ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — High latitude sky watchers should be on the alert for auroras the evening of Thursday, April 14th with a non-zero possibility auroras could dance as far south as WNY.
As of Thursday April 14th, a moderately strong G2-class Geomagnetic Storm remains underway. In other words, a series of “sun burps” are currently being projected toward earth. Sounds weird right? Our sun occasionally releases these solar burps or flares that are essentially chunks of energy that fly out into space. Sometimes this energy doesn’t run into anything important. Sometimes it runs into earth.
This is one of those times, with this solar flare arriving as a result of a dead sunspot CME. Storms like this have the tendency to produce auroras that dive as south as Idaho and New York State.
When these flares reach earth’s magnetic field, vivid auroras can dance across the poles. These geomagnetic storms, as we call them, are rated on a scale from 1-5 based on potency and subsequent impacts to earth. The bigger the number, the more intense the storm. In terms of auroras, the bigger the storm, the farther south auroras will be able to be seen.
Now that we’ve gotten the technicals out of the way, let’s get into the meat and potatoes as it relates to us. Auroras visible in WNY are not everyday occurrences, but they do happen.
Our ability to see them locally hinges on two factors. 1) A geomagnetic storm of sufficient intensity (I generally like to see at least a G3 rating) and 2) A sky overhead that isn’t full of clouds.
Cloud cover is the most common issue we run into when discussing our ability to see these things. What makes this situation a bit more unique is the fact that we have relatively rare blue skies in place this afternoon, and are anticipating partly cloudy skies to last through midnight.
A G2-class aurora is typically borderline to see across WNY, but G3 forecasts can drive auroras as far south as the NY/PA line. Given the chaotic nature space weather forecasts can have, it’s not entirely impossible additional strengthening into a G3 storm occurs and gets us that visibility.
As a fellow lover of all things space, this isn’t my first rodeo. Predicting the weather is hard. Predicting the timing and intensity of these sun burps is harder. I don’t envy the brilliant minds tasked with predicting this stuff.
That said, the complexity results in an inherent element of the unknown. I’ve seen many G2+ predictions fail to live up to the hype. Conversely, I’ve seen a few surprise storms that came out of nowhere. My point is, predictions are just that…predictions. There is no telling exactly when and how strong/southward these auroras will get. When/if the impact happens, we’ll know pretty quick what we’re working with. But if that G2 upgrades to a G3, history tells us auroras can dance across WNY.
So let’s say it happens. Auroras tend to favor local midnight into the wee hours of the morning. While theoretically visible at our latitude, they will almost certainly not appear directly overhead. Rather, you’ll have to have a clean view looking northward to see them. Focus less on what is directly overhead, but what the sky will look like toward the northern horizon.
The current forecast is the best I’ve seen in a while around here. It’s not too often you get an almost clear night where a frontal boundary isn’t on the approach. I’m not telling you there won’t be a few clouds in the sky, but there should be enough clearing to warrant a decent view provided the off chance the stronger storm plays out. For once it seems like the weather is on our side tonight, but will space cooperate?
WHAT: Northern lights *possibly* visible across northern latitudes, including WNY.
WHEN: Thursday night-Friday morning, favoring midnight into wee hours of the morning.
HOW TO SEE IT: You’ll want an unimpeded view to the north where trees/building won’t be in your way.
FORECAST: Partly cloudy skies make for a rare and exciting opportunity for viewing.