The Washington Post

Solar storm sparks beautiful aurora (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Aurora captured in Little Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin with lighting bolts at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. More information. (Gary J. Meulemans, anakin1814 on Flickr and Twitter)

After predictions ranging from minor to severe, the geomagnetic storm that struck Earth this weekend fell smack in the middle - at moderate intensity (at G2 or Kp6 levels).

The long-lasting storm produced aurora (northern lights) in at least 14 states Saturday night according to

Aurora captured in Little Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Sunday morning at 3 a.m. More information. (Gary J. Meulemans, anakin1814 on Flickr and Twitter)

Spectacular images of aurora spread virally through social media streams. Here are a few of the best ... allow a few seconds to load:

Aurora were visible in both hemispheres. Here’s a mystical video of Aurora Australis (southern lights) - from Davis, Antarctica by Tom Luttrell...

Link: Aurora Borealis time-lapse from central Minnesota

Regarding conflicting space weather forecasts

My commentary on differences between NOAA and NASA predictions for the solar storm generated quite the discussion Friday into Saturday.

Many people agreed with my point of view that NOAA and NASA should issue clear, consistent forecasts in plain English. But a few commenters disagreed, primarily on these grounds:

1) The two agencies are independent, use different forecasting methods and it’s fine if they have different points of view: a range of forecasts demonstrates the complexity and uncertainty in the science.

2) The agencies need not dumb down space weather information and -presently - provide sufficient resources (glossaries, tutorials, etc) for people to intepret information provided.

My response to the first point is that there’s no reason why the two agencies shouldn’t be able to come together and issue one forecast that includes the full range of uncertainty that reflects differences in the methods employed and the results. If the agencies do a good job communicating the uncertainty, users will get a sense in the differences in the level of certainty in outcomes from event to event.

For his part, Joe Kunches, a forecaster at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, seems to agree. He told the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

“If we’re both thinking the same thing, it can be constructive. At times like this we’re not thinking the same thing so it’s a little bit awkward. It can be a little confusing. The best scenario in the future is for us to have more of a complementary relationship.”

On the second point, I agree that NOAA and NASA have both generated excellent background materials on space weather. But a key problem is that this material isn’t well integrated with the material in their forecast products. If these agencies can adapt their forecasts to better link to their primer content and compelling multimedia and video they’ve generated, that would be a big step forward.

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.


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