As Winter Grips Most of the Nation, There's Plenty of Space Weather Too

Press Release From: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005


For the past five days, forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., have observed all types of space weather: radio blackouts, solar radiation storms and geomagnetic storms. Currently, space weather forecasters are observing a moderate geomagnetic storm (G-2 on the NOAA Space Weather Scales) and a minor (S-1) solar radiation storm. Earlier Wednesday an X-class flare produced a strong (R-3) radio blackout. (Click here for larger view of the sun taken on Jan. 19, 2005, at 2:19 p.m. EST. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit European Space Agency-NASA.)

According to NOAA space weather forecaster Bill Murtagh, "NOAA sunspot Region 720 emerged rapidly from a small single sunspot on January 12 to become a very large and complex sunspot cluster on January 14. Several major flares have occurred since January 15. A strong, S-3, radiation storm and several periods of strong, G-3, geomagnetic storming occurred due to these solar eruptions."

Murtagh added, "This activity is occurring almost five years past the solar maximum (April 2000). This activity is significant. However, it is considerably less intense than the activity observed during the "Halloween Storms" of 2003. Fewer sunspots are observed during this stage of the solar cycle, but sporadic large clusters are expected in the waning stages of the cycle. In fact, intense late cycle activity was also observed in the late stages of Cycle 17 and Cycle 20."

NOAA notifies customers of a wide range of space environment conditions. Due to the assortment of space weather events over the past week, all sectors vulnerable to hazardous space weather may feel the effects of the recent activity. These include airline and spacecraft operations, electric power systems, navigation, satellites and communications systems. NOAA received reports of impacts on various communications systems.

Forecasters indicate strong, R-3, solar flares are possible for the next three to four days. Region 720 will rotate to the far side of the Sun on January 22, and significant flare activity is expected to end. The radiation storm in progress now is declining and, barring another major flare, should end in two to three days. Moderate (G-2) to strong (G-3) geomagnetic storm levels are expected over the next two days.

The NOAA Space Environment Center, one of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, is home to the nation's early warning system for solar activities that directly affect people and equipment on Earth and in space. SEC's 24/7 operations are critical in protecting space and ground-based assets. Through the SEC, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force jointly operate the space weather operations center that continuously monitors, analyzes and forecasts the environment between the sun and Earth. In addition to the data gathered from NOAA and NASA satellites, the center receives real-time solar and geophysical information from ground based-observatories around the world. NOAA space weather forecasters use the data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide alerts of extreme events.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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