There’s a few weeks left to summer and August is a big beach month. One of the most highly touted scare stories each season are the shark attack reports. Here in New England, people may be more nervous than usual in the light of a pretty horrific recent white shark attack off Cape Cod. Thankfully, this encounter between man and beast was not fatal – you can hear the survivor talk about his experience.
It’s understandable why these events are riveting – it’s the stuff of our nightmares. But should it be? This was the first confirmed white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years. For all the media attention they get, shark attacks are pretty rare. Ocean observers tell us that you have more of a risk of dying from a sand hole collapse than a shark attack but you probably aren’t having nightmares about sand castles. But maybe you should be.
Another very common hazard at the ocean are rip currents. Beach-goers should be alert for these narrow, powerful channels of water that pull swimmers directly away from a beach. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, sadly illustrated by the recent drownings in Lake Michigan and the Toronto area. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, more than 80 percent of water rescues on surf beaches are due to rip current and they account for about 100 drownings per year.
You can learn more about rip currents at the National Weather Service Rip Current Safety site. There’s a lot of information, current rip current weather alerts, and safety tips and resources to educate you and your kids.
The reason we’re hearing more about solar flares is because we are moving toward a “solar maximum,” a period of increased solar activity. These cycles, which are on average 11 years, mean an increase in the number of solar flares. The next maximum is expected in 2013, according to NASA. These cycles are analogous to seasons on Earth.
Following in the footsteps of a similar storm only two months ago, these strong solar storms have the potential to disrupt telecommunications and even knock out power. One possible cause of the massive 1989 blackout in Quebec was a strong solar storm, similar to the ones we are experiencing lately. Air travel can also be disrupted as flights are rerouted to avoid polar routes. The background level of radiation is higher during storms and could be dangerous over the poles. Solar storms are not, however, dangerous to the average person on earth, although you may want to be sure that your surge protectors are all on and working just in case of power disruptions.
Not only are solar storms not directly dangerous, they’re the cause of some of the most stunning light displays known to connoisseurs of the night skies. The Northern Lights or aurora borealis was forecast to be unusually intense and possibly visible as far south as central Massachusetts. So when you hear a forecast for a solar storm, turn on the surge protectors and take out your telescopes.