‘Potentially historic’ solar storm could bring Northern Lights to Vancouver Island, disrupt communications

'Potentially historic' solar storm could bring Northern Lights to Vancouver Island, disrupt communications
Courtesy Brian Texmo
The Northern Lights are pictured over Vancouver Island in 2022.

The effects of an exceptionally strong solar storm are expected to reach Earth this weekend, and could cause the Northern Lights to be visible over Vancouver Island.

On Friday, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a “geomagnetic storm watch” after the agency’s space weather forecasters detected at least seven cornal mass ejections (CMEs) coming from the sun.

“CMEs are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona,” said NOAA in a release Friday.

Those explosions can cause geomagnetic storms if they are facing earth, according to NOAA, which is what is expected to occur this weekend.

The storm is forecast to reach Earth starting midday Friday and will last until Sunday, May 12.

Aurora Borealis

The upcoming solar storm prompted NOAA to issue a severe geomagnetic storm watch. It’s the first watch of its kind to be issued in almost 20 years, with the last being triggered in 2005.

The solar storm could cause the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, to reach Vancouver Island on Friday night, as well as across most of Canada.

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Strong geomagnetic storms are also capable of disrupting infrastructure on Earth, such as electric power grids, radios, navigation, communications and satellite operations.

In 2003, an extreme solar storm took out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

Solar storms of this strength are very rare, according to NOAA.

“This is an unusual and potentially historic event,” said Clinton Wallace, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, in Friday’s release.

With files from the Associated Press


Adam ChanAdam Chan

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