Sun flares could cause widespread blackouts on Halloween this year, scientists say

Geomagnetic storms from an intense solar flare are possible on the Halloween holiday this year, scientists are saying.

A strong geomagnetic storm is in the forecast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which issued a special space weather alert on Thursday.

The alert, issued on the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, said a strong geomagnetic storm is possible from Jan. 13 to Jan. 20. NOAA then said Jan. 21 to 23 would be even stronger.

During such an event, power lines are at risk of dropping and high-voltage transformers could overheated and break, potentially leading to major blackouts. Maps from the Center show power lines could go out across the central and northern states as well as parts of New England, the Mid-Atlantic and even the northeast.

An October storm led to blackouts and downed power lines, affecting at least 700,000 customers in Wisconsin and thousands more in the Ohio Valley. The storm was responsible for temporarily shutting down a power station in Illinois, shutting down delivery of some long-haul diesel fuel and delaying ship and air traffic in the Suez Canal.

Thursday’s warning is different from the one issued in late 2017, because instead of notifying the public about the impending storm, it cited a strong possibility.

“Occurrence of the strongest geomagnetic storm is now likely from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20,” reads a statement on the Center’s website. “An occurrence from Jan. 13 to Jan. 20 can be expected to be less severe.”

“There is the potential for small-scale U.S. power grid damage as well as system wide impacts, including potential disruption to aviation and GPS-impaired navigation, in the NOAA-OSCEP path,” the statement continued.

The Center does not mean that an event like this will actually happen on Oct. 31.

“NOAA does not expect to issue a technical notice from the NWS or NOAA-OSCEP after Jan. 13 for this potential event, but we would monitor it closely during the event period.”

And several days in advance, the agency will not issue a more specific statement about the storm.

“It is possible that the more extreme event could be delayed into the Jan. 21-23 event period by a lack of specific reporting from power companies,” the statement reads.

The solar flare occurred around 2:48 a.m. Eastern time on Jan. 5, the Centers said.

It was “one of the strongest flares in terms of energy that we’ve had since 2014 and one of the largest we’ve ever seen,” NASA scientist Don Yeomans said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

The Observatory tweeted about the solar flare, describing it as a “landfall magnetizing solar flare event.”

And in a Facebook post, NOAA said: “In an average year, only two significant solar flares occur, but in an active solar weather year, we may see up to 12 events.”

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