Update: Second chance at Northern Lights to end 2015?
Thursday Update: The original solar storm fizzled, but the wake solar flare has energized the atmosphere a bit, triggering some increased solar activity Thursday evening. Conditions have gone from "unlikely" to "marginal" for Northern Lights viewing around the Pacific Northwest. Many of you will be up late Thursday night anyway, take a peek to the north -- the lights might have a second life!
Wednesday night update: The solar storm ended up being pretty wimpy and there wasn't much of a Northern Lights display Wednesday night. However, Greg Johnson of skunkbayweather.com did manage to get a faint show on his cameras:
Skies might be tranquil over the Pacific Northwest for a while, but high above, a solar storm is expected to begin late Wednesday night into Thursday that has potential to trigger the Northern Lights.
The storm is courtesy of an explosion in sun spot AR2473 that occurred on Monday, according to spaceweather.com. The energy was still hurtling toward Earth and was expected to arrive sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday.
It'll be close whether the storm gets here early enough to catch the Pacific Northwest during nightfall, but NOAA is estimating a 90 percent chance of aurora activity when the solar storm arrives.
Aside from the timing challenge, most lowland areas will be dealing with fog, which is expected to develop after nightfall Wednesday night and be pretty stubborn for several days. There is hope that the fog will wait until later tonight to form, giving us a window of opportunity to see the lights before midnight if the storm is here already.
But if the storm is late and/or the fog is early, we can cross fingers that the storm lingers long enough to bring the aurora back around on Thursday night. Wouldn't that be a sight: New Year's Eve auroras! Just have to hope if that's the case, the fog stays away, which will be more of a challenge Thursday night as the ridge of high pressure gets more entrenched and the inversion becomes stronger.
If the fog isn't around, find a place away from city lights with a clear view of the northern horizon. Usually around midnight is peak time but they've been out as early as 10 p.m. and as late as 2 a.m. so it takes some persistence and... tolerance to the cold. One suggestion if it's foggy down here and you are REALLY eager to go somewhere, try up in the mountains above the fog layer. Bonus is you get away from city lights.
Also take note that lots of the photos you'll see of the Northern Lights around Seattle are taken with a camera on extended exposure -- usually around 15 seconds, so the aurora look much brighter on film than they will to your eye. Still, if the display is strong enough, you'll be able to see them with just your eye.
If you do venture out and manage to get a good photo, I'd love to see it! Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet it to me @ScottSKOMO -- I'll be on Twitter both Wednesday and Thursday night keeping an eye on solar conditions.