Incoming CMEs Could Spark Valentine’s Lights

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On Feb. 12th, an M-class exlosion in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR1974 hurled a faint CME almost directly toward Earth.
This CME is following close on the heels of two others that left the sun on Feb. 11th. As CMEs go, all of them are relatively minor. Taken together, however, the three CMEs…

On Feb. 12th, an M-class exlosion in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR1974 hurled a faint CME almost directly toward Earth.

This CME is following close on the heels of two others that left the sun on Feb. 11th. As CMEs go, all of them are relatively minor. Taken together, however, the three CMEs hitting Earth’s magnetic field in quick succession could spark moderately strong geomagnetic activity on Feb. 14th and 15th.

High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Valentine’s Day.

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Dangerous “Texas Hooker” Storm Threatening Midwest Has Claws

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An intensifying storm meteorologists are calling a “Texas Hooker” is pushing through the Midwest on Thursday, bringing a litany of extreme weather in its wake.
The storm system is already responsible for near-blizzard conditions in Minnesota and Iowa, strong winds across much of the country’s mid…

An intensifying storm meteorologists are calling a “Texas Hooker” is pushing through the Midwest on Thursday, bringing a litany of extreme weather in its wake.

The storm system is already responsible for near-blizzard conditions in Minnesota and Iowa, strong winds across much of the country’s midsection, and at least two tornadoes in Illinois.

The Storm Prediction Center has upgraded the risk of severe weather across an area that includes parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and says the storm packs a ”widespread damaging wind risk” with a few more tornadoes possible by late Thursday. The SPC is also providing up to the minute tracking of severe weather caused by the storm.

As of early evening, tornado warnings—localized alerts that indicate a tornado has been spotted or is imminent—were becoming more prevalent between Memphis and Chicago.

Also happening via the same storm system—what else?—more winter. A Thursday evening headline from the National Weather Service in Minneapolis warned:

Conditions are deteriorating rapidly with heavy snow and a few thunderstorms. A few locations in northwest Wisconsin could see up to 16 inches by the time the snow ends on Friday.

Winds are expected to gust up to 60 miles per hour in Chicago on Thursday night as the storm pushes east, a result of the close juxtaposition of the storm’s intense low pressure center and the cold, dense, Arctic high pressure immediately behind it. The clash had already triggered a powerful line of thunderstorms that was expected to produce a sweeping swath of intense winds eventually stretching from New Orleans to New Jersey.

But as of Thursday evening, a radar loop showed the storm was still taking shape.

A remarkable temperature contrast had developed across the Midwest as of Thursday afternoon, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s from Missouri across the Southeast states, and near-blizzard conditions in some cases just one state away.

On the warm side of the storm, records toppled. Early on Thursday, Atlanta broke a 124-year-old record with an exceptionally warm morning low temperature of 59 degrees—a sharp contrast to the sub-freezing weather of the last several weeks. The National Weather Service confirmed that Charlotte, N.C.—just days ago buried under a blanket of snow and ice—recorded its warmest ever Feb. 20, with a high of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. New York City’s high temperature hit a balmy 51 degrees on Thursday, its warmest reading in nearly three weeks.

However, the warmth will not last.

Starting Friday, the storm’s intense cold could affect much of the Eastern part of the country via strong winds and a renewed blast of Arctic air.

As the storm retreats into Canada, the weather see-saw will tilt back toward Antarctica-lite for the East. The storm’s intense winds will usher in an extended period of extremely cold air over much of the eastern United States, culminating in a return of polar vortex-like frigidity by the middle of next week. The National Weather Service in Chicago says next week’s multiday cold air may be so extreme that morning lows could be “threatening records.”

As of Thursday, forecast models didn’t anticipate the coldest air extending as far into the Deep South as recent cold air outbreaks. Still, the forecast was enough to push commodity trading of natural gas prices to a five-year high on Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. Prices Thursday were down slightly.

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Hundreds Flee Homes On Typhoon-Hit Japanese Island

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Hundreds fled their homes Sunday on a Japanese island already devastated by a typhoon for fear that torrential rain would trigger fresh mudslides.
The town of Oshima, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Tokyo, advised 2,300 residents in two districts on the island of the same name to evacuate,…

Hundreds fled their homes Sunday on a Japanese island already devastated by a typhoon for fear that torrential rain would trigger fresh mudslides.

