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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225. tampabos
8:34 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
That is a wonderful graphic showing what they refer to as a hook echo commonly seen with tornadic cells.
224. Stormchaser2007
8:31 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Tronadic Cell NE of Orlando Florida. Strong rotation with this one...

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
223. tampabos
8:26 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
A Tornado Warning has been issued:


weather.gov
National Weather Service

Watches, Warnings & Advisories
Local weather forecast by "City, St" or zip code
4 products issued by NWS for: 4 Miles ENE Geneva FL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Tornado Warning
TORNADO WARNING
FLC009-117-127-012045-
/O.NEW.KMLB.TO.W.0002.090401T2022Z-090401T2045Z/

BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
422 PM EDT WED APR 1 2009

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
NORTHWESTERN BREVARD COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF SCOTTSMOOR...
EASTERN SEMINOLE COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF GENEVA...
SOUTHEASTERN VOLUSIA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF MAYTOWN...

* UNTIL 445 PM EDT

* AT 421 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR GENEVA...
MOVING EAST AT 15 MPH.

* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
6 MILES SOUTHWEST OF MAYTOWN AND 9 MILES WEST OF SCOTTSMOOR BY 445
PM EDT...
221. tampabos
7:54 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued north of the Orlando area.
220. Ossqss
7:52 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
More fun on the lightning subject. Orb,( ball )lightning. If nothing else, the video has some spectacular close call hits captured. Neat stuff and educational. I wonder if there is a definition for excessive ball lightning?

Link

Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
219. tampabos
7:51 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
The National Weather Service often uses the term "excessive lightning" often in their advisories and warnings.
218. CybrTeddy
7:43 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting TampaMishy:
Hello everyone...Has anybody heard anything about this years 2009 hurricane season?


Very similar to last year looking at it possibily. We're also in a weak La Nina which will most likely be a cool neutral by the beginning of Hurricane season. Gut feeling though however and not really anything but an instinct, I really think the East coast is going to get hammared, I feel the same way I did about Texas last year at this time.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23562
217. TampaMishy
7:36 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Hello everyone...Has anybody heard anything about this years 2009 hurricane season?
Member Since: July 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1474
216. CybrTeddy
7:33 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
91 Degrees here in Lakeland Florida. Jesus, Summer returned early.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23562
215. Ossqss
7:28 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting tampabos:
According to the definition I found, excessive lightning is defined as 12 strikes per minute or higher.

By Golly he is correct.

Define "excessive lightning". Isn't one strike too much if it hits your house, and 1000 strikes irrelevant if no damage occurs? Also using the term "excessive" impies that lower amount is acceptable, right?
By Jerry Powell

Posted: Aug. 23, 2008

MIKE MOSS SAYS: Jerry, Your point that semantics could be argued endlessly in trying to establish terminology that can clearly convey relative threats is well taken, but for the time being the National Weather Service, in an attempt to make good use of evolving research that is reaching a point where it allows better estimates of the potential for high lightning rates in advance of storm development (based on observed or model-predicted thermodynamic profiles) or during storm cell development (based on radar observations and how echoes of certain intensity correspond to certain temperature regimes within the storm), has settled on the term "excessive" as one of its descriptors of cloud-to-ground lightning flash rates from thunderstorm cells. As currently used, this falls at the upper end of a scale with the following rough criteria:

Occasional = ~ 1 strike/minute

Frequent = ~ 2-6 strikes/minute

Continuous = ~ 6-11 strikes/minute

Excessive = ~ 12 strikes/minute and higher (corresponds to 1 or more strike every 5 seconds)

You are certainly correct that a single strike is too many if it hits your house or strikes a person. However, if two precipitation cells of roughly the same size, speed and duration pass over an area, and one produces a cloud to ground flash rate of 2-3 per minute while the other produces 20-30 per minute, the odds that SOMEONE's house will be struck are much higher with that storm, as is the relative danger associated with being caught outdoors when the higher strike rate cell crosses an area. In addition, it is not unusual for the higher rate storms to actually produce lightning for longer periods than their less active cousins, so that in addition to the rate difference, there can be an even greater difference in the absolute number of strikes produced.



Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
214. Orcasystems
7:11 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting theshepherd:
Hmmm?
Lava lamps, maybe??? Luv a good pun. LOL


Well done grasshopper :)
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
213. tampabos
6:52 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
According to the definition I found, excessive lightning is defined as 12 strikes per minute or higher.
212. HIEXPRESS
6:44 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
How much lightning does it take before it becomes "excessive"?
Lava Lamps LOL
Member Since: October 13, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 2156
211. tampabos
6:23 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
If these storms contain excessive lightning, more wildfires could be created.
210. Littleninjagrl
6:03 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Still does tampa no good. But at least someone is getting rain.
Member Since: August 29, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 843
209. tampabos
6:01 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
A Severe Thunderstorm Watch has been issued for North and Central Florida north of the Tampa Bay area until 9 PM.
208. Littleninjagrl
5:53 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting tampabos:
Northern Florida is experiencing heavy rains today. These rains are most needed in Central Florida. The Tampa Bay area is under heavy water restrictions.


Yeah, We sure do need the rain here in Tampa! I have no grass left.
Member Since: August 29, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 843
207. Ossqss
5:33 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting lakeEFX:
Oss- that's neat site. Thanks. Got a good chance of seeing that up here in northeastern Ohio. It'll be overhead at 8:07 p.m. and very bright. Now, will the sky be dark enough yet.....
It should be visible to the naked eye since it is local and not light years away like stars. If you use biniculars, it will be more detailed. Good luck. 205+206,I think you all could make a new product. Whale oil, lava lamps eh. I would buy one for my hurricane kit. Non-electric Light and entertainment rolled into one item.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
206. theshepherd
5:25 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting Orcasystems:


Years ago? I think they use electric lights now... not the whale oil ones like you saw them way back then.
Hmmm?
Lava lamps, maybe??? Luv a good pun. LOL
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
205. Orcasystems
5:15 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Quoting MissNadia:
193 and 196
Guys,, When I sailed by that area years ago while in the Coast Guard, there was a lot of oil drilling activity right there at the foot of Redoubt.
My guess is that the lights are on oil platforms or something along those lines.


Years ago? I think they use electric lights now... not the whale oil ones like you saw them way back then.
Member Since: October 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
204. Patrap
5:01 PM GMT on April 01, 2009


St. Tammany homes in danger of flooding as West Pearl River rises to historic levels

Sandbags available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Slidell and Pearl River
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 420 Comments: 127536
203. lakeEFX
4:52 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
Oss- that's neat site. Thanks. Got a good chance of seeing that up here in northeastern Ohio. It'll be overhead at 8:07 p.m. and very bright. Now, will the sky be dark enough yet.....
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 114
201. MissNadia
4:47 PM GMT on April 01, 2009
193 and 196
Guys,, When I sailed by that area years ago while in the Coast Guard, there was a lot of oil drilling activity right there at the foot of Redoubt.
My guess is that the lights are on oil platforms or something along those lines.
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3002
Northern Florida is experiencing heavy rains today. These rains are most needed in Central Florida. The Tampa Bay area is under heavy water restrictions.
Lets see what happens this afternoon over here. It was nice to get a little lightning show yesterday evening. Summer rains are almost here. I know we need it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
SIGHTINGS: If you live in North America, this is a good week to see a large spaceship pass by in the night sky. That would be the International Space Station:

Zip code link for timing and position if you are lucky enough to be in the zone.

Link
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Getting absolutely dumped on in North Florida today - yay rain - bring it on - chase away those spring/summer brush fires!
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Quoting Seastep:
you sure shep?

If so... LMAO.

;>) and LOL
Though the seismograms do show a small constant harmonic tremor, no volcanic tremors or harmonics off the graph are present to support such a lava flow. A few deep tectonic tremors pop up occaisonally, but that has been the status quo for weeks.
Plus I've seen those same lights for weeks since the alert started.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
One of the items that goes unnoticed is the depth of an earthquake. Here are some examples of the differences from just today. Depth in KM is bold.

MAP 6.3 2009/04/01 03:55:02 -3.650 143.939 10.0 NEAR NORTH COAST OF NEW GUINEA, P.N.G

MAP 4.7 2009/04/01 05:25:28 -22.567 -65.975 240.7 JUJUY, ARGENTINA

MAP 2.9 2009/04/01 14:52:10 53.049 -168.072 53.3 FOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA

MAP 2.5 2009/04/01 13:32:22 34.825 -116.406 4.9 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Fire at the base would indicate its time to run away.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
you sure shep?

