In recent days, several reports emerged of a geomagnetic storm purportedly due to hit Earth on March 18. These reports also hinted at serious consequences that could affect communications systems and people alike. However, a top official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement earlier this week, in hopes of allaying potential concerns about the supposed event.
In an emailed statement to Newsweek, NOAA Space Weather Forecast Center chief Robert Rutledge told the publication that reports of a “massive” geomagnetic storm affecting our planet on March 18 may have been blown out of proportion. As Newsweek further noted, his comments came shortly after most publications who wrote on Monday about the purported storm had apparently misinterpreted a chart from the Lebedev Institute in Russia that suggested the likelihood of increased geomagnetic activity on March 18, but nothing hinting at a major storm.
“This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form. Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless,” said Rutledge.
According to Newsweek, Lebedev Institute and NOAA have similar forecasts for March 18’s geomagnetic activity, as the institutions are both expecting a “minor” magnetic storm on that day as the worst case scenario. This would merely be classified as a G1 storm, which would be the least intense type of event based on NOAA’s geomagnetic storm scale, with G5 storms being the “most extreme” in nature.
— Latiro Mazzaire (@mzmazzaire) March 12, 2018
A report from Tech Times that was published shortly after the series of “sensationalist” articles on the potential geomagnetic storm on March 18 detailed what some of these other reports claimed. These included an article that warned about the possibility of people suffering from headaches and dizziness as a result of the event, and another one that claimed telecommunications might be disrupted, and that the storm may be a sign of “cracks” in Earth’s magnetic field.
Though NOAA’s Rutledge stressed in his statement that things should be fine on March 18, Newsweek noted that serious geomagnetic storms could indeed cause chaos should they hit our planet. The publication cited two separate examples from the Ready.gov website, starting with 1859’s so-called “Carrington Event,” where Northern Lights were visible even in Cuba and Hawaii, and several telegraph operators fell victim to electric shocks from telegraph lines, with their papers also catching fire as a result of the storm. Over a century later in Canada, on March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm caused a major blackout in the country that lasted nine hours, disrupting electricity from the Hydro Quebec generating station and going as far as melting power transformers in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, a number of reports on Tuesday warned about “massive” solar storms possibly taking place on Wednesday and Thursday and interfering with satellite communications, while also causing blackouts and Northern Lights displays in certain parts of the world. However, most of these reports, including one from the Daily Mail, cited an alert from NOAA that simply stated a “minor geomagnetic storm watch” is in effect for those days.