Typically you’ll need to travel to Iceland, Alaska, or the northern reaches of Scandinavia to see the northern lights, but tonight you might be able to witness the aurora borealis from the northernmost parts of the continental United States.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a geomagnetic storm watch for the night of September 11, “due to the anticipated onset of coronal hole high speed stream.” Essentially, a large hole in the sun’s atmosphere is sending streams of solar wind toward the Earth that will light up and cause the aurora borealis when it hits the Earth’s atmosphere later this evening in the Northern Hemisphere.
Generally the northern lights are only visible closer to the North Pole, but during solar storms like this the aurora borealis extends equatorward, NOAA says.
From 5 to 8 p.m. ET on September 11, the storm will reach a G2-level on a scale that tops out at G5. While G2 is considered a moderate level, if a G5 storm hit Earth, there would be widespread radio and navigation signal blackouts, which would affect maritime and aviation systems, according to NOAA.
Even though the NOAA infographic (above) shows that the aurora will reach as far south as Washington State and Iowa during this storm, it’s likely it will only be visible from states where it will be dark before the most intense part of the storm is over around 8 p.m. ET. So if the weather is clear and you’re in upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine tonight, head outside to a place with minimal light pollution and look north.
To get an idea of what to expect, views like this were seen in Minnesota very early this morning at the beginning of the storm.
Headlights of vehicles on U.S. Highway 53 near Cotton #Minnesota shine under a glowing band of the northern lights early today pic.twitter.com/5lW1B7rXzr — Andrew Krueger (@akpix) September 11, 2018
For updated 30-minute aurora visibility forecasts tonight, visit swpc.noaa.gov.
>> Next: Why You Should Leave Your Camera at Home When You See the Northern Lights