Thursday, July 13 – Nature enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the mesmerizing northern lights may have their hopes tempered, as the highly anticipated phenomenon is anticipated to be visible in fewer locations than originally projected. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, which initially predicted high activity, has now classified the aurora borealis during this period as “active.”
Weather permitting, specific regions in Alaska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, and parts of Canada are expected to have the opportunity to witness the breathtaking display on Thursday. These same states were previously anticipated to experience the spectacle on Wednesday as well.
Just a week ago, the institute’s projection encompassed 17 states over the course of these two days. The list included Washington, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Massachusetts on July 12, followed by Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Indiana, Vermont, and Maryland on July 13.
According to a representative from the institute, who corresponded with CBS News via email, the initial forecast was based on the expectation of a moderate solar storm, known to generate such activity. However, recent observations indicate that the solar features responsible for the previous surge of activity have diminished over the past month. Consequently, the likelihood of the initially projected high levels of activity has significantly decreased.
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) also initially predicted heightened activity for this week but subsequently revised their forecast. NASA explains that the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are triggered by solar wind from coronal holes in the sun interacting magnetically with the Earth.
Bryan Brasher, a project manager at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, clarified in an email to CBS News that one specific coronal hole had previously displayed increased activity, leading forecasters to anticipate a similar pattern. However, upon its reappearance, it became evident that its activity had diminished, prompting a revision of the forecast.
The intensity of geomagnetic storms, which instigate the northern lights, is measured on the G scale, ranging from G1 (minor storm) to G5 (extreme storm). The original forecast that garnered significant attention was categorized as a G2 event. However, NOAA subsequently downgraded it to a G1 and eventually adjusted it below the G scale.
Brasher explained that for mid-latitude states to have the opportunity to observe the northern lights, a G3 or G4 storm would be required. He noted that in late March and late April, G4 storms occurred, resulting in the aurora being visible as far south as Arizona and Oklahoma.
To optimize viewing conditions, it is recommended to observe the lights when the sky is clear and dark. The institute suggests that the lights are most visible closest to the equinox, which occurs during the spring and fall when the days are longest. Auroras are a product of solar storms.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers an animated forecast illustrating the movement of the lights and advises that the best time to view them is within an hour or two of midnight, usually between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time.
During periods of average activity, the northern lights are typically visible in Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavian countries such as Greenland and Iceland. Late February to early April is generally considered the prime time to witness the spectacle in Alaska.