The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Solar storm tonight, aurorae possibly visible in Chicago

NOAA has predicted a severe geomagnetic storm watch for tonight:

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) — a division of the National Weather Service — is monitoring the sun following a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that began on May 8. Space weather forecasters have issued a Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch for the evening of Friday, May 10. Additional solar eruptions could cause geomagnetic storm conditions to persist through the weekend.

A large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares since Wednesday at 5:00 am ET. At least five flares were associated with CMEs that appear to be Earth-directed. SWPC forecasters will monitor NOAA and NASA’s space assets for the onset of a geomagnetic storm.

CMEs are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. They cause geomagnetic storms when they are directed at Earth. Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations. SWPC has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action. Geomagnetic storms can also trigger spectacular displays of aurora on Earth. A severe geomagnetic storm includes the potential for aurora to be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California. 

The local media picked it up as well, but noted that the sky will probably look like this over Chicago when the storm reaches maximum:

That's the sky this afternoon, anyway. It might even rain tonight. I'll at least be able to read about it tomorrow.

Scattered thunderstorms?

The forecast today called for a lot more rain than we've had, so Cassie might get more walkies than planned. Before that happens, I'm waiting for a build to run in our dev pipeline, and one or two stories piqued my interest to occupy me before it finishes:

Finally, after a couple of months of incoherent babbling, Voyager 1—now 24.3 million kilometers from Earth, 22.5 light-hours away, after 46 years and 7 months of travel—has started making sense again. Well, hello there!

What I learned about Google Maps yesterday

Getting down to Whitestown, Ind., yesterday took about 4 hours and 45 minutes, including a stop to empty Cassie, which isn't great but isn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. Getting home, however, taught me about the limitations of Google Maps in a way I'm not likely to forget.

Here's the first leg of our return trip, from Whitestown to just south of Wolcott, Ind., a distance of 109 km:

That took us 3 hours and 41 minutes, an average of 29.6 km/h. People ride bikes faster than that.

You can see spots where we got off Interstate 65 and followed Google's instructions to take alternate roads, because I-65 had an average speed of a portly beagle. (I'm not making up the comparison. I'm talking about a specific beagle.)

As it turned out, though, Google had no data at all about the alternate roads until people started driving on them. So when Google said "take County Road 50 N to County Road 500 W" because it thought no one was on those roads, that was true until Google told 300 people to take them.

That made getting back on I-65 a new kind of hell as stoplights set up to admit the 2 or 3 cars usually going through an intersection completely failed to clear the 5-km line of cars trying to turn.

We finally learned our lesson, too late, after we gave up on Google Maps and lit out on US-231 towards Wolcott. From that point until we got onto the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago we averaged about 90 km/h. We ignored Google and paralleled I-65 until it looked like the Interstate had finally cleared up.

The other thing we learned was, if there's a 40-minute line for the bathroom, leave. We found a couple of gas stations with no lines just 5 minutes from "Hub Plaza" on the map above.

And as a bonus, we got to see a magnificent sunset over the fields of central Indiana that we would not have seen from the Interstate.

The total return time from Whitesville to Chicago was 6 hours and 48 minutes.

Next time I travel through rural parts of the US, I'm going to go back to the navigation skills I learned before we had satnav in every car.

One more thing: if the US had the same level of technology and similar transport policies as our peer nations (not to mention China), I would simply have gotten on a high-speed train in downtown Chicago and gotten out in Indianapolis 90 minutes later. Alas, American transportation is still stuck in the mid-1900s, with no likelihood of advancing—especially in a reactionary state like Indiana.

But just to be clear: it was totally worth it. There is nothing like seeing a total solar eclipse. I'm already thinking about going to Spain in 2026.

Coding continues apace

I'm almost done with the new feature I mentioned yesterday (day job, unfortunately, so I can't describe it further), so while the build is running, I'm queuing these up:

All right! The build pipelines have completed successfully, so I will now log off my work laptop and order a pizza.

Home before sunset!

I do love this aspect of Daylight Saving Time: for the first time since November 2nd—131 days ago—my normal commute and walking Cassie home from day care got me home before sunset.

This happens every March, but it still feels revelatory. Barring a late night at the office I won't walk Cassie home after sunset until around October 21st, 223 days from now.

It's a little thing, but I enjoy it.

Happy late-winter milestone

My team works in the downtown office 3 days a week. Given Cassie's daycare pickup deadline and the Metra schedule, I leave at almost exactly the same time every day: 5:20pm. That makes the rapidly-lengthening days in late winter very noticeable.

Yesterday, for example, was the first day since November 2nd that my normal departure time was before sunset. And in just a couple of weeks—March 7th, most likely—I'll pick Cassie up from daycare before sunset.

It really makes a difference.