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  • Strong Geomagnetic Storm Could Hit Earth Today and Tomorrow

    Today and tomorrow, the earth will be hit by what one scientist called a “fire hose” of supercharged particles from a hole in the corona of the sun. The hole has kind of acted like a spinning sprinkler: as the sun has rotated, the hole has stayed open and sent its stream of solar plasma in a 360 degree arc around the solar system. The earth already passed through it once, on October 7 and 8.

    Solar Flare - Washington Post via. The Washington Post

    This hole creates a 90 percent likelihood for strong geomagnetic storms in the far northern hemisphere. Geomagnetic storms are disruptions in the earth’s magnetic field that are usually associated with solar storms. Parts to solar storms are solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar radiation events. They can take place all at once, though small solar flares occur on their own almost daily.

    The sun constantly barrages the earth with charged particles, called solar wind. Normally, the magnetic field around the earth stops most of the particles – and creates the aurora borealis light shows. Especially during times of high sunspot activity, however, the sun can eject a blast of electromagnetic (EM) radiation, called a solar flare. Radio waves, visible light, x-rays, and ultraviolet radiation are some types of electromagnetic radiation. A large solar flare can hit the earth’s upper atmosphere with the force a million times stronger than a volcano. It can cause degradation and even blackouts of service for electronic devices like cell phones, GPS, and radios. Solar flares typically last from one to three hours and affect the sunlit side of the earth.

    Power Grid - PBS via PBS

    One NASA writer compared a solar flare to a cannon flash and a coronal mass ejection (CME) to the cannonball. A CME usually takes two to three days to hit the earth, though they can be faster. When it slams into the earth’s magnetic field, it causes a geomagnetic storm. Geomagnetic storms can mess with infrastructure in several ways, including satellites, the power grid, and even metal pipes. For example, geomagnetic storms can bump satellites out of place and cause damage to the satellites themselves. If a communication network uses a satellite, it won’t work until the satellite is moved back into place.

    Geomagnetic storms can mess with electrical currents and overload utilities.

    A 1989 geomagnetic storm took only 90 seconds to collapse a northeastern Canada power grid. Millions of people lost power for up to nine hours. The storm also caused minor damage throughout the U.S.

    Damage to power infrastructure comes because rogue currents from the geomagnetic storm piggyback on power lines and metal pipelines.

    They can travel thousands of miles and in the process scramble the carefully calibrated currents. This can cause overheating that can melt the copper wires in transformers and destroy them. A burned-out, multi-ton transformer can take months to fix.

    The power grid is more interconnected than ever. On a hot day, Los Angeles might get some of its power from Oregon. So an extreme storm that causes a power blackout in Oregon could also cause catastrophic power grid failure in southern California.

    A 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that a solar storm like one in 1859 that was the largest recorded could cause $2 trillion in damage during the first year alone. That’s 20 times greater than Hurricane Katrina.

    Aurora - NASA via NASA

    Report co-author John Kappenmann of the Metatech Corporation looked at a May 1921 geomagnetic storm with ground currents ten times stronger than the 1989 Quebec storm but half the size of the 1859 one. He estimated 130 million people without power. That would shut down every other aspect of the infrastructure: "water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on,” the study said.

    "The concept of interdependency," the report notes, "is evident in the unavailability of water due to long-term outage of electric power--and the inability to restart an electric generator without water on site."

    That means, by the way, that many toilets wouldn’t work because many water utilities use electric pumps.

    Now, in case the odds of all this seem improbable, in 2012,a monster solar storm estimated to be as strong as the 1859 one, and containing two CMEs, barely missed the earth.

    "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado told NASA.

    The White House on Thursday announced a plan to prepare for major solar storms by working with a several government, nonprofit and for-profit agencies to better prepare infrastructure and to study solar storms to provide more warning.

    “The plan was motivated by a recognition that we need a cohesive national network to build resilience [to space weather] and to determine what we need to know,” Bill Murtagh, assistant director for space weather at White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told The Washington Post.  “This is a real and present danger, this is a real threat.”

    Now, NASA sends out a warning between 45 and 60 minutes before a geomagnetic storm develops. On October 26, for example, NASA issued a warning about a minor CME that glanced off the earth’s atmosphere.

    After a power grid disaster, government and utilities’ highest priorities will be getting power plants online and making sure medical facilities and first responders have the power they need, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    “Homeowners, business owners, and local leaders may have to take an active role in dealing with energy disruptions on their own,” the DOE wrote.

    Here are some ways to prepare, from Ready.gov, the American Red Cross and the DOE.