The town of Oshima, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Tokyo, advised 2,300 residents in two districts on the island of the same name to evacuate, saying rain was expected to intensify due to a depression.

A total of 632 people had taken shelter in school gyms and community halls by early afternoon, an official at the town’s administrative office said.

Many others were staying at relatives’ homes in safer areas of the island, she said.

The meteorological agency has warned that rainfall could reach 40 millimetres (1.6 inches) per hour in the afternoon and has urged residents to be on alert.

The rain could trigger fresh landslides on the island where at least 27 residents were killed as a typhoon struck last week. Two others died in or near Tokyo.

Twenty-one people were still missing but search operations were suspended due to the bad weather.

Military airplanes flew 14 inpatients at the island’s medical centre to hospitals in central Tokyo while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled his visit to the island set for Sunday.

Powerful typhoon Wipha triggered mudslides that buried some 30 houses and damaged more than 300 structures on Oshima last week.

Empress Michiko cancelled events scheduled Sunday at the imperial palace in Tokyo to celebrate her 79th birthday in the wake of the disaster.

An even stronger typhoon was churning north in the Pacific towards the Japanese archipelago.

Super Typhoon Francisco, currently packing winds of up to 198 kilometres (123 miles) per hour near its centre, is expected to be off the coast of Japan later in the week, according to the weather agency.

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Rare Winter Storm Leaves Students,Drivers Stranded In Deep South

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Rescue efforts are under way Wednesday morning after thousands of schoolchildren and hundreds of drivers in the Deep South spent the night stranded at schools and along ice-covered highways following a rare winter storm that brought freezing rain, snow and bitter cold to the region.
The National…

Rescue efforts are under way Wednesday morning after thousands of schoolchildren and hundreds of drivers in the Deep South spent the night stranded at schools and along ice-covered highways following a rare winter storm that brought freezing rain, snow and bitter cold to the region.

The National Guard is sending military Humvees onto Atlanta’s snarled freeway system in an attempt to move stranded school buses and get food and water to students on them, Gov. Nathan Deal said early Wednesday. Several inches of snow blanketed the region the day before.

Deal said the Georgia State Patrol is also sending troopers to schools where children remain stuck after spending the night in classrooms. His statement says state transportation crews are continuing to treat roads and bring gas to stranded motorists.

A sea of red brake lights remained at a standstill along a dozen lanes of the Downtown Connector shortly before dawn Wednesday — a signal that Atlanta’s roads are still barely inching along or jammed shut.

It wasn’t known how many students were still aboard school buses stuck on roadways in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, but a couple of the children were Atlanta Public Schools students.

“We have two students on buses this morning,” Steve Smith, associate superintendent with Atlanta Public Schools, said in a telephone interview with WSB-TV around 6 a.m. Wednesday. Both of those students were on the same bus, Smith said.

There were several reports of stranded school buses in Gordon County, but there were no reports of any serious injuries, according to MyFoxAtlanta.com.

While some parents were able to pick up their children at schools on Tuesday, thousands of other students in Alabama and Georgia skipped the roads altogether and spent the night hunkered down in schools.

In Hoover, Ala., school superintendent Andy Craig said 4,500 students spent the night in facilities there, MyFoxAL.com reports.

In nearby Birmingham, Mayor William Bell said Tuesday around 1,200 students would be staying overnight in area schools, with access to food and water.

Marietta school system spokesman Thomas Algarin told the The Atlanta-Journal Constitution Tuesday that hundreds of children in the city’s elementary, middle and high schools were also stuck.

“If it turns out that we’ve got to house the kids, they’ll be warm and they’ll be safe,” Algarin said. “We don’t have cots or beds, but certainly we have those gym mats that are used for P.E.”

The mad rush began at the first sight of snow: Across the Atlanta area, schools let out early and commuters left for home after lunch, instantly creating gridlock as highways surrounding the city that rarely see snow were converted into treacherous paths of ice.

The gridlock was so bad in Atlanta that a baby girl was delivered alongside Interstate 285, said Capt. Steve Rose, a spokesman for Sandy Springs police in suburban north Atlanta. He said an officer made it to the mother and her husband in time to help with the delivery, which he described as “flawless.” There were no complications and the family was taken to a hospital.

At the Glenn Hotel in downtown Atlanta, the blast of cold air that rushed through each time the door opened and the snow-blown streetscape outside made it appear more like a scene from Minneapolis than Atlanta on Tuesday night.

