Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part VI: Solar-Earth DefCon Levels By Stephanie Osborn

*Sorry, I had this scheduled to go this morning and in a brilliant move scheduled it for 7 pm.  Sorry Stephanie.  And yes, I can totally hear you say “Bless your heart.”-SAH*

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part VI: Solar-Earth DefCon Levels

By Stephanie Osborn

“Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Rocket Scientist and Novelist

As I told you last time, NOAA has a scale of geomagnetic activity that ranges from G0 to G5, where G0 is quiescent, and G5 is the worst geomagnetic storm around. Now, we’ve already talked a little bit about what geomagnetic storms do…

“No, we didn’t,” you say?

Ah, but we did. Back when I told you about all the effects that Coronal Mass Ejections can have. (Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part 4.) Because those sorts of things are what cause the geomagnetic storms.

But probably the best way I can tell you about the effects is simply to quote from NOAA’s scale itself (which can be found here:


As I mentioned last week, a G0 is the normal, quiescent geomagnetic field. This holds until the Kp index reaches 5, and then we begin minor geomagnetic storming, with the scale hitting G1. According to NOAA, “Power systems: weak power grid fluctuations can occur. Spacecraft operations: minor impact on satellite operations possible. Other systems: migratory animals are affected at this and higher levels; aurora is commonly visible at high latitudes (northern Michigan and Maine).” These are fairly frequent, with on average close to 2000 per 11-year solar cycle.

At Kp=6, G2 is considered a moderate storm. “Power systems: high-latitude power systems may experience voltage alarms, long-duration storms may cause transformer damage. Spacecraft operations: corrective actions to orientation may be required by ground control; possible changes in drag affect orbit predictions. Other systems: HF radio propagation can fade at higher latitudes, and aurora has been seen as low as New York and Idaho (typically 55° geomagnetic lat.).” These are a little less frequent than G1, but still occur at a rate of about 600 every solar cycle.

When Kp=7, G3 is a strong geomagnetic storm. “Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices. Spacecraft operations: surface charging [static electricity buildup; this can lead to arcing] may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems. Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50° geomagnetic lat.).” These are less frequent still, with on average 200 per solar cycle. Also, as the geomagnetic storms increase in strength, their likelihood of occurrence tends to concentrate around solar maximum, though this is not a hard and fast rule.

At Kp=8, G4 is a severe geomagnetic storm. “Power systems: possible widespread voltage control problems and some protective systems will mistakenly trip out key assets from the grid. Spacecraft operations: may experience surface charging and tracking problems, corrections may be needed for orientation problems. Other systems: induced pipeline currents affect preventive measures, HF radio propagation sporadic, satellite navigation degraded for hours, low-frequency radio navigation disrupted, and aurora has been seen as low as Alabama and northern California (typically 45° geomagnetic lat.). These are rarer still, with only about 100 seen per solar cycle.

And then there’s the big boys. Kp=9 means a G5 extreme geomagnetic storm. “Power systems:  widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage. Spacecraft operations: may experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites. Other systems: pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40° geomagnetic lat.).” These are the rarest of all, but still occur on average 4 per solar cycle. And yes, that honkin’ big one we had in 2003 was one of these.

By the way, this also affects our astronauts. Per Australia’s ABC News, “Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis were aloft during a solar storm in October 1989, and ‘reported burning in their eyes, a reaction of their retinas to the solar particles,’ according to the book Storms from the Sun: The Emerging Science of Space Weather, by Michael J. Carlowicz & Ramon E. Lopez. []

“‘The crew was ordered to go to the “storm shelter” in the farthest interior of the shuttle, the most shielded position. But even when hunkered down inside the spacecraft, some astronauts reported seeing flashes of light even with their eyes closed,’ the book notes, adding that if the astronauts had been on a deep-space mission or working on the Moon, there was a 10 per cent chance they would have died.”

Somewhat related to the geomagnetic storm index is the radio blackout index. This tells us the specific effects of a flare on radio communications. However, these are caused, not from the impact of a CME, but from the x-rays produced by the originating flare! So instead of taking hours to days for the effects to reach us, we feel the effects only 8.3 minutes after the flare occurs — at the same time we SEE the flare. Consequently, the strength of the comm effects can provide us an early warning to later geomagnetic effects.


An R1 radio blackout is considered minor. “HF Radio: Weak or minor degradation of HF (high frequency) radio communication on sunlit side, occasional loss of radio contact. Navigation: Low-frequency navigation signals degraded for brief intervals.” They occur on average 2,000 times per solar cycle.

An R2 radio blackout is “moderate.”  “HF Radio: Limited blackout of HF radio communication on sunlit side, loss of radio contact for tens of minutes. Navigation: Degradation of low-frequency navigation signals for tens of minutes.” We get approximately 350 of these per solar cycle.

