The K-index, and by extension the Planetary K-index, are used to characterize the magnitude of geomagnetic storms. Kp is an excellent indicator of disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field and is used by SWPC to decide whether geomagnetic alerts and warnings need to be issued for users who are affected by these disturbances.

The principal users affected by geomagnetic storms are the electrical power grid, spacecraft operations, users of radio signals that reflect off of or pass through the ionosphere, and observers of the aurora.

The K-index quantifies disturbances in the horizontal component of earth's magnetic field with an integer in the range 0-9 with 1 being calm and 5 or more indicating a geomagnetic storm. It is derived from the maximum fluctuations of horizontal components observed on a magnetometer during a three-hour interval. The planetary 3-hour-range index Kp is the mean standardized K-index from 13 geomagnetic observatories between 44 degrees and 60 degrees northern or southern geomagnetic latitude. The label 'K' comes from the German word 'Kennziffer' meaning 'characteristic digit.' The K-index was introduced by Julius Bartels in 1938. SWPC has used the K-index since the forecast center began operations.

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/planetary-k-index

This chart updates every minute. The Estimated 3-hour Planetary Kp-index is derived at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center using data from the following ground-based magnetometers: Sitka, Alaska; Meanook, Canada; Ottawa, Canada; Fredericksburg, Virginia; Hartland, UK; Wingst, Germany; Niemegk, Germany; and Canberra, Australia. These data are made available thanks to the cooperative efforts between SWPC and data providers around the world, which currently includes the U.S. Geological Survey, Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), the British Geological Survey, the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), and Geoscience Australia. Important magnetometer observations are also contributed by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and the Korean Space Weather Center K-index Watches are issued when the highest predicted NOAA estimated Kp-indices for a day are K = 5, 6, 7, or >= 8 and is reported in terms of the NOAA G scale. K-index Warnings are issued when NOAA estimated Kp-indices of 4, 5, 6, and 7 or greater are expected. K-index Alerts are issued when the NOAA estimated Kp-indices reach 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9.

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