March 07, 2012

Will You See the Aurora Tonight?

I have gotten several emails about this, so let me provide some brief guidance.  The short answer:  probably not because of clouds.

There was a major solar event yesterday and with clear skies several of you saw a nice display last night.  In fact, Greg Johnson has captured last night's event on his web cam video (click on image to see video)


The event peaked last night and based on the Kp index, seems to be declining (see graphic). 

According to the guidance from the NOAA Space Weather Center, another solar event should cause a new peak in the Kp index sometime tonight (sometime after 10 PM):  Here is their latest forecast (in GMT--subtract 8 hrs for PST):

As shown from the graphic below, it needs to reach the 5-7 level for us to see much--something they are predicting for tonight.

But there is a problem for us...skies around here are no longer clear...we are getting considerable high clouds coming around the offshore ridge.  Here is the latest infrared satellite picture:

You see the problem.

The weather prediction models also forecast clouds and here are the simulations of what a satellite image would look like at 1 AM and  4 AM.  Yes, there are thin, high clouds in the forecast.  Better if you go south and east...but going south gets you away from the aurora.

Maybe we will luck out...there will be a thin spot in the clouds.  Viewing a good aurora is an amazing experience.


  1. Thanks for the quick update Cliff. I wish I'd paid attention and watched last night - at least I'll probably get more sleep tonight instead of staying up with fingers crossed, gazing northward.

  2. From what I can tell, based on the NASA SWPC's Activity Summary, the activity last night (07/0421Z) was attributable to an X1 event on 05 March.

    While activity is declining now, last night's X5 event has not arrived. The forecast indicates its arrival “is estimated to be sometime between 0600-1000Z” (08 March), which is later tonight.

    It goes on: “Minor to major storm levels are expected to continue partway (6-12 hours) into the second day (09 March).” That, of course, includes Thursday evening here.

    I have no expertise in any of these fields though; this is just my lay interpretation of what I've read.

  3. Roderick,
    You are correct. I have added the latest forecast for the event that should reach us tonight. The problem is still the clouds....

  4. Cliff-

    I recently returned from a trip to Alaska, solely for the purpose of seeing the Aurora, about an hour north of Fairbanks.

    Definitely something to behold! I hope we get a good show tonight.

  5. First time I ever saw the aurora was in the middle of the night in northern British Columbia. They were bright enough to shine through the top of our tent! Truth be told, it freaked me out a little bit until I'd completely woken up - but it certainly was amazing.

  6. After an afternoon of high cloud, filtered sunshine in E eash, it is perfectly clear now (9pm). No sign yet. Will a full moon play a factor is visability?

    "Viewing an aurora is an amazing experience." Just curious, to leave such a remark, you must have been somewhere to see one firsthand. When and where were ya?

  7. Not being an astronomer, Cliff overlooked the very bright full moon which will make good viewing difficult, even if the sky is completely clear. 'Looks like we got the double whamey

  8. cliff, thanks for the update. i am a regular reader and am currently traveling in south africa and am curious if the southern hemisphere also experiences aurora? the southern lights?

  9. Jeremy: Yes, "Aurora Australis" is the name for the same effect in the Southern Hemisphere. It is far rarer to see just because of the lack of habitable landmass in the zone that the Aurora usually manifests. Cape Town is at the equivalent latitude to Atlanta, GA. Melbourne is equivalent to San Fran, CA. New Zealand has the only realistic zones for viewing the occasional display - Invercargill is furthest south, equivalent to roughly Portland, WA.

  10. NOAA's aurora forecast page:

  11. Cliff-
    Based on the current forecast model runs on the 4KM domain for Washington 1-hour it shows that nice rain shadow will be over Sequim this weekend, but on the contrary the NWS forecast shows an 80% chance of rain. Who is more likely correct? The reason I care so much is because I am a promoter for a bike race being held on Saturday in Sequim and its much easier to prod people onto the ferries and across the souds if they know the rain shadow is likely to hold.


  12. I saw the aurora on Thursday night in Bellevue about 9pm. Quite spectacular, but not much color. Still pretty good viewing for as far South as we are.


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