An R3 radio blackout is starting to get serious; it’s “strong.” “HF Radio: Wide area blackout of HF radio communication, loss of radio contact for about an hour on sunlit side of Earth. Navigation: Low-frequency navigation signals degraded for about an hour.” They happen 175 times per solar cycle.

Then we have an R4 Severe radio blackout. “HF Radio: HF radio communication blackout on most of the sunlit side of Earth for one to two hours. HF radio contact lost during this time. Navigation: Outages of low-frequency navigation signals cause increased error in positioning for one to two hours. Minor disruptions of satellite navigation possible on the sunlit side of Earth.” Fortunately, they only occur, on average, about 8 times in any given solar cycle.

And then there is the gut-buster. It’s an R5 Extreme radio blackout. This one can be bad, folks. “HF Radio: Complete HF radio blackout on the entire sunlit side of the Earth lasting for a number of hours. This results in no HF radio contact with mariners and en route aviators in this sector. Navigation: Low-frequency navigation signals used by maritime and general aviation systems experience outages on the sunlit side of the Earth for many hours, causing loss in positioning. Increased satellite navigation errors in positioning for several hours on the sunlit side of Earth, which may spread into the night side.” Fortunately, we get one or less of these per solar cycle.

But stop and think for a few minutes about the potential ramifications of one of these. An ENTIRE HEMISPHERE is without radio communications for entire blocks of time. ALL SHIPS AT SEA are out of comm with land, and each other. ALL AIRCRAFT are unable to communicate with each other and all flight controllers. Worse, THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEY ARE. Navigational systems have been hosed — yes, I’m talking GPS here — and they are now relying on eyeballs and dead reckoning to get from point A to point B.

Also realize that the largest ever in modern record-keeping was caused by a solar flare on Nov. 4, 2003, associated with the same solar activity that produced the Halloween Geomag Storm of 2003. This one was so strong, it actually pegged the measurement meters, and was originally believed to be “only” an X28…until further analysis revealed its true strength: X45. The last time we had one of these (that I’m aware of) was in 2006, but it was only an X9 and the blackouts lasted about 10 minutes.

But for the 2003 flares (it was really a series, and therein lies another danger — these things rarely pop off just once and then shut up), GPS was still a relative novelty in the civilian world, and this was before GPS was standardly included on everything from cars to cell phones. Given that our naval forces have stopped using, or even teaching, celestial navigation, and that we have, at any given time, thousands of commercial airline passengers IN THE AIR, this has the potential to be catastrophic beyond belief.

Now, while all of this stuff is going on in the geomagnetic field, what’s happening in space? Hard radiation, and lots of it, that’s what. After all, that’s basically what’s causing the disturbance in the geomagnetic field.

And of course NOAA has another scale that relates to that, called the solar storm scale, and represented by — you guessed it — the letter S.

There’s not a direct correlation that I’ve ever been able to find between the G scale and the S scale, because the S scale is determined by the number of protons of a given energy that passes through, say a square meter in a second. This number is called the proton flux. (In the case of the S scale, the energy of the protons must be greater than or equal to 10MeV, where MeV is mega-electron-volts. An electron volt is very tiny, only 1.6×10-19 joules. So an MeV is an energy of 1.6×10-12 joules. It’s not big, but when you’re talking about something as small as a proton, it’s plenty big enough.)


So at S1, our proton flux is 10 protons per second per steradian per square centimeter. (This is not a very big area. The bigger the number of protons passing through, the bigger the radiation dose.) An S1 is a minor solar storm. According to NOAA, the effects are as follows, “Biological: none. Satellite operations: none. Other systems: minor impacts on HF radio in the polar regions.” This happens a lot, but not quite as often as a G1 — an S1 occurs about 50 times per solar cycle.

An S2 is a moderate solar storm. It requires a proton flux of 100, and occurs half as often as an S1. Effects: “Biological: passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to elevated radiation risk. Satellite operations: infrequent single-event upsets possible. [A single-event upset, or SEU, is when the bit of a computer is accidentally reset to its opposite condition by a proton or electron impact.] Other systems: small effects on HF propagation through the polar regions and navigation at polar cap locations possibly affected.”

S3 is a little stronger still; it’s a “strong” solar storm, with a proton flux of 1000. (Note that the solar storm scale is a logarithmic scale like the Richter scale, with each step of the scale having 10x greater proton flux than the previous.) Only 10 of these typically occur per solar cycle, but they aren’t pleasant. “Biological: radiation hazard avoidance recommended for astronauts on EVA; passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to radiation risk. Satellite operations: single-event upsets, noise in imaging systems, and slight reduction of efficiency in solar panel are likely. Other systems: degraded HF radio propagation through the polar regions and navigation position errors likely.”

