Weather Blog

A storm that can knock out your toilet?

A storm that can knock out your toilet?
File photo from NASA of a solar flare.
September 2nd recently joined July 20th in retirement in Seattle's all-time record books. The 2nd used have the record for the warmest night ever (69) degrees and the 20th was the hottest day ever (100), both vanquished on July 29th when we hit 103 during the day and only dropped to 71 at night.

But Sept. 2 lives on in space weather lore. It was 150 years ago this date when the Earth was blasted by the strongest geomagnetic storm on record. (Technically, the flare was on the 1st, the effects just didn't reach Earth until the 2nd.)

The Carrington solar flare, named for the astronomer who observed the eruption on the sun, was so intense, the Northern Lights stretched all the way to the tropics, where reports were that people in Cuba could read the paper by the aurora. Spaceweather.com also says the storm electrified telegraph lines, shocking technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire.

While a geomagnetic storm is not directly harmful to humans, in today's electronic world, a new study suggests a similar storm in modern times would cause $1-2 trillion in electronic infrastructure damage and take several years to recover from. According to a report commissioned by NASA, that damage could include water distribution (and thus the wonder if it could knock out your toilet :) ) Research suggests by checking polar ice (as geomagnetic storms can leave residue) that no event has even come close to that over the past 500 years and scientists to this day wonder what caused such a huge storm.

Here are some more very interesting links for more information.
SpaceWeather.com -- overview of event

NASA story on large solar flares

NASA story on details of Carrington Flare