If so... LMAO.
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Quoting theshepherd:
Err.
Those are harbor lights.


HARBOR LIGHT or fire ---????
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting TampaSpin:
Surfmom we will have a chance of some rain but, it dries up alot before getting here.


that what I figured ... I was hoping if I keep asking the same question I'd get the answer I want to hear..... (like my kids)

REDOUBT ---- ????
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting Seastep:
Check out the redoubt cam showing fire at the base right now.

Err.
Those are harbor lights.
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
Link for a larger view:

Link
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Check out the redoubt cam showing fire at the base right now.

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Quoting TropicTraveler:
Last night on "How the Earth was Made" covered the deep well of magma, or "hot spot" under yellowstone. Apparently it erupts about every 600,000 years. It's now 640,000 years since the last eruption. Earthquakes are increasing, doming is occuring, and a ship that sank under Yellowstone Lake many years ago has now risen so that the wreckage is sitting above water. So that magma reservoir is apparently building. All the more reason for us to enjoy today with all the gifts it brings to us. Who knows? Still, much better odds of getting hit by a truck than wiped out by an asteroid. By the way, Good morning everyone. As always, this blog rocks.
I saw that one also. I'm not a doomsayer nor a doomsayer slayer, but there are conflicting ideas about Yellowstone.
1. The submerged wreck was over two feet out of the water,yet the GPS on the ground area that had risen the most only showed a 6 or 8 inch rise.
2. Considering the three past eruptions at Yellowstone, each one was significantly smaller than the previous one.
3. The lava pool that created the last eruption has migrated well west beneath much more stable ground.
4. Old Faithfull isn't Old Faithfull anymore.

Just food for thought.(And knock on wood) LOL
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10077
Redoubt on monday


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Hummmm, if the pattern persists, we should hear from Redoubt later today.

Magnitude Location Time
5.2 Kepulauan Mentawai region, Indonesia 34 minutes ago Map
5.5 Southwest of Sumatra, Indonesia 8 hours ago Map
6.3 Near the north coast of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea 11 hours ago
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Surfmom we will have a chance of some rain but, it dries up alot before getting here.
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Quoting surfmom:
Tampa - inquiring minds want to know -- any chance for better chances of rain??????????????


Not for us! That big High that i posted on 174 is blocking anything trying to come South. Until it moves South Florida will just get some hit and miss Thunder Storms because of the Tropical Flow and the Heating over Land for the Day. Hate to say it but if the Temperatures was hotter in Florida we would get the instability of rising Heat over land and some needed rain.
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Tampa - inquiring minds want to know -- any chance for better chances of rain??????????????
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Quoting TropicTraveler:
AussieStorm - Is that Surfmom I see on that wave? Fabulous pictures!


In my dreams...... although if I didn't land it right.... it would be a nightmare & final curtains LOL

those waves are the kind I watch from the beach -- but that alone would be an incredible life experience....

I have to booty those pictures -- I keep going back and gazing at them for long stretches of time.....
my wave pic (#137) is so puny -- it's kinda funny -- well I still LOVE my Lady of the Gulf!
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
Stillwaiting - waves up yet??? or still a washing machine????

I had a terrific surf session Monday -- still sore!
Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
swfl gulf surfers - well it won't look like Aussiestorm's pics........... oh wait a minute..............
--YES IT WILL LOOK LIKE AUSSIE STORM'S PICTURES..........
April Fool's!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have the start of the next bump this morning ( no April's fool joke) surf in the shin/knee high range and building. Wind today to crank up from the South and continue to blow through Friday. We should have a ridable wave by late this afternoon and into tomorrow. Friday looks to be our best bet of swell. Kiter's heads up good wind the next few days. Gulf Temp 73

Member Since: July 18, 2007 Posts: 30 Comments: 26536
A 2nd one to follow it appears....

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The Low that develops and comes out of Texas really cranks up as it moves NE as it becomes a 984mb Low....

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I have a feeling that the flooding situatuion is going to spreading from the FL panhandle area east targeting the big bend area today with flooding......
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.