Stepping up to an S4, a severe solar storm, we have a proton flux of 10,000. They are pretty rare, with only about 3 per solar cycle occurring. “Biological: unavoidable radiation hazard to astronauts on EVA; passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to radiation risk.  Satellite operations: may experience memory device problems and noise on imaging systems; star-tracker problems may cause orientation problems, and solar panel efficiency can be degraded. Other systems: blackout of HF radio communications through the polar regions and increased navigation errors over several days are likely.”

And finally the granddaddy of solar storms, the S5, the extreme storm. It has a proton flux of 100,000 protons per second per steradian per square centimeter. Simply put, a flood of 100,000 protons is striking every square centimeter (less than half an inch each way), every second. These are very rare, and may or may not occur in any given solar cycle. But they can be devastating. “Biological: unavoidable high radiation hazard to astronauts on EVA (extra-vehicular activity); passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at high latitudes may be exposed to radiation risk. Satellite operations: satellites may be rendered useless, memory impacts can cause loss of control, may cause serious noise in image data, star-trackers may be unable to locate sources; permanent damage to solar panels possible. Other systems: complete blackout of HF (high frequency) communications possible through the polar regions, and position errors make navigation operations extremely difficult.”

We’re fortunate those don’t occur very often at all. In fact, there have been only 6 in the last century and a half, most of which were in the latter half of the 20th Century: 1972, 1989, 2000, 2003, and 2009.

But even the typical description of a G5 or S5 doesn’t match the strongest geomagnetic storm in history. The Carrington Event tops the charts by all measures.

~Stephanie Osborn

Comet Tales blog/Osborn Cosmic Weather Report:

The Weather Out There Is Frightful:

Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival:

139 responses to “Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part VI: Solar-Earth DefCon Levels By Stephanie Osborn

  1. A shocking article. I hope you can amp it up over the next few you write about this. I know it is within you capacitance to induce a few more articles about current events. Ignore the resistance you will encounter…….

  2. 🙂 BTW….very enjoyable series Stephanie….Could not resist the puns….

  3. Orbital Carp. It’s the only way to be sure!

  4. I know everyone is getting a charge out of this…..

  5. But stop and think for a few minutes about the potential ramifications of one of these. An ENTIRE HEMISPHERE is without radio communications for entire blocks of time.

    So I click on the first link to discover that the site has been rearranged. No problem, tough, for I find it provides me with a handy link to the desired page.

    I start by reading about the radio black out effects for R5 as it is at the top of the part of the page that came up first (Radio Blackouts). I continue to progress to lesser events. So I think, even before I get to this suggestion that I think quoted above, maybe I don’t understand how it works, but — There are people out there thinks that it is a good idea to take airplanes out of manual control? Really? Seriously?

    Then I click through to the chart for Geomagnetic Storms…well things may be disruptive at 5, but at least I get a good chance to see the aurora.

    • “There are people out there thinks that it is a good idea to take airplanes out of manual control? Really? Seriously? ”

      Not only that, CACS, but at least some of the self-driving car manufacturers are considering taking the steering wheel out of their cars entirely– no manual mode. Can you imagine the problems on the roads if those sorts of cars are common and we had a blackout event like that?

      Stephanie, out of curiosity, is there any shielding that helps with proton radiation like you describe in solar storms? I remember from my college physics courses the shielding for alpha, beta, gamma, and neutron radiation, but can’t for the life of me recall what can shield proton radiation and a cursory google search didn’t turn up anything definitive.


        The result of this study is the assertion that activation at Earth’s surface is a result of the neutronic and protonic components of the cosmic-ray shower. The best material to shield against these cosmic-ray components is iron, which has the best combination of primary shielding and minimal secondary neutron production

        I have also read that water, polyethylene, liquid H2, and bags of human $hit work well.

        • This is not a cosmic ray shower. Those are different. They have other particles in addition to, and are MUCH MUCH HIGHER ENERGY. The end result of a cosmic ray impact is a shower of daughter particles. The denser the material stopping the cosmic ray, the more prolific the resulting shower. Hence the use of items dense enough to block it but not dense enough to create large showers as a result.

          In the case of solar proton flux, standard mil-spec hardening tends to work. But that requires a lotta metal and some special types of circuitry and makes the objects very heavy — and expensive. Commercial sats aren’t gonna bother with it, because expense and payload weights. Ditto commercial aircraft.

          And now you know why I’ve been seeming a bit Luddite on social media where “self-driving cars” and “self-piloting aircraft” are concerned.

          • And now you know why I’ve been seeming a bit Luddite on social media where “self-driving cars” and “self-piloting aircraft” are concerned

            Same here. I want to be in control. I don’t trust these systems to be hacker proof either. One big reason I refuse to buy a car with Bluetooth connectivity built into it.

    • Well, crud. Sorry about that, guys. I’m afraid I can’t control NOAA deciding to rearrange their sites. They seem to do that a lot lately.

      • I figured that you had not deliberately sent us on a goose chase.

