BOISE -- A massive 'solar storm' hitting Earth today could disrupt power grids, airplane routes and space-based satellite navigation systems. One upside: it could also make the Northern Lights viewable here in southwest Idaho.
KTVB meteorologist Larry Gebert has been tracking this unusual space storm since its arrival early Thursday morning. Gebert says the storm is made of electromagnetic shock waves released by the sun that rain down on the Earth's atmosphere.
"This type of storm can disrupt magnetic fields on the planet," Gebert said. "Today's modern devices rely on satellites, so your GPS could be thrown off, or your mobile phones could be disrupted because there could be glitches in satellite signals."
Gebert says scientists can't be certain that satellite signals throughout Idaho will be disrupted because of the storm, but what is more likely is that parts of northern and southern Idaho will be able to see the aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights.
"The last time we had a storm of this size, not only did we see the Northern Lights, we saw one of the rarest occurences of Northern Lights, which was the color red," Gebert said.
Larry's advice: it's best to look for the aurora borealis at dusk, away from city lights, in the northern sky.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist Joseph Kunches, the storm started with a giant solar flare earlier in the week and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble.
Kunches went on to say that the massive cloud of charged particles is one of the largest solar storms in the last five years and is expected to shake the globe's magnetic field while intensifying aurora displays (also known as the northern and southern lights).
"Auroras are probably the treat that we get when the sun erupts," Kunches told Space.com.
Astronomers say the storm is part of the sun's normal 11-year cycle, which is supposed to reach peak storminess next year. Solar storms don't harm people, but they can disrupt technology.
Officials say North American utilities are monitoring for abnormalities on their grids and have contingency plans.