National Preparedness Month: Safety from Space
We've been in "The Space Age" for some time now - but have you considered what this means to you? We forecast Weather Disasters in advance from Space, and some Weather Disasters come from Space... NOAA satellites are observing the Earth 24 hours a day to provide data that support the weather forecasts and warnings that Americans benefit from every day. This visualization provides a basic overview of that process - how data and information flows from out in space and into your life. The term “space weather” refers to the variable conditions on the sun and in space that can influence the performance of technology we use on Earth. Extreme space weather could potentially cause damage to critical infrastructure – especially the electric grid – highlighting the importance of being prepared. In order to protect people and systems that might be at risk from space weather effects, we need to understand the causes of space weather. The sun is the main source of space weather. Sudden bursts of plasma and magnetic field structures from the sun's atmosphere called coronal mass ejections (CME) together with sudden bursts of radiation, or solar flares, all cause space weather effects here on Earth. Space weather can produce electromagnetic fields that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, and even causing wide-spread blackouts. Severe space weather also produces solar energetic particles, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning, intelligence gathering, and weather forecasting. Space weather can have an impact on our advanced technologies which has a direct impact on our daily lives. The main area of concern will most likely be our nation's electric power grid. Northern territories are more vulnerable to these effects than areas farther south. Generally, power outages due to space weather are very rare events, but evidence suggests that significant effects could occur. These power outages may have cascading effects, causing:The strongest geomagnetic storm on record is the Carrington Event of August-September 1859, named after the British astronomer Richard Carrington. During this event currents electrified telegraph lines, shocking technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire; and Northern Lights (electrically charged particles from the sun that enter Earth's atmosphere) were visible as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. Another significant space weather event took place on March 13,1989; a powerful geomagnetic storm set off a major power blackout in Canada that left six million people without electricity for nine hours. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the flare disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station and even melted some power transformers in New Jersey. NASA stated, however, that this 1989 space weather event was nowhere near the same scale as the Carrington event. Don’t miss all our great Disaster Preparedness Articles, Tips, Survival Plans, Guides and Emergency Preparedness Recommendations in the National Preparedness Month Blog
- Loss of water and wastewater distribution systems
- Loss of perishable foods and medications
- Loss of heating/air conditioning and electrical lighting systems
- Loss of computer systems, telephone systems, and communications systems (including disruptions in airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services)
- Loss of public transportation systems
- Loss of fuel distribution systems and fuel pipelines
- Loss of all electrical systems that do not have back-up power
- Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer if there's room. Leave about an inch of space inside each one, because water expands as it freezes. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary power outage.
- Be aware that most medication that requires refrigeration can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
- Keep your car tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
- Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it. Garage doors can be heavy, so know that you may need help to lift it.
- Keep a key to your house with you if you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home, in case the garage door will not open.
- Keep extra batteries for your phone in a safe place or purchase a solar-powered or hand crank charger. These chargers are good emergency tools to keep your laptop and other small electronics working in the event of a power outage. If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger because you can charge your phone if you lose power at your home.
- If you have a traditional landline (non-broadband or VOIP) phone, keep at least one non-cordless receiver in your home because it will work even if you lose power.
- Prepare a family contact sheet. This should include at least one out-of-town contact that may be better able to reach family members in an emergency.
- Make back-up copies of important digital data and information, automatically if possible, or at least weekly.
Predicting Space Weather
Space weather prediction services in the United States are provided primarily by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) and the U.S. Air Force's (USAF) Weather Agency (AFWA), which work closely together to address the needs of their civilian and military user communities. The SWPC draws on a variety of data sources, both space and ground-based, to provide forecasts, watches, warnings, alerts, and summaries as well as operational space weather products to civilian and commercial users.