        Unlike some sites the reorganization didn’t result in any trouble finding what I wanted. This surprised me. In my experience, it seems many sites are bound and determined to put the user off by rendering themselves un-navigable.

  6. There are people out there thinks that it is a good idea to take airplanes out of manual control? Really? Seriously?

    I’m looking at you Airbus!

    • This makes me even LESS happy with the idea of auto-driving cars…

      • It would be interesting to know what effects geomagnetic storms would have on the optical image/lidar and radar systems commonly used for autonomous vehicles.

        Re: aircraft and dead-reckoning in the event of RF navaid loss – several years ago, back when laser fiber gyro-compasses were just replacing mechanical gyros, I recall a test – something like 15 meters of compass drift between Seattle and NYC, so well within visual flight rules and/or glide-slope landing aids acquisition for landing at the other end, if there’s a visual means of sorting out who’s cleared to land next. Do we know if the airlines / FAA have gotten lazy and allowed aircraft to use GPS as sole-source nav, or is gyro dead reckoning still available?

        • It isn’t the radar/lidar. It’s the GPS you gotta worry about.

          About a year or so back, we were headed to a convention and were using our GPS to navigate. We hit a large patch of construction where they were doing active detonation to remove chunks of bedrock for a cut. Our GPS went crazy — AS DID OUR ELECTRONIC COMPASS. The GPS at that point literally tried to take us off the interstate, into a field.

          We had to kill the GPS unit and do a cold reboot on the device. The compass refused to reset on its own; after about a week of its being totally worthless, we hunted up the instructions on how to do a manual reset on it, and finally got it working again.

          The next time we went through that same area…the dang things did it again.

          So think about it. Imagine if ALL THE CARS AROUND US had been self-navigating, and the routes were being determined by GPS…and the signal glitch was due to a flare/CME combo punch.

          No thank you. MY hands on the steering wheel, MY brain deciding where to go, MY foot on the accelerator & brake pedals.

          • The reason I didn’t include GPS in the autonomous vehicle list is that I’m ASSUMING totally-autonomous will fail the most of public’s reasonableness test (e.g. “oh, darn, the store I want to go to is next exit, not the one I programmed in, and there isn’t time to do a voice reprogram. I WANT to cross 2 lanes and get off, damnit!”)

            The short-range stuff, image/lidar/radar still makes sense for accident avoidance and cruise stress reduction, but it leaves you strictly hands-on for override and major inputs.

            Flares/CME effects are just another fault mode the semi-autonomous controller needs to detect and dump back to fully manual on… do-able, I think, as long as you don’t lose the idea of manual control.

            For that matter – electronics fail. Not just at some 20 year+ due to a wear-out mechanism, but randomly through life. The control interface HAS to provide for that.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Malice and software.

            • Mountainous regions and high latitudes are going to suffer the effects of a Really Big One. That is without doubt. And some of those places are not good to lose control of your vehicle.

              • Agreed. Any automation needs to be enhancement / stress-reduction only, leaving you hands-on. And some parts of the road are just gonna require more attention than others.

          • Egads. D’ya mind if I pilfer and quote your remarks next time the madness for self-driving cars strikes various forums I frequent?

    • Do NOT get me started on pure fly-by-wire aircraft. Just don’t. I’ve been assured that Airbus got the “glitches” worked out and there will not be another turbulence-induced reboot of the airplane ever again, but just reading about it was enough. (And then there was the Paris airshow, and the . . .)

      • And how, exactly, did they test this under something approaching realistic conditions. Enquiring minds want to know. If it didn’t involve some actual aircraft and turbulence, they best not make statements like that.

        • You know the answer: they did it with computer muddling.

        • I suspect the flight crew of the aircraft involved in the turbulence event would have luuuuuved to take the programmers through some similar conditions to test the system. As for testing, either 1) jiggered the software to allow testpilots to recreate the event with an empty airplane [Yeah, riiiiight.] or 2) ran it through a computer simulation and called it good.

          After I had a GPS go blargh (RAIM warning) in clouds near bad weather, I reconfirmed my vow never to trust the things. I’d already been surprised when an early model portable shut itself down when I was flying under a military airspace area (in severe clear weather.)

      • I thought Boeing also went pure fly-by-wire on the Dreamliner, but they did leave the option of the pilots taking manual control at any time.

        • I notice that Iran Airlines (serving their burgeoning population of members of the Revolutionary Guard citizens eager to visit such tourist destinations as Syria and Somalia) is using the lifting of sanctions to buy planes from Airbus and Boeing (thanks, Import-Export Bank, for supporting American industry!)

          I now have the meagre satisfaction of contemplating the effects of a Geomagnetic storm on their investments.

    • I got nervous about flying Scarebus when one lost its tail in flight. This was a bit after 9/11 and folks were pretty jumpy already. I had to fly to Europe a few times that year, and I always felt better on a 747 or 777… Now, I’m determined not to fly, though it might make for an interesting drive in a family emergency.

