Weather 101: Can we see the Northern Lights in New York?

Weather 101

Gigantic Aurora borealis (Northern Lights) above mountains near Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Alaska, USA

The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, are a dazzling display of colors in the night sky. While they are usually seen in the artic, sometimes a “geomagnetic storm” makes them visible further to the south!

The Northern Lights are caused by the “solar wind,” a stream of charged particles emitted from the sun. When these particles get close enough, they can collide with atoms and molecules in our atmosphere and release energy in the form of light. This whole process takes place 50 – 300 miles above the earth’s surface. Because Earth’s magnetic field directs these particles towards the poles, the Northern Lights are usually confined to the far northern latitudes – Think Alaska, northern Canada, Scandinavia, etc.

But every so often, a geomagnetic storm can occur when the sun emits more energy than usual. This process can make the lights visible further away from the poles!

We observed a “Coronal Mass Ejection” from the sun on Tuesday, and the energy is now making it to Earth. The strength of these storms determines exactly how far the lights make it. Originally, this was expected to be a G-3 level storm, where lights may be seen as far south as Pennsylvania.

New data from the Space Weather Prediction Center, however, shows that the storm is looking weaker than anticipated. Forecasters there now expect a G-1 level storm, where lights may be seen as far south as Southern Ontario/Quebec and into extreme northern Maine.

That means it’s less likely for those of us in Upstate New York to catch a glimpse this evening. If you want to try your luck, you can still look low in the sky, towards the north, after 9PM tonight and into the very early morning hours of Friday. Viewing will be better far away from city lights. They will likely be faint, if visible at all, with the more spectacular colors visible only over Canada.

Of course, you won’t be able to see anything without clear skies… Our forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions. Not perfect, but certianly better than the cloudy, snowy conditions we had last night!

Good luck catching a glimpse! If you’re able to snap photos, feel free to send them to us at the email address below! We’d love to feature them in the forecast!

pictures@news10.com

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