Look for the Northern Lights Wednesday night
SPOKANE, Wash.– A series of geomagnetic storms will cross earth’s orbit on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. It’s the best odds we’ve had in some time to see the Aurora Borealis dance across our skies.
The Space Weather Prediction Center has a level three out of five Geomagnetic Storm Watch (G3) for the night of August 17 in the U.S. time zones. Several eruptions of plasma from the sun, called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) will combine to create a stronger solar storm than they would have separately as they zoom past us.
What does this mean for your odds of seeing the Northern Lights? We can see the aurora on the horizon during G1 storms sometimes, so if we do get a G3 it’s going to be a good show.
To forecast where we can see the Aurora, we use the Kp Index. The higher the number, the further south the Aurora will form. The stronger the solar storm, the higher the Kp number will be. The Space Weather Prediction Center is forecasting at Kp of seven. At Kp7, the Aurora could be clearly visible in the northern skies as far south as Lewiston and the Tri-Cities. Even those further south in Oregon and southern Idaho would get a good view low on the horizon.
The Wednesday morning SWPC forecast says that this Kp7 level is most likely to show up between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Pacific Time. That’s great timing for the Inland Northwest!
Sunset in Spokane is at 7:58 p.m. and twilight will finally disappear at around 9 p.m. The best time to go Aurora hunting then will be from 10 p.m. to midnight. However, Kp5 conditions are expected to last into Thursday morning, so any hour of the night will give you a decent chance.
Before you take the time to go out, check the Kp level here. Space weather forecasts can have a bit more error than forecasts for weather here on earth, so it pays to make sure the storm has gotten started.
The Aurora is not constant, it ebbs and flows, so be patient if you do go and find a dark patch of sky to look for it. Ideally, you want to get away from as many light sources as possible. Light pollution in urban areas can wash out even a strong Aurora, making it look like a dim blob of dusty gray in the northern sky.
Good hunting, and if you see the Aurora share it with us by submitting it to our weather photo gallery!
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