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Solar storm could spark Northern Lights around Northwest on Sunday night

Northern Lights appear over the Pacific Northwest on May 29, 2017. (Photo: JB Hawkins Photography)

SEATTLE -- As we set nearing four weeks since our last raindrop, storms are the farthest thing from our minds in the lowlands, but not so for the sun.

A solar flare erupted from the sun Friday morning, and NOAA space weather forecasters have issued a geomagnetic storm watch for Earth for Sunday and Monday.

The explosion, which lasted for more than two hours, "produced a sustained fusillade of X-rays and energetic protons that ionized the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere," according to spaceweather.com.

Solar flares in general are routine and fairly frequent depending on sun spot activity, and have no impact on us. Their main noticeable effect is to trigger the Northern Lights.

Washington is usually too far south to see the Northern Lights unless the storm is fairly strong. But early indications are that this storm's strength may be enough for the lights to reach this far south, and the forecast looks mostly clear that night. The moon will only be half full.

What to do? Simple. Just head outdoors and find some place away from city lights with a clear view of the northern horizon. Best time to look is traditionally between midnight and 2 a.m. but really any time after it gets dark is a good time to peek.

Just remember nearly all photos you see of the Northern Lights -- including the one atop this story -- are taken with extended exposure cameras that pick up the aurora's colors much better than the human eye. It takes a particularly strong storm to see them in color with the naked eye -- although there have been two storms strong enough in the past two years for just that. So be prepared that what you see just looking up may not match what you see on images posted of the same night.

Nonetheless, keep an eye on our social media channels Sunday evening and Sunday night and we'll let you know how the aurora conditions are looking.

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