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Weather officials forecast solar flares

10/24/2003 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb (AFPN) -- Large groups of sunspots are being tracked by Air Force Weather Agency space weather technicians here who are forecasting moderate to extreme solar flares for a few days beginning Oct. 24.

Technicians believe the solar flares could cause geomagnetic storms and have warned Department of Defense officials and the national intelligence community to expect significant solar activity.

Heightened solar activity creates peaks in solar emissions that travel to Earth and interact with its atmosphere.

On Earth, electromagnetic signals can be affected by the interference of atmospheric disturbances caused by solar emissions. These disturbances influence HF communications, satellite UHF communications and Global Positioning System navigation signals. They also interfere with certain radars.

Satellites and other equipment in orbit above the protective levels of the atmosphere are vulnerable to electrical anomalies and a degradation of components because of solar radiation, said weather officials. There can also be increased drag on satellites in low-Earth orbits, and officials who track satellites and other objects in orbit can lose their targets because of these changes in the atmosphere.

On the positive side, the geomagnetic storms may cause the aurora borealis to be pushed toward the equator, allowing people in the continental United States to have a better viewing of the "northern lights."

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 Air Force Weather Agency