The term “space weather” refers to changing conditions in the Sun and in space, that can affect the performance of the technology we use on Earth. Extreme space weather has the potential to damage critical infrastructure – especially the electricity grid. The Sun is the main source of cosmic weather. Sudden eruptions of plasma and magnetic field structures from the solar atmosphere called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) together with sudden radiant outbursts or solar flares cause all the phenomena of cosmic weather on Earth.
Space weather may produce electromagnetic fields that induce extreme currents in the wires, disturbing power lines and even causing wide power cuts. It can also produce solar energy particles that can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning, data collection and processing or weather forecasting.
The strongest recorded geomagnetic storm took place at the turn of August and September 1859, later called the Carrington phenomenon. During this event current electrified the telegraphic lines, shocking technicians and setting fire to telegraphic documents. The polar aurora was visible as far as Cuba and Hawaii. Another significant space weather phenomenon occurred in March in the year 1989: a massive geomagnetic storm caused a major power failure in Canada, leaving six million people without electricity for nine hours. The flare disrupted the transmission of electricity from the Hydro Québec power plant and even melted some power transformers in New Jersey.
Space weather can affect our advanced technologies, which has a direct impact on our daily lives. The main concern will probably be the power grid. Interruptions to the power supply can have cascading effects, which means:
• Water distribution and wastewater collection systems stop work
• Food and medicines requiring low storage temperatures spoil
• There’s no heating, air conditioning, no lighting in houses, on the streets, in shops, at airports
• Computer, telephone and communication systems (including interference with airline flights, satellite networks and GPS services) doesn’t work
• Public transport doesn’t work
• Fuel distribution systems are closed
• All electrical systems that doesn’t have an emergency power supply stop working
To start a preparation, you should design a Family emergency plan. Others steps to be taken are:
• Fill the plastic containers with water and put them in a freezer. Leave about 2.5 cm of space in each of them, as the water expands when it freezes. This frozen water will help in keeping your food cold during a temporary power outage
• Remember, the most of medicines that require refrigeration can easily be stored in a closed fridge for several hours. If in doubt, consult your doctor or pharmacist
• A car’s fuel tank should be at least half full, as petrol stations use electricity to power their pumps
• Keep extra batteries for a phone in a safe place or buy a solar or manual charger. These chargers are good emergency tools that may keep laptop and other small electronics running in case of a power failure. You may also buy a car charger
• Prepare a family communication plan. Choose at least one person who, in case of emergency, will be able to reach your family members
• Back up important digital data and information automatically, at least once a week. Store your data on an external drive, in a safe place. Prepare paper copies of important documents as well. Keep them in a fireproof container
Space Weather Scale:
Space weather scale description Small (1) – Extreme (5)
disturbances in the geomagnetic field caused by gusts of solar wind blowing through the Earth G1 G2 G3 G4 G5
increased level of radiation, what occurs when the number of energy particles increases S1 S2 S3 S4 S5
ionospheric disturbances caused by the emission of X-rays from the Sun R1 R2 R3 R4 R5
• Lower the electricity consumption as much as possible. It may help electricity companies avoid imposing interruptions of electricity supply during periods when the power grid is at risk
• Follow the messages and alerts
• Disconnect electrical equipment from the power supply if the local authority requests it or it seems necessary
• Don’t use a phone unless absolutely essential situations, as in an emergency the phone lines might be overloaded. It’ll allow the emergency personnel contact with those in need
• Discard food that has been exposed to a temperature higher then 4°C for minimum 2 hours or with an unusual smell, colour or texture. If in doubt, throw it away!
• Don’t taste food or rely on appearance or smell to determine its safety. Some products may look and smell good, but if they have been in high temperature for too long, the bacteria that cause food-borne diseases can start to grow quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed during cooking
• If the food in the freezer is colder than 4.5°C and has ice crystals on it, you can freeze it again
• If it isn’t clear whether the food is cold enough, measure its temperature with a thermometer
• Play back your security copies if your computer data is incomplete