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‘Northern Lights’ Could Be Visible in California This Weekend

‘Northern Lights’ Could Be Visible in California This Weekend

Aurora borealis as viewed from Saskatchewan, Canada, on April 12, 2023. (Gunjan Sinha)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

5/10/2024

Updated: 5/10/2024

Northern Californians have a rare chance to see the northern lights— typically best seen in Alaska—Friday and Saturday night amid a severe geomagnetic storm.
The rare event could mean the phenomenon—technically called aurora borealis— is visible in the United States from as far north as Alaska to as far south as Alabama.
Until this weekend, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which forecasts weather and monitors ocean and atmospheric conditions, hadn’t issued such a storm warning since January 2005.
A geomagnetic storm results from variations in solar wind, which produce changes in Earth’s ionosphere that can disrupt the power grid, radio signals, and GPS readings, according to a CNN report.
The University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysical Institute said the northern lights are most likely to be seen on Saturday night in California.
The auroral displays will be visible overhead from northwest Canada to Carson City, Nevada; Oklahoma City; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Raleigh, North Carolina; and low on the horizon from Southern California, Phoenix, Austin, and Montgomery, Alabama.
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center has been monitoring the sun since May 8 after a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which NOAA describes as large expulsions of plasma from the sun’s corona.
The aurora borealis is not likely to be seen in big cities such as San Francisco or Sacramento because of light pollution. Would-be viewers are encouraged to try a national park, remote beach or mountain peak.
According to SFGate, good places to try to see the lights will be at Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo or the Chabot observatory in Oakland.
“If you happen to be in an area where it’s dark and cloud-free and relatively unpolluted by light, you may get to see a fairly impressive aurora display, and that’s really the gift from space weather, is the aurora,” Rob Steenburgh, a space scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told reporters Friday morning.
Ryan Wyatt, senior director of San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, is optimistic the Bay Area will have a good view Saturday night.
“This is certainly the most promising set of conditions I’ve seen in my 17 years in San Francisco,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Clouds could make it impossible to see the display. The aurora will be barely visible during lower flares, but during peaks it will brighten the sky with hues of purple green, and blue.
Be prepared to stay up late, and give your eyes time to adjust. Experts also recommend a long-exposure camera to capture the display. .
In March 2023, the aurora made an appearance near Shasta Lake in Northern California, which might be a potential viewing point for this weekend’s storm.
While Northern Californians are hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare event, officials are considering the possible disruption of satellite communications, GPS systems, and power grids.
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