      /Note to self: is it possible to deactive the (unused) Bluetooth setup in Subie 2?

      • I’m sure it’s possible. The question is whether it’s practical.


      • the issue with the ‘bus losing a tail was all Airbus. See, they designed the planes and someone figured it would be a great idea to do some odd things and never tell anybody about these oddities.
        They decided it would be a good idea to make the rudder move its full range while on the ground need like 10 inches of pedal movement, full left to full right. Then made the fly-by-wire change this while in flight to something like 4 inches full left to full right. So a plane has certain limits on what one can do at what speeds (can’t drop landing gear over X-speed or damage results, can’t use full rudder over X-speed or the thing might fall off. These sort of minor things). This would be like your steering in your car going to gokart style at highway speeds and it never being mentioned to you. “Waddya mean you tried to change lanes and crashed?”
        So, to fly a plane the pilot needs to be certified for that type of plane. They do this by use of simulators. The simulator that the Co-pilot used to gain his cert for the ‘bus left off this bit of rather important information.
        Oh, yeah, the simulation comes from Airbus. You’d think they would make the software match, right?
        This is the PILOT’s fault according the good people at Airbus.
        American should not have let them get away with this.
        They just quietly changed all the simulators and retrained all their pilots.
        Yes, the pilot relied too much on rudder (likely a habit gained from flying smaller designs) but what he was asking for was within the design limits but the fly-by-wire gave him well outside that limit.
        But it was certainly his fault because the fools at airbus said so.
        Most all the companies involved in the consortium individually make some of the finest flying machines around. Together, they make shit.

    • don’t get me started on my Airbus rant.
      egad, I hates them! Hateses!!!1!1

  7. A sudden idea……Maybe instead of SMOD 2016 for President, make it SGSOD (Sweet Geomagnetic Storm of Death) 2016.

  8. Whoopee! Yet again:

    To our esteemed hostess: thank you for posting this series.

    To Stephanie Osborn: thank you ever so very much for taking the time and making the effort to write it. I am thoroughly enjoying.

  9. Thanks for the educational series. Very informative, and yes, HF and LORAN both tended to degrade MUCH more quickly during solar flares (BTDT). Made Cel Nav even more important, especially in the high latitudes.

  10. One peripheral question: The scales keep referring to low frequency navigation, I thought that Loran C had been shut down and that low frequency navigation was no longer used. Am I wr.. wro… not entirely right on this?

    • “Non-Directional Beacons” perhaps?

      • I thought that the VHF Omni directional Range (VOR) system had also been shut down?

        • Perhaps, but has the LF stuff down below the AM band?

        • VOR is still there. The GPS-confuser device that appeared in the early 2000s may be in part why (could potentially take out the GPS approaches to a major airport, like DFW, or so I was told.), as well as RAIM warnings at Really Bad Moments, and other things. LORAN-C is no longer funded (last I heard), ADF is being phased out, but the VORs are going to be around for a while (as of what I heard last year.)

          • eLORAN (enhanced LORAN) was supposed to replace LORAN-C, which was pretty much turned off everywhere outside the PRC by 2000, but its funding was turned off in 2010, probably by the OMB.

            Coming up to today-ish events, it seems to be getting a new life, and South Korea has responded to North Korean GPS jamming since 2010 by bringing up eLORAN as a GPS backup.

          • Thanks. Always good to learn something especially to learn that what I thought I knew was wrong.

  11. Regarding the links, I think one needs to hit the flipper or flip the down arrow for Geomagnetic storms to get to the G series with power systems, spacecraft effects, etc.

    • Sorry about that, guys. NOAA periodically decides to rearrange their sites for no good reason that I can see, and then I have to hunt everything down all over again. Evidently they did so after I wrote the articles.

      • …There’s probably a bucket of cash that has to be used by a certain date or lose it involved…government, ya know…

        • One of my ODAA was small purchase card holder for my division. I always had a shopping list of items ready mid to late August waiting for the possibility of unexpired funds in September. The one unwaivering rule in government procurement is Thou Shalt Never Let Funds Expire. See, funding, at least at NASA, and probably most everywhere else, is two year money. Gets awarded this year and must be spent by end of next year. Since the government went to a fiscal year that begins on October first that means you must have all your funds committed by September 30 or you lose whatever remains. And GAO takes notice and you may very well find that they cut your budget on the next cycle as a result.
          So, upgrading the web site might very well be an end of the year place to spend expiring funds.

          • Yeah; my lieutenant had me trying to finish up our money in April one year when I was a supply clerk. I think we gave up trying to find rifle racks for the trucks and bought $2,000 (yes, two thousand dollars) worth of rags for the motor pool. I wish we’d bought a welding machine for the motor pool.

