Saturday’s solar storm may cause power shutdown, cellular communication outage

Written by By Chad Taylor, CNN

A major solar storm is on the horizon — the strongest since 2013 — and people on the East Coast are being asked to prepare for possible disruptions to the power grid and cellular phone services.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has been monitoring a flare — a large amount of X-rays and heat from the sun that its scientists are calling a Carrington Event — off the coast of Mexico and issued an ‘SPACE-X’ eruption watch.

In an email sent to CNN, a NOAA spokesperson said they were preparing for a possible geomagnetic storm on the order of the one in 1989 that disabled power to the Quebec City power grid, blacked out multiple cities in the United States and Canada and caused hundreds of thousands of phone calls to be put on hold.

Ground-based telecommunication providers are recommended to test their emergency backup systems on March 26. The spokesperson said the threat should be kept in mind as people prepare for Halloween.

“A CARRINGTON EVENT is in the upper level of the solar magnetic field and typically occurs once every 17 years. This will be the 48th CARRINGTON Event since they started being recorded in 1965. (The first one occurred in November 1859!),” the email said.

On March 15, a M6 flare — an M6-class outburst — was detected by the Solar Flares and Engines monitoring (SFO) system. A round of storm activity over the next two days may result in “a partial short circuit or blackout of electric power grids in portions of the U.S. East Coast and elsewhere,” NOAA said.

Though the main purpose of the Carrington Event was to warn telegraph operators of approaching weather, scientists said Thursday they don’t expect the same for the upcoming storm.

“Plants or communications will be reduced only when winds exceed 30-40 mph,” NOAA said.

“Wind speed and strength will be even less in cities like New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and other large, urban areas with heavy municipal streets and wires.”

The last Carrington Event occurred in September 2013, and another similar event occurred in 1859.

There’s always a chance of solar flares like the one seen Friday, said NASA meteorologist Bill Murtagh.

“But it’s not right around the corner,” he said. “The sun has been steadily building up intensity in the past six months and we are approaching a peak in solar activity.”

These eruptions from the sun usually are not “catastrophic” for Earth because they don’t have the shock waves that create the primary geomagnetic storms, but they can disrupt satellite communications and sometime even affect power grids.

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