Northern California Could See its Best Aurora Borealis Show in 20 Years in 2024

Northern California skywatchers are in for a celestial treat as experts predict an increase in auroras, commonly known as the Northern Lights, in regions where they are not frequently seen. This anticipated aurora spectacle is expected to occur in 2024 as the sun reaches the peak of its approximately 11-year solar cycle, known as the “solar maximum.”

This solar maximum is particularly exciting because the previous one in 2014 was the weakest in a century, making scientists hypothesize that this year could be even larger than expected. But what does this mean for Northern California and other regions not accustomed to witnessing the Northern Lights? Here’s what you need to know.

About the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights typically appear within a region around the Earth’s magnetic pole called the “auroral oval” or “auroral zone.” This zone is not static; it shifts and fluctuates depending on the strength of the solar wind, which consists of charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere. During the solar maximum, experts anticipate more frequent episodes when the auroral zone expands and becomes more active.

Solar Cycle 25, the sun’s current cycle, commenced in December 2019. This cycle is expected to peak earlier and with greater intensity than previously predicted by NOAA. Solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and sunspots are among the solar events that are anticipated to increase in frequency and strength in 2024. Sunspots, in particular, are areas on the sun’s surface with higher magnetic force and are related to solar flares and CMEs.

During periods of increased solar energy, the auroral zone becomes thicker and extends further south. This could mean that people in regions like the Midwest and even further south (i.e. California) may have a chance to witness the aurora once or twice during this solar cycle. In NorCal, the 40th parallel runs right through Redding, California

In Northern California, photographers have brought the Northern Lights to the attention of the general public, following forecasts and photographing them throughout the region. While they aren’t as strong as places further north, they can still be an exhilarating experience. Back in November, photographer Dakota Snider even captured glimpses of the aurora as far south as Mammoth Lakes:

How To See Them

It’s important to follow the right resources to know when they are coming. Aurora forecasting apps such as NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, Aurora Alerts, and My Aurora Forecast & Alerts can aid enthusiasts in predicting the best times to observe the Northern Lights and how far south the auroral oval will extend based on solar activity. On average, auroras are more frequent around the March and October equinoxes.

Aurora enthusiasts should also consider factors such as timing and location. Cloudy or light-polluted skies can obstruct aurora sightings. To escape light pollution, resources like DarkSky.org can help individuals locate certified international dark sky places around the world.

With solar activity levels higher than in the past two decades and expected to continue increasing into 2024, skywatchers in Northern California and beyond have a rare opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the Northern Lights.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

20 Comments

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