        • You’d think they could just redecorate all the offices, like everyone else does…

      • Can’t have outsiders not on the current bookmark distro finding anything for fact checking.

        I wish that were funny.

  12. BobtheRegisterredFool


  13. I don’t have much of a quibble with the chart. I wish it had predicted induced voltage per km; knowing that would have prevented my mistake of assuming lightning arresters would operate during a Carrington Event.

    It makes a nice call on voltage correction needed. Most likely that would be due to transformer core magnetic saturation. There’s different types of transformer damage from this, courtesy of magnetic fields from induced currents. It’s why transformers can hum at the best of times, and can make interesting “do-I-run?” noises when you energize them.

    Question: I’m assuming hosed communications would be due to problems with the ionosphere. What, though, of terrestrial line-of-sight communications? Assuming an average earth radius, the line of sight for a 30 m tower and an airplane at 11,000 m should be about 395 km (245 mi). But that only gives around half and hour for planes and tower to sort things out.

    If airports still use radio beacons, that would also be the range before an airplane could pick up a signal, if they’re still so equipped. Do commercial airlines still have sextant back-up?

    FWIW, the Merchant Marine still teaches celestial navigation. The US Navy quietly resumed some instruction after letting it lapse.

    • It doesn’t have “predicted” ANYTHING because as yet we cannot predict this stuff.

      Answer: Yes, the hosed comm is due to ionospheric interactions, principally. That’s why you see so many ham radio operator interested in this stuff.

      I have no clue about commercial airline nav backups.

      There seems to be some debate about whether the Navy actually DID resume instruction. I talked with several folks and did some checking online and the results were mixed. I suspect that argues for some places teaching it and other places not. Which still ain’t great.

      All that said, here is an article that I was sent a couple days ago, that you and the rest of our readers should be interested in. It is a study of how the underlying geology makes an area more or less susceptible, based on telluric currents.
      It’s got some great eye candy shots of the Sun, and a partial map — the study is significantly incomplete. But it’s also very VERY telling.

      • As a geologist, thanks. I hadn’t seen this article. 🙂

        • YW. I thought it was fascinating.

          Unfortunately, the data comes from the Fed gov’t, which hasn’t seen fit to bother mapping the gray areas of the chart. Only the most densely populated regions, in many cases.

          • I may see what I can do (if I get time) with the map and see what formations/traits they’re worrying about (specifically) and extrapolate at least roughly. I live in the ‘unmapped’ part of the map. We’ll see if work slows down or if I can get internet at home to access the relevant sites. (That which the federal government has not mapped the state governments often have.)

          • I live in south central Oregon, and the more affected region seems to be the coastal mountains, with some spikes where there is some mild volcanic activity. FWIW, the soils east of the Cascades tend to be pretty iron-rich, to the point where dragging a shop magnet over dirt gets a good clump. I’m guessing there’s a fair correlation between soil resistivity and induced voltages. (Looks at iron mining areas in Michigan and Minnesota and thinks he’s right, more or less.)

      • Hope this isn’t a double post:

        Thanks for the link. This sort of thing is like a technical Rosetta Stone. I really thought it would be higher, but that was a WAG. It’s also strangely comforting, since one transformer company rates their products as having GIC resistance up to the 10 v/km range.

        It’s also frustrating. I really want a better handle on the induced currents in transformers. This one joins a growing list of articles that cite different voltage potential to ground. Except most transmission lines in North America don’t have a neutral. If it’s a case of geology on the local magnetic field, then current can be induced on transmission independent of grounding.

        My likely flawed thinking is that GIC causes a phase imbalance since it’s combining two waves and that would have the effect of slightly shifting phases. Normally the sum of three phases in Wye is zero, but if each phase is shifted, you now have current where it should be canceled out. From there you could have the circulating currents in transformer cores, with magnetic saturation, heating, and structural failure, depending on design.

        Design is catching my attention now, since every solar storm through the Carrington level isn’t going to trigger lightning arresters. Without reviewing some info, a type of shell core found in older substation transformes is susceptible to GIC. One paper puts the number in North America at 19%, with a larger number only partially susceptible

        Since Wye distribution does have multiple grounded neutrals, they would have ground loops. But I’m thinking that will be limited by the distance between grounds rather than cumulative over the entire length of line.

        BTW, I’ve hit a snag with my telluric current experiment: coated nails. I could sand them off with steel wool, but I’m thinking of picking up meat skewers. Relatively low cost with greater depth. I also did a “Doh!” about declination. Comes from recently resetting compasses to local declination. All I have to do is take a regular compass and align to magnetic north and south.

        Oddball thought: radio. Tempted to look at some shielding, maybe some cheap shielded wire grounded to one skewer. May not be an issue. Also, if I pick up something, thinking about rigging a rectifier and seeing if that makes a difference.