Bartender Sean Perry lives just 15 minutes from work but it took him two and a half hours to reach the Glenn Hotel Tuesday night.

Chris Kennedy says it took him more than 5 hours to get a school near his house in the northwest Atlanta suburb of Acworth. The trip typically takes 10 minutes.

Before dawn Wednesday, nearly 50 work crews focused on metro roadways “and are hopeful Wednesday will bring a full recovery,” the Georgia Department of Transportation said in an emailed update at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

“Clean-up efforts continue on metro Atlanta freeways and other roads in north and central Georgia and significant progress is being made,” state transportation officials said in a Wednesday morning update.

In Alabama, public safety officials spent the night rescuing around 100 people on interstates and back roads, MyFoxAL.com reports.

“I talked with the governor’s office. They are in the process of sending heavy equipment that was shifted down south for the predicted snow event from Montgomery on southward. Those vehicles are rolling into Birmingham and surrounding areas,” Bell told the station early Wednesday.

Others who were still stuck in roads throughout Alabama went to Facebook, posting information about stranded motorists, while Good Samaritans offered to help.

“My inlaws are stranded on I-20 east… They are ok but are in need of BLANKETS, food, water, and a cell phone charger,” wrote one resident Wednesday morning.

“I’m in the Hoover are and ready to help. Have a warm house and a capable Jeep. Can bring gas, supplies, offer a ride, pull out a car or whatever it is you need,” wrote another.

Meanwhile, on the Gulf Shores beaches in Alabama, icicles hung from palm trees.

In Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, the alligators burrowed into the mud to keep warm.

While a few inches of snow barely qualify as a storm in the north, it was enough to paralyze the Deep South. Many folks across the region don’t know how to drive in snow, and many cities don’t have big fleets of salt trucks or snowplows. Hundreds of wrecks happened from Georgia to Texas. Two people died in an accident in Alabama.

As of 9 p.m. local time, Georgia State Patrol responded to 940 crashes throughout the state, according to GSP spokesman Gordy Wright. He said 104 injuries and one fatality in Coweta County had been reported. Officials said Yvonne C. Nash, 60, of Griffin, died when she lost control of her car on Georgia Highway 85 in Senoia and landed upside down in a ditch.

Many Southerners also lack the winter tools that northerners take for granted — such as snow shovels. At a hardware store in the Georgia town of Cumming, shovels were in short supply, but manager Tom Maron said feed scoops — often used in barns — could be substituted.

The rare Southern winter storm dropped more than 3 inches of snow in some areas of north Georgia, while 2.3 inches were recorded at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Willis.

For a second-straight day, the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta was leading all other airports in the number of canceled flights. By sunrise Wednesday morning, a total of 485 flights in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were canceled, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.

The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi all declared states of emergency. Shelters opened up across the region and many schools remained closed Wednesday.

Four people were killed in a Mississippi mobile home fire blamed on a space heater.

Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Pensacola, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and New Orleans — popular warm-weather tourist destinations where visitors can usually golf and play tennis in shirt sleeves or light jackets this time of year — were expecting ice and snow on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, dangerous cold continued to grip the region even as the storm moved south. Many schools closed for the second straight day. In Minnesota, forecasters said wind chills could reach 35 to 50 degrees below zero.

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Polar Vortex: Frigid Arctic Air Again Grips Midwest, Nears Record Cold

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CHICAGO — The collective groan you are hearing is from the Midwest, as people look out the window and think, “Not again!”
The polar vortex – a far-reaching Arctic air mass shooting southward – returned early Monday morning to 20 of the Lower 48 states, creating subzero temperatures that are expec…

CHICAGO — The collective groan you are hearing is from the Midwest, as people look out the window and think, “Not again!”

The polar vortex – a far-reaching Arctic air mass shooting southward – returned early Monday morning to 20 of the Lower 48 states, creating subzero temperatures that are expected to last through Wednesday. Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Detroit, and others are expected to hit the lowest temperatures of the season to date. School cancellations, government office shutdowns, and public transit standstills have made many cities resemble ghost towns, as people opt to remain indoors, shielded from wind chills that are driving temperatures to double digits below zero.

