Rare solar storm raises chance for northern lights display over Northern California – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

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Northern Californians, including those in the Bay Area, may take in the space weather night-sky watchers in Iceland have enjoyed for years.

Many were pinning their hopes Friday on a potential rare glimpse of the aurora — the luminous northern lights — with forecasts showing they would be visible farther south across the United States overnight due to a severe solar storm.

The strong geomagnetic event, expected to begin Friday afternoon, prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a G4 warning, second highest in its 1 to 5 ranking for solar storm. The last such storm occurred in 2005.

“This is a rare event,” NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center forecaster Shawn Dahl said on a press call Friday about the solar outburst.

NOAA’s space weather officials say their observations didn’t give them enough certainty to say whether viewers will see the phenomenon as far south as the Bay Area.

The most prevalent NOAA projection earlier Friday showed the southern line straddling central Oregon.

Nonetheless, North Bay residents and visitors ought to keep an eye out overnight, local experts said.

“There will be a possibility of seeing them tonight. They are unlikely to be as dramatic as they would be in the arctic, but still possible to see,” Robert Ferguson Observatory Executive Director Stephanie Derammelaere said.

No event is planned at the observatory at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park above Kenwood, but enthusiasts “may come to the park to observe.”

Generally, aurora watchers were advised to seek higher ground with fewer obstructions and darker areas with less light pollution. And cell phone photos can detect more of the color hues, rather than just relying on the naked eye. The best viewing is between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Geomagnetic storms are sparked as nuclear reactions that flare up on the sun’s surface and emit particles into the atmosphere that create a disturbance in our planet’s magnetic field. They’re commonly referred to as solar flares by the time they reach Earth.

NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Disruptions could affect GPS-based navigation systems, radio communications and the power grid.

No response was provided in an email to the California Independent System Operator (ISO) as of Friday at 4 p.m. The state ISO runs California’s bulk electric power system, transmission lines and electricity market.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, has geared up for the atmospheric event.

“Our electric systems operations team are fully aware of the (NOAA) warnings for a geomagnetic disturbance and will continuously monitor the system to be ready to respond to any impacts,” PG&E spokeswoman Megan McFarland said.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. She can be reached at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]

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