The Stream, May 15, 2024: Solar Storm Disrupts Farmers Across North America

A reservoir in Los Angeles. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Children are being rescued from mudslides and families are fleeing to mountains as record flooding in Afghanistan has displaced thousands of people.
  • The weekend’s northern lights were a hindrance to many North American farmers, as GPS systems were scrambled and tractors stalled.
  • Stormwater captured and stored during an unusually wet winter in Los Angeles will meet the yearly water needs of 2.4 million people — about a quarter of the county’s population.
  • The water crisis in Bengaluru, known as India’s “Silicon Valley,” is worsening in the weeks leading into summer.

Prolonged drought in southern Mexico has damaged crops and plants to such an extent that farmers are transporting much-needed wild bees to healthier habitats.

“Without the work of pollination, which is what bees do, there would be no type of food production, from the smallest grass to the gigantic watermelons.” – Eloy Perez, a beekeeper in Santa Ana Zegache, Mexico.

As farmers in southern Mexico struggle to raise crops and squeeze out a living amidst ongoing drought conditions, they are still making time to preserve the wellbeing of their partners: wild bees. 

With hardly any flora growing due to drastic water shortages, farmers and beekeepers are transporting local hives to apiaries to preserve the populations, an act they told Reuters is “a labor of love.”

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

The geomagnetic solar storms that offered ethereal views of the northern lights this weekend weren’t ubiquitously well received, as farmers across the U.S. Midwest and western Canada experienced technical disruptions that stalled their farm machinery and prevented many from laying down seeds for corn and soybeans.

Reliant upon detailed GPS systems that dictate where to plant crops and maximize land usage, farmers across the continent found their tractors and planters rendered effectively useless.

“My tractor just didn’t work,” Patrick O’Connor, a farmer in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, told Minnesota Public Radio. “I had some decisions I had to make.”

GPS systems help farmers plant their crops in the most efficient manner. Not using GPS means an average income loss of 15 percent, the Calgary Herald reports. Some growers opt to pay for a subscription that offers access to a few additional satellites, and these were the machines most affected by the solar storm. Thousands of on-farm units were likely affected.

But the outage was likely a one-off, the New York Times reports, due to the unusual strength of the geomagnetic storm, and not a regular occurrence farmers will need to anticipate. Still, alternative technologies that won’t be affected by such weather are in development.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Number of people who died in northern Afghanistan this weekend, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Heavy weekend rains triggered flash floods that swept away more than 1,000 homes in the latest extreme rain event in the country, which has experienced an unusually wet spring, Al Jazeera reports. The floods decimated livestock, submerged farmland, and destroyed irrigation systems and canals that had previously supported growers during periods of drought. This loss of farming systems is especially poignant given Afghanistan’s dire food insecurity — one in 10 Afghan children under the age of five is malnourished, and 45 percent are stunted.



Percent of Los Angeles County residents whose water needs for the year will be met with stormwater that was captured and stored during an unusually wet winter, Yale Environment 360 reports. For more than two decades, water storage improvements totaling more than $1 billion have been installed throughout the county. These efforts paid off this winter, as 96 billion gallons of water were collected, enough to supply a year’s worth of water for 2.4 million people, the Los Angeles Times reports

On the Radar

Fourteen million residents in the metropolitan area of Bengaluru, India, are being advised to take shorter showers and use disposable cutlery as taps and wells run dry, CNN reports. In need of some 528 million gallons of water each day, only half of that is currently accessible. Reliant upon man-made lakes, water pipes, and reservoirs for its water storage and delivery, Bengaluru is vulnerable to temperature rise and pollution. A weak monsoon season last year placed reserves in feeble standing. Water trucks are bringing limited volumes of the resource to neighborhoods, with hundreds of people expected to share just several hundreds gallons of water for days at a time.

More Water News

Latin America and Caribbean: A new World Meteorological Organization report highlights a dismal past year of drought, heat, and sporadic, extreme rainfall throughout the region that hindered economic growth and food security. 

UK Pesticides: The country’s National Farmers Union lobbied last year to raise the threshold of pesticides allowed in drinking water, according to documents obtained and reported on by Greenpeace’s Unearthed.

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