        • FWIW:

          Drove steel tent pegs in the ground 1m apart. I’m picking up something in the millivolt range, and the way it’s acting it’s not galvanic or induced (change in voltage and reversed polarity E-W between measurements). It also has no detectable amps, so if any are there, they are below a milliamp.

          It’s also clear my record keeping for this stinks. With the first measurement I failed to note the time, and with the second, failed to record the temperature. In both I failed to record whether it was sunny or overcast. Sigh.

          BTW, this isn’t the fluctuations you normally get with an autoranging multimeter that’s not connected to a voltage. This locks down once the test leads touch the stakes. So whatever it is, it’s there. Whether or not it’s telluric is another question.

    • The worst part about the truncation of my trans-Pacific voyage was that the skipper, as an inducement, had offered to teach me celestial nav. and give me the sextant at the end of the trip. Hard to do that when you’re on a Coast Guard cutter and the skipper’s still on the sailboat under tow.

    • Kevin, I’m not certain it is physically possible to take a star-shot in a modern airliner, given how the windows in the cockpit are configured. The old ones had either a bubble window on top for the nav to use, or an additional “eyebrow” window.

  14. Steph does this because she’s good at it. It’s what she specialized in during her graduate work after all. Some marginal relevance to our work on manned space operations with NASA during the Spacelab and early ISS days.
    We added links at the end of her post to the nonfiction book she wrote on this subject and to the first of her SF and mystery/detective series on an alternate universe Sherlock Holmes, the latest of which is due for release in early October.
    Last of this current series of articles next week on the Carrington Event. After that, since Sarah needs guest posts so she can work on some of those books she writes, I’ll try to talk Steph into a few more articles. Or we may collaborate on a little something that I call “fun and games in low Earth orbit” about some behind the scene tales of manned space operations back in the day.

    • I have several ideas for blog articles I’m currently gestating in one form or another. Y’all ain’t seen the last of me, even when this series of articles is over.

      • …And now I need to get ready and go take my annual flu shot. Back later, guys! (Hopefully not feeling bad from said flu shot…)

        • …Flu shot taken. I was warned by the nurse to expect a very sore shoulder and malaise this year. I’m so thrilled — not. I usually do that on a mild year…

          • Was there a smarta$$ (like me) nearby when she hit you with the hypo who said “OW!!!!!!”

            Did that last year when there was a mass flu shot party at the office and I did that to one of the admins. She asked why my wife had not smothered me with a pillow….

            • No, we came in shortly after they’d resumed after lunch, so there wasn’t a lot of people there.

              This nurse was rather more adept at giving shots than last year. Last year I felt like I’d been stabbed. This year there was a slight bite from the needle, then the pressure of the actual vaccine going in, and that was it.

              • Our teacher jabs were today. No warnings or anything, just get in, hand over $$ (cash, as in folding green, which caused some scrambling), jab, and “Next!”

              • Yeah, I’m feelin’ kinda tough. Most flu shots affect me pretty hard, and I will know I took it even if it’s one of the milder strain combos. So far the shoulder is not sore, but that has as much to do with the nurse’s technique as the vaccine itself. But I got body aches, joint pain, headache, stiff neck, and mild chills, sufficient to make me go put on a long-sleeved shirt and take some x-stngth tylenol. Prob’ly gonna crash early tonight.

              • I learned to give shots on the farm, which unfortunately meant that was a pretty hefty jab. When my wife started taking insulin, it was several weeks before I realized what I was doing to her, and she had never complained. Then we learned the deltoid muscle wasn’t the recommended site for the shots, and she started giving her shots to herself.

                At least, Ithink that’s why . . .

                • My previous cat was diabetic, and we had to learn to give her insulin shots in her belly. The needles are very short, the dosage (for a cat) was tiny, and she got to where we would put down her dinner, and she would stand at the dish and not eat, waiting for us to give her the shot, after which she would then go face-down in the bowl. Being a cat, if we’d been botching it very badly at all, she’d have fussed, but after some getting-used-to-it time, she was very patient with the whole thing. So I guess we did okay.

                  Whenever we had to fill the insulin prescription at the pharmacy, they had her listed as “Anna Osborn (Cat)” which looked really strange on the bottle.

          • Had mine a couple weeks back. No reaction at all, but then I’ve never had a reaction to that beyond hours later finding the bandage put over the injection site and going, “What the… oh.”

            • The first time I ever took a flu shot, I very nearly refused to take one ever again. I took it at work in the morning, and by midafternoon I felt really really rough. I decided to take some sick leave and go home. On the way home I almost caused a nasty accident because I was feeling so bad my alertness was almost nonexistent — I nearly turned in front of another car.

              I ended up missing work the next two days, and stayed in bed the whole next day, with fairly acute flulike symptoms. I had problems for over a week…

              …Then still caught the flu later on at the height of flu season.

              So essentially (and in despite of what they are currently trumpeting), the thing gave me the flu, then didn’t even protect me from the flu.

