SEATTLE - Scientists say the earth will be bombarded by one of the strongest solar storms in years overnight Wednesday into Thursday, possibly disrupting satellite communications, GPS units, and to a lesser degree the power grid.
Scientists say the storm, which started with a massive solar flare earlier in the week, is growing as it races outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble. When it strikes, the particles will be moving at 4 million mph.
"It's hitting us right in the nose," said Joe Kunches, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo.
"It could give us a bit of a jolt," NASA solar physicist Alex Young said.
Still, the potential for problems is widespread. Solar storms have three ways they can disrupt technology on Earth: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions. This is an unusual situation, when all three types of solar storm disruptions are likely to be strong, Kunches said. That makes it the strongest overall since December 2006.
Seattle based technology expert Brian M. Westbrook says most critical systems, like government communications networks, and the power grids have built in safeguards to handle solar events.
Consumer electronics are another matter. The National Space Weather Forecast Center warns GPS units could lose their lock on navigation satellites.
“For the average user you might find yourself going right instead of left you may need to use some intelligence and not rely on those electronics for the next few days,” Westbrook said.
For North America, the good part of a solar storm -- the one that creates more noticeable auroras or Northern Lights -- will peak Thursday evening. Auroras could dip as far south as Oregon or lower, Kunches said, but a full moon will make them harder to see.
Auroras are "probably the treat we get when the sun erupts," Kunches said.
King 5 Meteorologist Jim Guy says the weather may cooperate, with only some high clouds moving in there is still a chance people away from the lights of the cities could see the Northern Lights Thursday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report