Space Environment Center,
the nation's space weather forecasting agency, will soon be issuing
forecasts that sound more like weather events on Earth than in
outer space. SEC's forecasts will now be issued using outlooks,
bulletins, watches, and warnings, just like the National Weather
(See graphics page)
Both the Space
Environment Center and the National
Weather Service are part of the Commerce Department's National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"We'll be watching the violent solar storms that occur in
outer space, so we decided that it made sense to fit our alerts
for the public and others affected by space weather into the
NWS framework," said Ernie Hildner, SEC's director.
Scientists and space forecasters are expecting an increase in
space weather activities as we get farther into Solar Cycle 23
and head for "solar maximum" around the year 2000.
"We'll definitely see more instances of aurora borealis
or northern lights, possibly as far south as the Gulf of Mexico,"
says space forecaster Gary Heckman. "There will also be
an increasing number of solar storms, some in the severe category,
with resulting geomagnetic storms on Earth. When these space
storms' hit, there's a chance for satellites to be affected,
cell phones and computers to be knocked out, and electrical power
blackouts. In 1989, an electrical blackout occurred in Quebec
due to a geomagnetic storm."
Another part of SEC's responsibilities is to provide forecasts
of conditions in outer space for NASA's space shuttle program.
"We have a direct line to NASA's Solar Radiation Analysis
Group at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. Whenever
there's a shuttle mission, we work very closely with the people
at NASA to provide daily and minute-to-minute monitoring of space
weather for the shuttle mission," said Heckman.
As part of its new look, SEC
will be putting a new suite of space weather advisories on the
Weather Wire. Along with the usual weather reports, subscribers
can expect to see space weather watches, indicating that severe
space weather is expected; space weather warnings, indicating
that disturbances are imminent; space weather bulletins, describing
interesting conditions; and space weather outlooks, describing
general expectations of future conditions. More technical weather
products and data are also available on the Weather Wire and
at the SEC Web site.
"Compared to Earth weather forecasting, space weather forecasting
is still in its infancy. But better technology, the development
of space weather models, and satellites such as SOHO, which provide
us with images of the sun, are all helping us improve our forecasting
techniques," said Hildner.
More information on SEC and space
weather can be found on the Web at www.sec.noaa.gov