The aurora has been out this past week, but has been short-lived, quiet, and mostly low on the horizon. A few bursts were seen by those watching the skies patiently or on cam. It is a fun hobby to watch the cams. We are still watching and waiting for a better forecast to announce.
Many folks visiting Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska have been messaging ABN asking about auroras. For a quiet forecast where no storms are predicted, the best bet is to watch the skies anytime it’s dark, usually in the middle of the night, when the skies are clear, and look toward the north. Look low. If you know how to read the data, you can watch that as well. You can use an app to show you the Kp level, and websites to view other data. You can view the data directly on the NOAA Space Weather website, AuroraNotify.com, and several other websites who share NOAA data. If you are novice to aurora data, an easy read on this website is Learn To Hunt.
A popular spot is Cleary Summit near Fairbanks, as you can see for miles toward the northeast, in the direction of where a low aurora would be seen. Other locations outside of the city are the best, as you do not have streetlights interfering with your view. People who drive from Fairbanks to North Pole know what I am talking about….you may see nothing in Fairbanks, but driving toward North Pole, the aurora is seen immediately upon exiting the city. The new weigh stations ruin that view for about a mile with 50+ streetlights and blinding inspection bays. Also, there is a new bright LED sign placed on the highway that I think needs be dimmed a bit, like 75% of what it is, as it wrecks night driving in addition to the view of the aurora. Other than that, the drive south on the Richardson Highway, is very good, even with a quiet forecast.
For Anchorage and other south central locations and points south, a quiet forecast means no auroras in your area. You may be able to catch a glimpse from Hatcher Pass (facing north) or from the top of Skyline in Eagle River (also facing north). Quiet means a very low Kp level, 0, 1, or 2. With a 2 or 3, the lights become visible on the horizon.
If you want a better chance at seeing the lights other than driving out somewhere in the middle of the night randomly, you can go on an aurora tour. The professional aurora chasers and watchers will get you to the lights at the right time, and chase the lights to a good location, based on both the aurora forecast and the weather. I recommend Ronn Murray Photography and Skyfire in Focus Tours. Both are highly recommended. Dates are limited as the season is coming to an end, so call or write soon to secure your choice dates. Both tours will give you the opportunity to have your photo taken with the aurora.
That leads to another common question. Why does the season end, and when? Auroras are seen year round, as long as the sky gets dark. The sky does not get dark in the arctic in the summer, as the sun is up 24 hours a day. In Fairbanks, we have the midnight sun from the end of April to the beginning of August. Hours of darkness are very very short, so catching the aurora is easy, simply stay up during the dark hour(s). We do not report auroras after April 15 unless it is a big show, and the lights have a chance to be seen further south (upper portion of the contiguous USA). Many tourists who come up to Alaska in June have no chance at seeing auroras in most of the state. Juneau and other Inside Passage towns have a better chance because it does get dark at night longer than in Anchorage and Fairbanks.