“I’m getting really tired of this weather,” says Sally Russell, a beautician, while waiting for a bus in the Logan Square neighborhood on Chicago’s near northwest side. “Winters are traditionally bad in Chicago, but this one seems much worse.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) reports that temperatures are expected to remain 10 to 30 degrees F. below normal Monday across the central region of the US, and that wind chills will be lowest – as cold as minus 30 – across the Dakotas and throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In the Chicago area, a wind chill warning is in effect through Tuesday as lows are expected to fall to minus 24, according to the NWS. Wind gusts of up to 30 m.p.h. are blowing snow, creating hazardous visibility on roads, which the weather service says could create “near blizzard conditions” in surrounding rural areas.

Already, records are falling. Thirty-five of the past 50 days have involved snow falling in Chicago, something that has happened only 13 times in the recorded past. If snow continues to fall almost every other day this winter, meteorologists predict this season to be one of the heaviest snowfall totals in the region’s history.

“It looks like the Arctic air mass will hang around through the middle of this week, and we’ll slowly see temperatures moderate across the northern Plains and temperatures will get colder across the Northeast and New England,” says Kelsey Angle, a NWS meteorologist.

Chicago Public Schools and corresponding school districts were closed Monday, the second time this month; earlier, CPS closed for two days when temperatures fell below zero for 36 hours. The Department of Family and Support Services is extending the hours of six regional warming centers throughout the city on Monday and Tuesday. More than 450 flights were canceled at O’Hare International Airport, and at least 80 flights were canceled at Midway Airport, according to the city.

Lake-effect snow in southwestern Michigan is breaking records this month. Monday brought accumulation totals for the month to 38 inches, which surpassed the old record of 29.6 inches set in January 1978. Since Dec. 1, the Detroit area has received 50.5 inches of snow. Hundreds of schools throughout the area are closed, as temperatures are expected to fall to minus 30 by Tuesday. Flint, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Indianapolis, Ind., are all experiencing their second-snowiest January on record.

Inside a coffee shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park, a group of teenagers say they’re happy for a chance to skip a day of high school. But they acknowledge that the weather makes it too cold to do anything outdoors, so they are trapped.

“We’re just waiting it out,” says Jake Topperman. “At least the sun is shining and you can pretend that the world out there is comfortable.”

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Researchers Use NASA And Other Data To Look Into The Heart Of A Solar Storm

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A space weather storm from the sun engulfed our planet on Jan. 21, 2005. The event got its start on Jan. 20, when a cloud of solar material, a coronal mass ejection or CME, burst off the sun and headed toward Earth. When it arrived at our planet, the ring current and radiation belts surrounding…

A space weather storm from the sun engulfed our planet on Jan. 21, 2005. The event got its start on Jan. 20, when a cloud of solar material, a coronal mass ejection or CME, burst off the sun and headed toward Earth. When it arrived at our planet, the ring current and radiation belts surrounding Earth swelled with extra particles, while the aurora persisted for six hours. Both of these are usually signs of a very large storm — indeed, this was one of the largest outpouring of solar protons ever monitored from the sun. But the storm barely affected the magnetic fields around Earth — disturbances in these fields can affect power grids on the ground, a potential space weather effect keenly watched for by a society so dependent on electricity.

Janet Kozyra, a space scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, thought this intriguing combination of a simultaneously weak and strong solar storm deserved further scrutiny. In an effort to better understand — and some day forecast — such storms and their potential effects on human technology, an unusual event like this can help researchers understand just what aspects of a CME lead to what effects near Earth.

“There were features appearing that we generally only see during extreme space weather events, when by other measures the storm was moderate,” said Kozyra. “We wanted to look at it holistically, much like terrestrial weather researchers do with extreme weather. We took every single piece of data that we could find on the solar storm and put it together to see what was going on.”

With observations collected from ground-based networks and 20 different satellites, Kozyra and a group of colleagues, each an expert in different aspects of the data or models, found that the CME contained a rare piece of dense solar filament material. This filament coupled with an unusually fast speed led to the large amount of solar material observed. A fortuitous magnetic geometry, however, softened the blow, leading to reduced magnetic effects. These results were published in the Aug. 14, 2014, issue of Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics.

The researchers gathered data from spacecraft orbiting in Earth’s ionosphere, which extends up to 600 miles above the planet’s surface, and satellites above that, orbiting through the heart of Earth’s magnetic environment, the magnetosphere. The massive amount of data was then incorporated into a variety of models developed at the University of Michigan’s Center for Space Environment Modeling, which are housed at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a facility dedicated to providing comprehensive access to space weather models.

