Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Hurricanes and northern lights

Going Nature's Way


September 12, 2019

Two events happened at the beginning of September that showed us the power of nature and our inability to influence their manifestation. On the southeastern edge of our continent a massive hurricane crept across the Atlantic and took aim at Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In the northern regions of our country a massive solar storm caused NOAA to predict significant displays of the northern lights. Both caused excitement among the population, but with very different emotions.

Hurricane Dorian smashed into the Bahamas with winds of 180 mph and gusts clocked at more than 220 mph. The damage is incalculable; some describe it as apocalyptic. While Florida braced for the worst, the storm swept along the coast far enough out to spare the state, but it has hit North Carolina and is causing flooding with storm surge and wind damage. Hurricanes are unpredictable; there are many atmospheric conditions that can influence and alter its path and strength. But people must be prepared for the worst and pray for a reprieve.

Here in northern Minnesota people had aurora parties, gathering with friends late into the night, staring at the starry skies and hoping to see the ethereal green and white lights flicker across the horizon. I had an acquaintance stop by on the way north with her husband. They live in the Twin Cities, but were making a pilgrimage to the North Shore to see the lights. It was on their “bucket list.” They had slim hopes of finding any space at a State Park campground, so they thought they’d probably just drive back to their home after seeing what they came for. From the reports that I’ve read, most of the lights were modest displays and were seen from the region north of Duluth over to Ely.

It has been years since we’ve seen the northern lights (aurora borealis) from our home. One year, they were so intense that they reached all the way to the middle of the sky above our heads. We have all but given up trying to see them from our windows because we are bordered to the north with tall pine trees, but I still look if I happen to be up around midnight. Northern Lights can happen at any time of day or night, but we require the darkness of night to see them. That is why the prime “viewing season” is from September through March, because it is then that we have the extended hours of darkness.

We have no control over what we call a solar storm that forms on our nearest star. It is a massive explosion on the sun’s surface that sends solar winds at speeds of 800 kilometers per second towards the earth. Once the charged particles from the sun mix with gasses in Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, we see the colorful results. It is a source of awe and joy for those who witness this phenomenon.

Hurricanes on the other hand spawn fear and pain. Once a hurricane forms we are powerless to control its growth or direction. But we do have a hand in the formation of these dangerous and increasingly more frequent storms. Hurricane Dorian is the fifth Atlantic category 5 in 4 years. The continued burning of fossil fuels is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere, thereby trapping heat, which is absorbed by the oceans. As the oceans get warmer, hurricanes get stronger, bigger and carry more rain. A warmer ocean is a bigger ocean because water expands as it warms. And water entering the oceans from melting land ice creates bigger storm surges that come with the hurricanes. Dorian’s was measured at between 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels in the Bahamas.

These are all scientific facts and no amount of denial or procrastination will change the course we’re on. Only unprecedented action and change in an exceedingly short time will. Most people don’t know or fully understand how global warming is affecting the oceans and sadly we will see little to nothing about it in the media. We will send our heartfelt sympathy to those in the hurricane’s path and we will vow to rebuild the structures that are destroyed by these storms, but it is only a matter of time before the next one hits.


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