    • Have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills and first aid supplies.
    • Keep cell phones and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method.
    • Keep the car’s gas tank full. A vehicle’s battery can be a temporary power source – but not indoors, unless carbon monoxide poisoning sounds like fun.
    • Those who use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device, should tell their local utility so it can prioritize their home. They should also have a backup plan.
    • Find out where to buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours. A half-full, unopened freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours. Food in a packed, unopened freezer will stay cold for twice that long.

    In the meantime, today and tomorrow sky watchers as far south as Oregon and Idaho may get to see auroras. Enjoy.

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  • Baby Steps: Soil and Sun

    This week’s baby steps are in the same vein as last week: getting your garden ready to plant. Here are three more things you’ll want to know before you start planting. 

    1. Know when to start planting.This great page from Mother Earth News will give you a list of vegetables you can start in April (and other months), and separated by region. What a great resource! First select your region, the month, and then scroll down to see the lists of what to plant. 
    2. Learn a little bit about soil. Knowing what kind of soil you have is important because you may need to “tweak” the soil to provide your plants the most fertile growing possible. Read this article to learn about 10 types of soil and when to use each. Here’s a brief article with photos from HGTV about soil types and soil acidity. 
    3. Observe how much sunlight falls on your growing area. Knowing which areas get the most light (or the most shade) will help you know where to put specific plants. That’ll guarantee your vegetables are situated to grow their best. Read slides 7 and 8 of this article Here’s a general tip about sunlight. “Vegetables that produce fruit (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash) need full sun.” Leaf and root veggies are ok in the shade. Click here to read more.  

    Take these three baby steps and soon your garden will be off to a great start! In case you missed last week’s Baby Steps, click here to read about finding your climate zone, knowing what to grow, and buying seeds. 

    More articles:

    Preparing a New Garden 

    Three Basic Soils 

    10 Types of Soil and When to Use Each

  • Solar Ovens: Do They Really Cook Food?

    Yes, you can cook your food using the rays of the sun!

     

    With sunny days on the rise, now is a great time to consider alternative cooking methods, like solar ovens. We think the Sport Solar Oven is a great product so we’ve put it on sale. Here’s a post by our Regional Stores Supervisor, Rob.

     

     

    I doubted how well the Sport Solar Oven would work and I wasn’t alone. The most frequently asked question I get is, “does it really cook food?” usually followed by “so… how does it work then?”

    When I first used the Sport Solar Oven, in the summer, I went for the gusto with a full meal of dinner rolls, a roast, and potatoes. I put the oven in direct sunlight to preheat; within a short period of time the thermometer was at 300 degrees. I put the food in, and four and a half hours later I had fluffy rolls, a delicious roast, and soft potatoes. My doubts melted away faster than the butter on those rolls!

    The Sport Solar Oven will work any time of the year, no matter the temperature outside—you just need sunlight. We tried it out at our Northern Utah store on March 9. It was 35 degrees outside (thanks to the wind chill) and there was snow on the ground. It was mostly sunny during our cooking time, with some clouds.

    The Sport Solar Oven preheated to 275 degrees within 30 minutes, despite the cold conditions. We cooked roast with potatoes in one pot and baked rolls in the second pot. Just like my test during the summer, the food was cooked and ready to eat four to five hours later.

    So, how does a solar oven work? Basically the Sport Solar Oven acts as a slow cooking crock pot that can also bake, generally reaching between 250 and 280 degrees. More specifically, the oven is lined with a dark-colored metal that absorbs the heat of the sun. A clear lid maximizes the direct light and also helps keep the heat in. Optional reflectors compensate for low sun (during winter, fall, and spring). The pots are black, which helps absorb energy as heat. (A similar reaction can occur in your car on sunny days. You may notice that dark materials, such as the steering wheel, are hotter than lighter colored surfaces.)

    What if there is no sunlight? Unfortunately, if there’s no sunlight you won’t be able to use the Sport Solar Oven. If the sky is overcast or hazy, the oven won’t heat up quickly or fully.

    Why don’t I just use the stove with charcoal all the time? Plan for all situations, but if you have sunlight, why not use it? It’s a natural and free source of power. You’ll have reserved your other fuel sources, like charcoal, for times when you don’t have other options. If you prefer to cook with fuels like propane or charcoal, or if you’re looking for a backup to your backup, click here for some good options.

     

    Every Saturday this March, we will be testing out other recipes in our solar ovens at our stores. If you live in Utah, stop by and see the Sport Solar Oven in action. If you don’t live in Utah, we will be posting pictures and giving updates here on the blog so check back each Monday!

     

    Have you had success with your solar oven? Do you have additional questions? Let us know by commenting below.

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