              These days, while I do feel tough for a day or so after, I go ahead and take it, because it no longer lasts more than 24-48hrs and as long as I take the stuff, I very rarely get con crud.

              • I’ve been putting off taking it. Mainly because the last time I got the jab, I then wound up getting the avian flu, bronchitis on the rebound, and swine flu on the rebound from that. I was pretty much down and out for a month.

                I know they said that the shot might have been the only reason that the month didn’t get spent in the hospital, but the monkey-brain only connects “Got jab. Most miserable sick ever. No more jabs!”

              • Thinking back to what one fellow experienced with the smallpox vaccine (fairly nasty symptoms.. saw physician who commented, “Good take.”) I wonder if I am protected as the ‘take’ hasn’t.. taken. No idea how true that might be, but I do ponder it at times.

                • There’s a blood panel your doctor can run that shows what you’re effectively vaccinated against. I highly recommend it.

                • The smallpox vaccine didn’t take on me, either, Both times they tried. I always thought it meant that I was naturally immune to it, until I found that the vaccine is actually COWpox and not killed smallpox (It makes sense, since smallpox is so dangerous, and if for some reason it wasn’t ALL dead, things could get ugly. I just didn’t know).

        • Hey, there’s a topic. Flu pandemics seems to coincide with solar max.

          • Not really. Pandemics tend to be very long-lived, so you aren’t gonna be able to correlate ’em to solar max. For instance, the Spanish Flu pandemic associated with WWI ran from Jan of 1918 through Dec of 1920. The Russian Flu pandemic ran from Oct 1889 through basically until spring of 1894, letting up during the summers from 1891 on.

              • Oh gimme a break. I’d really like to have a look at HIS stats.

                Not to mention, correlation does not automatically imply causation.

                • I am amused by some of the “Full moon” claims of things. I’ve encountered the odd odd thing and heard the comment, “Must be a full moon.” often when the moon was decidedly NOT full (waning crescent). But if nobody bothers to check, they hear that and… oy.

                  Pre-common artificial light I might expect some “full moon effect” simply as that’s when the night was brighter and people more apt to go out later and do what people do. And people do not always do smart things, alas.

                • Raises eyebrow.
                  I don’t even give myself a break.

                  This isn’t the only source I’ve seen for this. A search with the words flu sunspots turns up interesting sources. I’m sure it could be refined but I’m lazy and still debating whether to post my telluric current experiment on my blog since it involves shoving steel stakes in the ground, where there’s things like electric wires, water pipes, and gas lines.

                  Something seems to be there. Whether it’s correlation or coincidence is another question. Whether or not you want to look into it is up to you.

          • I remember reading that someone did a study of the 1918 flu spread and decided that it followed wind patterns (duh, bird flu?). But that in turn is affected by solar actions. So you might find a correlation. Suspect the data just isn’t there. Is there a correlation between mutation rate in viruses and solar activity? I think we are stretching…

            • viruses have a sort-of tinker-toy aspect in that they can mix components. So many variations come from Asia because of the close proximity of humans to pigs and ducks. The viruses can and have swapped and shared coding. It may be just among influenza viruses, but it still happens. So a new influenza virus is likely due to mixing more than having it’s code zapped, though that’s possible as well.

              • Yes, it turns out that swine tissues and some fowl tissues are perfect little laboratories for natural DNA recombination. I think they’re still working on the whys and wherefores. But anywhere that people are in close proximity to those creatures, the viral mutations are going to occur at what is apparently an accelerated — or at least, more frequent — rate.

            • Wind patterns, yes, and that makes sense.

              However, that said, you can’t tie specific wind patterns to particular solar activity. Heck, they can’t even tie cloud formation to solar activity with any sort of regularity, despite the fact that we know that charged particles do generate cloud seeding nuclei.

              So I’m sorry; I call busted.

              • Last time I saw anything over at Watts Up, Leif Svalbard (SP) was still thumping his head on the desk in frustration with trying to get some kind of decent, reproducible connection between clouds and charged particles. But that’s been a while (I’ve been a wee bit busy elsewhere.)

    • Sound’s like a good post, I hope y’all write it.

  15. Quick status update, the Amazon Kindle e-book of number six in Steph’s Displaced Detective series, Fear in the French Quarter, is no longer on preorder, it went active for download effective Sep 21. Those who want it in paper format can preorder now, but hardcopy won’t be released until Oct 5.

  16. Thank you for posting this series of articles. They are very interesting.

  17. *Sorry, I had this scheduled to go this morning and in a brilliant move scheduled it for 7 pm.

    Gotcha beat; twice at the end of the year when I’ve had a credit card payment due on January 1 of the new year, I’ve tried to save a day’s interest and make my payment online on December 31 of the current year. However, when I changed the month and day of the payment online, I forgot to change the year. Then I wondered why my payment was late.