August 05, 2011


There is a significant chance you can see an aurora around here tonight---assuming you can get away from the infernal low clouds.

There was a major solar storm yesterday and the impact is starting to be felt today in the earth's upper atmosphere.   Here is a plot from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

You can see the jump in the proton flux yesterday and if you look at the estimated Kp on the fourth line down (a measure of the disturbance of the earth's magnetic field) we have a fairly major event (estimated Kp values of around 8).  The SWPC has a handy map in which they estimate how far south the aurora will go relative to the Kp number.  Here is is:

The yellow line is for a Kp of 7 and it appears we have the aurora could well be visible tonight if you have a view of the sky.

The NOAA polar orbiting satellite can actually view auroras and here is the latest graphic (2243 UTC, 3:43 PM our time). The reddish color indicates the aurora and the position of solar noon by the red arrow.

Compare this to one day ago.  A big difference.

There are no guarantees in this aurora business, but there is a decent chance you can see an aurora tonight if the sky is clear.   

Major problem for those west of the Cascades...the low clouds.  Here is the latest visible satellite image.  Eastern Washington and above roughly 3000 ft  will be clear.  You simply have to get over the crest.  Possibly ok, at least initially, in the Willamette valley and near Victoria and north of Bellingham.  But the low clouds will deepen and spread again this evening on the west side. 

One of the most magic events of my youth was seeing a major aurora...with the shimmering curtains of color.   I hope many of you can share this...good luck


  1. If the Kp level persists, I'll probably head on up to Cle Elum for a view.

  2. I remember driving the Al-Can highway many years ago, and seeing auroras on several August nights in the Yukon - it's like nothing else!

    Waking up in the middle of the night with aurora light shining through the top of your tent can be a bit unsettling if you're not used to that (and I wasn't!).

  3. Check this out, Cliff... Unrelated but an awesome view of a thunderstorm with 2 anvils from the air.

  4. I saw it once- from summer camp in Bellingham. The most beautiful, eerie, magical thing I have seen. Wish I had pictures.

  5. This will blow the minds of all the Phishheads at The Gorge.

  6. I remember in August 1997 (I think it was), spending the night on top of Wright Mountain (above Gem Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness) and being treated to a fairly major show of the aurora. I wasn't expecting it, so it was a particular surprise and treat.

  7. bummer... doesn't look like I can quite catch it. I've had my share of interesting phenomena lately though... Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds and superior mirages!!!

  8. Had an outstanding view of Aurora activity here last night. Here is NW Lincoln County on the Columbia River east of the Grand Coulee Dam.

  9. Not a thing to be seen here in the Portland area. I looked nearly every 10 minutes up until 3:30am...


    Very disappointing!

    I did however see them from Moore Park over the lake in K Falls back in November 2004. That was spectacular, and the only time I've ever seen them.


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