Pastor Frankie Olmedo, 56, who volunteers four hours a day to hand out water, fills up a container in Porterville, California October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Water regulators in California voted on Tuesday to outlaw watering the lawn within 48 hours of a rainstorm, the latest effort to spur Californians to conserve as the state enters its fourth year of drought.
Facing a dramatic slowdown in voluntary conservation efforts by property owners, the state Water Resources Control Board also tightened conservation rules in other ways, prohibiting water from being served in restaurants unless customers request it, and forbidding lawn-watering more than twice a week.
“I am sorry we have to do this,” Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said before the vote. “But we are not seeing the level of stepping up and ringing the alarm bells that the situation really warrants.”
California is the only U.S. state to regulate water use in this manner, Marcus said.
The drought lingers on despite storms that brought some respite in December and February. The storms helped fill some of the state’s reservoirs higher than they were at this time last year, but most still have less water than historical averages show is typical.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which melts in the spring and provides up to a third of the state’s water, stood at 12 percent of normal on March 17.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)
A rare G4, “severe” geomagnetic storm, is underway. It has the potential to disrupt radio transmission signals, cause problems with the electrical grid and have a range of other possibly costly impacts.
The event, which is just one notch below the highest category of solar storm, began at about 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. The geomagnetic storm is the result of a pair of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, that left the Sun on March 15 and are now interacting with Earth’s atmosphere and geomagnetic field.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, NOAA scientists said the two CMEs may have unexpectedly combined as they sped toward Earth, which could explain why the geomagnetic storm has been so strong.
Coronal mass ejections, which are essentially magnetic clouds ejected at high velocity from the sun, can affect the electricity grid, radio transmissions and GPS signals, among other things, when they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. According to NOAA, there had not been any reported abnormalities in the U.S. power grid as of noon eastern time on Tuesday.
However, there have been numerous reports of “vivid” sightings of the Northern Lights across the northern tier of the U.S., including Washington State and Minnesota. The G4 solar storm is expected to lead to a widespread viewing of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, on Tuesday night from Alaska across Canada and much of Eurasia.
It’s possible that the Northern Lights will be visible as far south as Tennessee, New Mexico and Oklahoma on Tuesday night, NOAA experts said, depending on the evolution of the event’s intensity.
The Space Weather Prediction Center issued a G1, or minor, geomagnetic storm watch for Wednesday in response to the two recent CMEs, with the first effects to be felt on Tuesday. Scientists think the two CMEs unexpectedly combined into “one sort of larger shock front traveling and intersecting Earth’s orbit,” according to Robert Rutledge of the Space Weather Prediction Center.
The CMEs in this case were not oriented head-on in relation to Earth, causing forecasters to think the planet would just receive “just a glancing blow,” rather than a severe geomagnetic storm, Rutledge says.
Severe solar storms such as this one have the potential to cause “possible widespread voltage control problems” in the electrical grid. It could also disrupt tracking of spacecraft, and impede the efficacy of high-frequency radio signals, such as those used by flights that travel across the Arctic between North America and Asia. These storms can also degrade the accuracy of satellite navigation.
According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, these storms tend to occur about 100 times per every 11-year solar cycle, or about 60 days per each 11-year cycle. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, the ongoing event is one of just two G4 events in the current solar cycle.
This event is nowhere near the strength that would be required to create a nightmare scenario that space weather specialists have been warning about for years. In that scenario, a powerful geomagnetic storm, a G5 on the five-point scale, shuts down the electrical grid, wreaks havoc on radio communications, GPS devices and aerial navigation systems, costing billions in damage.
This strong solar flare Wednesday is part of an ongoing solar storm that is bombarding earth with charged, magnetic particles today. NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
Look outside. Believe it or not, it’s storming right now.
The Earth is presently being bombarded with a powerful geomagnetic storm. It’s the result of explosions on the sun two days ago that threw off coronal mass ejections, globs — a billion tons or so — of the sun’s plasma along with magnetic clouds of charged atomic particles, in the direction of Earth.
It’s the strongest geomagnetic storm — known as a category G4 — since fall 2013. While such storms can sometimes cause fluctuations in power grids, there are no reports of outages or other disruptions from this one, said Brent Gordon, space weather services branch chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
Satellite disruption is not expected, but people could see glitches with their global positioning systems today, center director Thomas Berger said. Services such as the Google Maps app rely on satellites to lock onto ground positions, but that signal must travel through the ionosphere, an area of Earth’s upper atmosphere with charged, magnetized particles, he said. As those particles are reacting to the solar storm, GPS service could be spotty, he said.
How long the solar storm will last is uncertain, researchers said. But if it continues into the evening, Michigan could be in store for a light show in the night sky. The aurora borealis, dancing bands of green and red light in the sky caused by electrical activity in the upper atmosphere, is typically confined to areas around the North and South Poles. But Alaska, Washington, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin all saw the so-called northern lights shows before dawn today. And the aurora borealis could be seen as far south as the central U.S. tonight, Gordon said.
“If the storm continues into nighttime hours, Michigan is certainly going to be in a prime location to see this, given what we’ve seen so far,” he said.
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