Northern lights expected in Washington, Oregon for Halloween weekend

Massive solar flare could bring supercharged aurora borealis

Friday 1 p.m. UPDATE: The coronal mass ejection (CME) that could produce the northern lights is now expected to impact Washington state on Saturday, NASA and NOAA predict.


KENNEWICK, Wash. — The northern lights are forecast for Washington and as far south as Oregon, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said on Friday morning.

It all started with a very large solar flare (class X1) on Thursday. A strong geomagnetic storm watch is in effect as the plasma cloud from the coronal mass ejection (CME) heads toward Earth’s magnetic field. This can spark the aurora borealis in the Pacific Northwest, according to NOAA.

 

Estimates on when the plasma may arrive have varied. Friday night/Saturday morning is a possibility. A daytime arrival on Saturday morning or afternoon would mean we’d miss out on a major nighttime light show but some residual effects could be seen after nightfall. If the impact time is later Saturday/early Sunday, we stand a good chance to see the aurora borealis on the horizon.

The energetic particles hurtling toward Earth could also temporarily impact our way of life. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation; the particles won’t hit us (we’re protected by Earth’s atmosphere) but can disturb GPS, telecommunication signals and even our power grid.

On the NOAA Space Weather Scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme), this geomagnetic storm is a G3 (strong) for Saturday and Sunday, and carries these possible impacts:

Power systems: Voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.

Spacecraft operations: Surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.

Other systems: Intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50° geomagnetic lat.).

The aurora component of the solar storm is measured with a K-index ranging from 0 (quiet) to 9 (extreme). This storm was listed on Friday to get up to Kp-7 (strong). 3-DAY FORECAST

This is all subject to change as new data comes in. There is a  Facebook group called Aurora Borealis Washington State that can help you learn more and find a good viewing spot. One tip is to get away from city light pollution and look to the north 4-6 a.m. Saturday and after sunset Saturday-3 a.m. Sunday.

If you capture the northern lights, we’d love to see and share it! Add your photo to our gallery, email news@kappkvew.com or tag us on social media; be sure to tell us when/where you took your photo.

While we wait to see the results on the horizon to the north, check out the solar flare in action as well as previous aurora sightings below.

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