The chances of seeing the northern lights are higher for the next couple of nights, but Western Washington’s trademark fall weather could cloud things over.
We’re talking about two types of weather here: The space weather side of the equation, relating to geomagnetic storms sparked by the solar wind, looks promising. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center says there’s a heightened chance of minor (G1) to moderate (G2) storms tonight and on Wednesday night.
Wednesday night’s space weather forecast suggests an aurora should be visible across the northern tier of the United States.
However, the atmospheric weather side of the equation plays a role as well. National Weather Service’s Seattle office notes that clouds will be approaching Western Washington after midnight:
— NWS Seattle (@NWSSeattle) October 24, 2017
That means viewing conditions look good for tonight, with mostly clear skies, but could fade just as the auroral display builds to its anticipated peak on Wednesday.
If you want to try your luck, keep a few things in mind: It’s best to watch for the aurora from a spot that’s far away from city lights with clear exposure to the north. The chances of seeing the show typically are better between midnight and dawn, but you have to consider changes in sky conditions as well.
Northern lights tend to look a lot subtler to the naked eye than they do in a long-exposure photo. Some folks actually confirm what they’re seeing by snapping a picture and getting an enhanced look at the telltale green glow.
Here are some online links for updated aurora forecasts, plus tips on where to go:
- Aurora Forecast from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
- Space Weather Prediction Center, with 30-minute and 3-day forecasts.
- SWPC’s Planetary K-Index chart shows expectations for geomagnetic levels.
- The Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard is a gold mine for geeks. And be sure to check in on SWPC’s Facebook page.
- Soft Serve News pulls together the SWPC predictions on one webpage and provides the bottom line for the next 45 minutes.
- SpaceWeather.com rounds up all the news about auroras, eclipses, meteors and other sky extravaganzas – with an aurora photo gallery as well.
- MtAdams.tv and Skunk Bay Weather provide frequently updated webcam views that will catch the northern lights even if you sleep through them. MtAdams.tv has a Facebook page and a Northwest Aurora Detector as well.
- National Weather Service forecast page includes a sky-cover forecast.
- Astronomer-educator Alice Enevoldsen’s Seattle guide to aurora viewing.