With the models in hand, the team could put together the story of this particular solar storm. It began with the CME on Jan. 20, 2005. The European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured images of the CME. At their simplest, CMEs look like a magnetic bubble with material around the outside. In this case, there was an additional line of colder, denser solar material — an electrically charged gas called plasma — inside called a solar filament. Solar filaments are ribbons of dense plasma supported in the sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — by strong magnetic fields. Filament material is 100 times denser and 100 times cooler than the surrounding atmosphere. When the supporting magnetic fields erupt, the filaments are caught up in the explosive release that forms the CME. Despite observations that the majority of eruptions like this involve solar filaments, the filaments are rarely identified in disturbances that reach Earth. Why this might be, is a mystery — but it means that the presence of the solar filament in this particular event is a rare sighting.

Subsequent observations of the CME showed it to be particularly fast, with a velocity that peaked at around 1800 miles per second before slowing to 600 miles per second as it approached Earth. Just how many CMEs have filaments or how the geometry of such filaments change as they move toward Earth is not precisely known. In this case, however, it seems that the dense filament sped forward, past the leading edge of the CME, so as it slammed into the magnetosphere, it delivered an extra big dose of energetic particles into near-Earth space.

What happened next was observed by a flotilla of Earth-orbiting scientific satellites, including NASA’s IMAGE, FAST and TIMED missions, the joint European Space Agency, or ESA, and NASA’s Cluster, the NASA and ESA’s Geotail, the Chinese and ESA’s Double Star-1; other spacecraft 1 million miles closer to the sun including SOHO and NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, Wind various other spacecraft; as well as the National Science Foundation-supported ground-based SuperDARN radar network. At the time Cluster was in the solar wind directly upstream of Earth. Meanwhile, Double Star-1 was passing from the outer region of the planet’s magnetic field and entering the magnetosphere. This enabled it to observe the entry of the solar filament material as it crossed into near-Earth space.
“Within one hour of the impact, a cold, dense plasma sheet formed out of the filament material,” said Kozyra. “High density material continued to move through the magnetosphere for the entire six hours of the filament’s passage.”

Despite the intense amount of plasma carried by the CME, it still lacked a key component of a super storm. The magnetic fields embedded in this CME generally pointed toward Earth’s north pole, just as Earth’s own magnetic fields do. This configuration causes far fewer disruptions to our planet’s system than when the CME’s fields point southward. When pointing south, the CME’s fields clash with Earth’s, peeling them back and setting off magnetic perturbations that cascade through the magnetosphere.

The magnetic field orientation is what kept this solar storm to low levels. On the other hand, the extra solar material from the filament catalyzed long-term aurora over the poles and enhanced the particle filled radiation belts around Earth, characteristic of a larger storm.

“This event, with its unusual combination of space weather effects really demonstrates why it’s important to look at the entire system, not just individual elements,” said Kozyra. “Only by using all of this data, by watching the event from the beginning to the end, can we begin to understand all the different facets of an extreme storm like this.”

Understanding what created the facets of this particular 2005 storm adds to a much larger body of knowledge about how different kinds of CMEs can affect us here at Earth. By knowing what factors lead to the total strength of a storm, we can better learn to predict what the sun is sending our way.

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Flash Floods Snarl Traffic In Sweden, Denmark

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Heavy rains and flash floods have snarled road and rail traffic in Sweden and Denmark, with divers called to rescue people in submerged vehicles.
Overnight rains which spread into Sunday forced the evacuation of residents from waterlogged homes in some areas.
Buses in the Swedish city of Malmo…

Heavy rains and flash floods have snarled road and rail traffic in Sweden and Denmark, with divers called to rescue people in submerged vehicles.

Overnight rains which spread into Sunday forced the evacuation of residents from waterlogged homes in some areas.

Buses in the Swedish city of Malmo came to halt after vehicles broke down on flooded roads. Divers and rescue workers helped passengers trapped in submerged cars and buses, in one case breaking the window of a bus and dragging people out on an extended ladder.

In the Danish capital, rescue workers assisted the driver of a car engulfed in water.

Kristian Naested from the Copenhagen’s fire department said: “We managed to save him at the very last moment.”

Steen Rasmussen, chief forecaster at Denmark’s Meteorological Institute said the heaviest rain — 120 millimeters (4.7 inches) in about three hours — engulfed parts of the city during the night.

“That was very heavy rain but now it will slowly lessen with occasional showers, and not so heavy,” Rasmmussen said.

Officials advised people to stay indoors through Sunday.

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