Weather tracker: Geomagnetic storms trigger northern lights

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By

Spectacular Northern Lights and Scorching Heat: A Week of Extreme Weather

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The night skies were ablaze with the dazzling northern lights on Friday, lighting up areas across Europe, the United States, and even as far away as New Zealand, where they’re known as the southern lights. These mesmerizing displays happen when charged particles from the sun hit the Earth’s atmosphere and interact with gases near the magnetic poles, creating stunning auroras.

A Night to Remember

In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had issued a “severe” G4 geomagnetic storm alert. By Friday evening, conditions escalated to “extreme” G5 levels, the highest on the space weather scale, something not seen since October 2003. This rare event was primarily caused by a massive sunspot cluster about 17 times the size of Earth. This sunspot has been shooting off strong solar flares since last Wednesday, with more expected over the weekend.

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Why It Matters

G5 geomagnetic storms can have serious impacts on our daily lives. They can create powerful currents in power grids and mess up satellite communications. For example, the Halloween storm in October 2003 caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa. With another round of G4-G5 geomagnetic storms possible later on Sunday, everyone’s keeping an eye on the skies and the power lines.

Meanwhile, on the Ground…

While the northern lights were dancing in the sky, parts of North America were sweltering under an intense heatwave. Mexico experienced its hottest May day ever last week, with temperatures soaring to 51.1°C (124°F) in Gallinas on May 9. This was just shy of Mexico’s all-time high for any month. Monterrey, Mexico, saw civil protection officials handing out bottles of cold water to help people cope with the oppressive heat.

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Record-Breaking Heat

This brutal heatwave didn’t just set records in Mexico. It also broke the record for the hottest May day in all of North America, beating the 50.5°C (122.9°F) recorded in Ballesmi, Mexico, in 1973. The extreme heat has been tough on Mexico’s power grid, causing blackouts in many cities. It’s also sparked 159 wildfires, burning about 186,500 acres, including protected natural areas.

Water Crisis and More Heat Ahead

As if the heat wasn’t enough, Mexico is also in the midst of a severe drought. Many parts of the country are facing moderate to exceptional drought conditions. Unfortunately, there’s no relief in sight, with temperatures expected to stay in the low to mid-40s°C (104-113°F) for the rest of the month. The combination of extreme heat and drought is putting immense pressure on resources and infrastructure.

This past week has been a reminder of how powerful and unpredictable nature can be. From the awe-inspiring northern lights to the relentless heatwave in Mexico, it’s clear that we need to stay prepared for whatever the Earth throws our way.

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