The Kp index and solar wind speed relationship: Insights for improving space weather forecasts

Heather A. Elliott, Jörg Micha Jahn, David J. McComas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The Kp geomagnetic index forecasts are currently used to predict the aurora, MeV electron fluxes at geosynchronous, spacecraft anomalies and charging events, and times when accurate geological surveys can be performed. Many Kp forecasts rely on the upstream solar wind speed since the speed strongly correlates with the Kp index. However, the distribution of Kp and solar wind speed measurements is quite broad. To understand how common certain combinations of Kp and speed are, we plot the percentage of points in two-dimensional Kp and speed bins using a color scale. Using these color Kp-solar wind speed distributions for compressions, rarefactions, and Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections separately, we find that much of the variability in the Kp-solar wind speed distribution is attributable to the dynamic interaction between the fast and slow wind. We compare three different criteria for identifying compressions and rarefactions and find that density criteria provide greater separation between compressions and rarefactions than dynamic pressure or speed-time slope criteria. However, the speed-time slope provides enough separation to be useful given that the solar wind speed has a long autocorrelation time and can be predicted using solar observations (e.g., expansion factor models). To ensure our work can easily be incorporated into forecast models, we provide the Kp-speed distributions files for all three methods of identifying compressions and rarefactions. We describe a method to extend forecast lead times by estimating compression strength with a speed-time profile obtained from solar wind speed predictions based on solar, coronal, and/or heliospheric imaging observations. Key PointsCompressions and rarefactions have different Kp-speed relationshipsThe 2-day speed-time slope can be used to identify compressions and rarefactionsExpansion factors speed predictions could improve Kp-Speed forecast lead times

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-349
Number of pages11
JournalSpace Weather
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Kp
  • solar wind speed
  • space weather forecasts


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