We’re often asked how people can see the Aurora Borealis in Northern California. It’s not easy to see, but there are ways to plan your views of the rare natural phenomenon.
If you missed the dazzling display of Northern Lights last week, don’t worry – there are still opportunities to see this stunning natural phenomenon in the next few years. According to space weather experts, there should be at least one or two similarly sized geomagnetic storms every year, and several more could occur annually, causing the Northern Lights to be visible in NorCal.
The recent Northern Lights were the result of a severe geomagnetic storm, the largest in the last seven years. Intense auroras are most likely to occur at lower latitudes near the equinox around March, April, September, and October, around 11 p.m. local time. During those months, you can follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather forecasts to see the geomagnetic K-index, a measure of the strength of the storms, hit 7.
To catch the Northern Lights, enthusiasts should try to get as far away from city lights as possible and find a dark area with a clear sky. Clouds could block the lights, but on a clear night, viewers will be in for a sight to remember. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center can typically issue forecasts two days in advance, though sometimes the center is only able to give about 30 minutes advance notice.
The Northern Lights occur due to a type of space weather known as coronal mass ejections, which are expulsions of millions of tons of plasma, a fourth state of matter formed by superheating gas from the sun’s outer atmosphere (the corona), that then travels 1 million to 2 million mph to reach Earth.