FORCE FOR ALL TONGA WATERS.


FOr Niuas:
-----
Northwest winds of 20-25 knots with gusts to 35 knots. Winds possibly increasing to damaging gale force winds in the next 24-36 hours. Periods of rain, heavy at times with squally thunderstorms. Rough to very rough seas. Moderate northwesterly swell developing. Sea flooding of low-lying coastal areas possible.

For Vava'u Group
---------------
Southeast winds 20-25 knots over open waters, fresh and gusty overland. Winds turning north to northeast and possibly increasing to damaging gale force winds in the next 48 hours. Cloudy periods with few showers. Rain developing later tomorrow. Rough seas. Moderate southeast swells.

For Ha'apai and Tongatapu Groups
----------------------------
Southeast winds 20-25 knots over open waters. Fresh and gusty overland. Cloudy periods with a few showers. Rough seas. Moderate southeast swell.
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The atmosphere should start to stabilize again with the loss of daytime heating (ie the sun) Still may see some severe cells throughout the night but it shouldn't be anything like this afternoon.
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BAM......wow that dry line i knew would be a killer late.......

TORNADO WARNING HUNTSVILLE AL - KHUN 439 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING PADUCAH KY - KPAH 439 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING TALLAHASSEE FL - KTAE 526 PM EDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING NASHVILLE TN - KOHX 423 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
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If you look at tallahassee radar you can see the TVS..
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HERE WE GO.......

TORNADO WARNING TALLAHASSEE FL - KTAE 526 PM EDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING NASHVILLE TN - KOHX 423 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
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2009-04-02 13:05:32

The number of small earthquakes per hour has continued to increase over the last few hours starting at ~9:30 ADT. Low elevation steam emissions likely continue, though the summit is currently obscured in the most recent webcam views.

AVO has added a new webcam to the website which shows a slightly different view of the volcano. The new webcam is labeled Redoubt-DFR, and provides a view of the summit from the NE direction. The two other webcams are the Redoubt-Hut, which provides a view of the summit from the NW, and Redoubt-CI (Cook Inlet) which provides a distant view of the volcano from the E, across Cook Inlet.

Some pinging in CA also

Magnitude Location Time
3.1 Central California 7 hours ago Map
3.4 Central California 13 hours ago
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Looks like Redoubt is preparing for another eruptive event... look at the webicorder starting at about 0900... lots of little earthquakes. (wish we could see their hypocenter depth)
REF Webicorder for Redoubt
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2742 CAPE value for Birmgingham, AL.....OUCH!
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350-anyone? What does it look like for central
GA? It looks like everything is splitting up and going around it but I don't know anything about these things XD
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SVR T-STORM WARNING PADUCAH KY - KPAH 344 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
SVR T-STORM WARNING BIRMINGHAM AL - KBMX 342 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
SVR T-STORM WARNING LITTLE ROCK AR - KLZK 341 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
SVR T-STORM WARNING TALLAHASSEE FL - KTAE 341 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
TORNADO WARNING TALLAHASSEE FL - KTAE 338 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009
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Hey Ike you around? How have you faired in DeFuniak? Looks like that last one you got was particularly nasty.
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Turning the corner to unstretch things. Lots of energy out in that system.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Line due E of Pensacola is starting to bow out, if you live in the panhandle be prepared for bad weather, know your emergency plans..
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I added the Severe Warning direct link to my website if this helps....

http://tampaspinsweather.webs.com/index.htm
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I live in central GA. What are my chances of getting severe?? We already got flooded out. Again. That's twice in a week, with the first one being saturday. (That's what you get for living a few hundred feet from a creek right?)

Anyway, I've heard this front is supposed to
protect central GA, but south GA is gonna get creamed. Is this true? Because I see on the radar a really nasty blob that went over pensecoloa that looks to be headed towards central GA, and a huge line of thunderstorms around Alabama...
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Watches are now all the way up to Indiana...WOW!

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If you do not have a weather radio use this link to Dupage College

Severe Weather Warning Link
Severe Weather Warning Link
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Quoting gulfcoastdweller:
wow, what a fast moving storm!! we just went from rockin n rollin to a dead calm...skies are white and not green/black any more


Exactly what happened in Slidell and hour ago
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Alambama, Georgia, and Flordia is about to have a very Severe Tornado outbreak. This is will get very Severe and serious.
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This is looking very dangerous

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Take cover for sure.

This one is a nasty cell.
BTI over 7.2 at times



(Baron Tornado Index)
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128875
NWS calling this a "very impressive Mesocylcone Vortex Complex"..that is moving thru The Warned counties in South Mississippi.

RADAR

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128875
324. Gustavike 1:45 PM EDT on April 02, 2009

You have expanded the width of the blog with this post. Please fix or delete....Bloggers can hide it to return to normal size.
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Nickel Sized Hail was reported from the Gulfport Courthouse. NWS Storm Report

Radar
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128875
PC Beach Update. We survived this morning's deluge ( five inches in the rain gauge) with only minor flooding and a few street closings. Confirmed water spout came ashore but no damage reported. Preparing for round two coming later this afternoon. The storms now taking shape in the Gulf SW of us are looking much more organized and than those from this morning.
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Been a wooly Spring so far.
NOAA Radio Speaker wearing out
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128875
Quoting Patrap:
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
121 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NEW ORLEANS HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
NORTHEASTERN ORLEANS PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
SOUTHEASTERN ST. TAMMANY PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF EDEN ISLE...
SOUTH CENTRAL HANCOCK COUNTY IN SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI...

* UNTIL 145 PM CDT

* AT 121 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO 6 MILES
SOUTHWEST OF EDEN ISLE...MOVING EAST AT 50 MPH.


Patrap, get the helmet and flack jacket on. How many times in the last few weeks for your area? Gotta go and do some work. L8R
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting Portlight:
Thanks Ossgs!


Cops are everywhere and keeping traffic moving pretty slow, although you are right, booth space is real close to the road. Road will close starting tomorrow


Just curious, what kind of service and card are you running for connectivity. 3G 4G etc.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
121 PM CDT THU APR 2 2009

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NEW ORLEANS HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
NORTHEASTERN ORLEANS PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
SOUTHEASTERN ST. TAMMANY PARISH IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF EDEN ISLE...
SOUTH CENTRAL HANCOCK COUNTY IN SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI...

* UNTIL 145 PM CDT

* AT 121 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO 6 MILES
SOUTHWEST OF EDEN ISLE...MOVING EAST AT 50 MPH.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128875
Thanks Ossgs!


Cops are everywhere and keeping traffic moving pretty slow, although you are right, booth space is real close to the road. Road will close starting tomorrow
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.