Extreme Heat In the Wake of Solar Flares of Fourth of July and after..


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Solar Flare of Fourth of July 2012 – This still from a NASA video shows a Fourth of July solar flare from sunspot AR1515 on the sun on July 4, 2012 as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Credit: NASA/SDO)

The National Weather Service statistical data of U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that heat kills more persons per year than lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods combined. In the 10 years from 1994 to 2003, on the average excessive heat claimed 237 lives each year. By contrast, floods killed 84; lightning, 63; tornadoes, 58; and hurricanes, 18.

In the killer heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In 1995 more than 700 deaths in the Chicago, Illinois area attributed to the heat wave. In August 2003, in Europe, a record heat wave killed an estimated 50,000 lives.

The sun unleashed some powerful solar flares on July 4, 2012. One solar flare erupted at 0947 GMT (5:47 a.m. EDT) and hit its peak strength eight minutes later. According to the Space Weather Prediction Group operated by NOAA the flare fired off from the active sunspot AR1515, registered as a class M5.3 solar storm on the scale used by astronomers to measure space weather.

Sunspot AR1515 is a huge active region on the sun that covers an area about 62,137 miles long (100,000 kilometers). It has been responsible for a series of strong solar flares in recent days and may not die off soon. In fact, the sunspot region has now spewed 12 M-class solar flares since Tuesday, NASA officials said in a statement on Thursday. This sunspot region has also produced several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are clouds of plasma and charged particles hurled into space during solar storms.

Spaceweather.com, a space weather tracking website run by astronomer Tony Phillips announced, “The chance of the occurrence of an X-flare  is increasing today as sunspot AR1515 develops a ‘beta-gamma-delta’ magnetic field that harbors energy for the most powerful explosions. The sunspot itself is huge, stretching more than 100,000 km (8 Earth-diameters) from end to end.”

X-class solar flares are the strongest sun storms the sun can unleash. M-class flares considered medium-strength, and C-class the weakest.

Radio blackouts can occur when a layer of Earth’s atmosphere, called the ionosphere, is bombarded with X-rays or extreme ultraviolet light from solar eruptions. Disturbances in the ionosphere can change the paths of high and low-frequency radio waves, which can affect information carried along these channels.

So, these flares directed towards Earth have the potential to disrupt satellite transmissions in their paths; endanger unshielded astronauts in space; disrupt GPS signals and communications; and can damage power systems and communications infrastructure on the ground.

Extreme Heat

That same morning on July 4, 2012, another solar flare that reached M2 on the sun storm scale was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft currently watching the sun. The flare peaked at 0437 GMT (12:37 a.m. EDT).

Spaceweather.com said that as of July 4, Earth will be in the crosshairs of any major flares and “any X-flares will certainly be Earth-directed,” they explained. “The sunspot is directly facing our planet.”

However, NASA officials said that the CMEs triggered by this week’s solar flares, however, are moving relatively slowly, and will likely not hit Earth since the active region is located so far south on the face of the sun.

But, the sunspot is slowly rotating toward Earth, and scientists are still monitoring its activity.

“Stay tuned for updates as Region 1515 continues its march across the solar disk,” officials at the Space Weather Prediction Center, a joint service of NOAA and the National Weather Service, wrote in an update.

The sun is now in the midst of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24 the 24th solar cycle since 1755, when recording of solar sunspot activity began. Though this current solar cycle, began on January 8, 2008 there was minimal activity through early 2009.

NASA predicts that solar cycle 24 will peak in early or mid 2013 with about 59 sunspots. But the International Space Environment Service predicts the cycle to peak at 90 sunspots in May 2013

Extreme Heat – Watches, warnings and advisories

M6.1 Solar Flare of July 5, 2012 – The image is shown in the 304 Angstrom wavelength, which is typically colorized in red. (Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA)

Yesterday July 5, 2012 a solar flare was registered as M6.1. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured the above image of the sun when the flare peaked at 7:44 AM EDT. The M6.1 eruption of yesterday is a little over half the size of the weakest X-class flare, NASA officials said.

Currently we live in Ellicott City, Maryland. Last Friday (June 29), the high temperature of 103°F at BWI Marshall Airport would have set a record on any other June day. The record for June 29 in Baltimore was 105°F. That day, we experienced a sudden storm that surprised almost everyone in Maryland.

This storm that devastated much of Maryland on Friday, is known as a “derecho” and its impact was among the most severe and widespread. Storm reports show wind gusts neared 70 mph.

Derechos are widespread storms in which multiple bands of strong storms packing damaging winds move hundreds of miles. According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, their name comes from the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead”, the way the storms typically move.

The heavy winds, typically upward of 60 mph, come from downbursts in storm clouds, caused by differences in the heat and density of air within the storm systems.

The death of an elderly Baltimore County man was reported to state officials today (Friday), the 12th death in Maryland from a massive storm that struck July 29 and extreme heat that has lingered since. The man brings to nine the number of heat-related deaths in the state. Another three people died in the storm. No additional details on the heat deaths were available.

This prevailing hot weather is expected to last for the next three days, including potentially deadly heat and more severe storms.

Today, in the wake of the X-class solar flares occurring on July 4 and on July 5, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning at about 2 p.m, cautioning of heat indices around 110°F in Central Maryland on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 104°F Saturday in Baltimore, and heat indices could reach 110°F to 115°F.

Each National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Office (WFO) can issue the following heat-related products as conditions warrant:

Excessive Heat Outlook: when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3 to 7 days. An outlook is used to indicate that a heat event may develop. It is intended to provide information to those who need considerable lead time to prepare for the event, such as public utilities, emergency management and public health officials.

Excessive Heat Watch: when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event in the next 12 to 48 hours. A watch is used when the risk of a heat wave has increased, but its occurrence and timing is still uncertain. It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so, such as established individual city excessive heat event mitigation plans.

Excessive Heat Warning/Advisory: when an excessive heat event is expected in the next 36 hours. These products are issued when an excessive heat event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence. The warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property. An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant discomfort or inconvenience and, if caution is not taken, could lead to a threat to life and/or property.

So, we will have to postpone our normal weekend yard work and other outdoor activities.

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