Northern lights: Aurora borealis could be coming to northern US – USA TODAY

Northern lights: Aurora borealis could be coming to northern US - USA TODAY
You may get a chance to see the northern lights this week
The sun may be quiet, but that doesn't mean it's not doing anything. In fact, overnight Monday and into early Tuesday morning particles from it reached Earth, providing people with a beautiful northern lights show. The good news is you may get another chance to see it in the days ahead.

According to NASA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), particles from the sun may enter Earth's magnetic field on May 15 and 16 UTC (UTC is not a time zone but a time standard used by astronomers). This corresponds to May 14 and 15 for North America.

A geomagnetic storm watch is now in effect for Wednesday, May 15, and Thursday, May 16. US space weather forecasters at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) expect charged particles from the Sun to wash over the Earth this week. The storm watch comes five days after the Sun released a monstrous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of hot gas known as plasma. The SWPC noticed three separate CME events this month, with the first two ready to strike this week.

The sun goes through a cycle of activity every 11 years. Right now it's in its quiet phase, with few sunspots — if any — on a given day (over the past year the sun has mostly been blank, with no sunspots).

The SWPC said: “While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents in the power grid and pipelines.”

However, over the past two weeks, we've had a few creep up. And this is good: When the sun is active, we get a better chance of seeing some activity here on Earth.

Solar storm INCOMING: A powerful stream of energy from the Sun will strike Earth TOMORROW

The northern lights are caused by charged particles that travel along the solar wind and interact with different molecules in our atmosphere. Every so often a sunspot can propel these particles much more quickly toward Earth. Usually, our magnetosphere acts as a shield around the planet, preventing most of the particles from getting in. But every so often, either there's an opening in the magnetic field or a lot of particles are moving quickly and essentially overpower it.

Aurora near the north pole – the Northern Lights – are created when solar winds excite particles of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere to the point where they give off light.

On Monday night an opening appeared in our magnetic field that allowed these particles to flow inward. It was a surprise display that thrilled many. They were even seen as far south as Iowa.

Sun shoots 3 weak magnetic storms at Earth, may combine for northern lights

If you missed it, good news: the SWPC is forecasting that three coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that released fast-moving particles are heading our way. Though they're not as powerful as some that are associated with solar flares, with any luck, our magnetic field will comply, and those charged particles will enter our magnetic field.

The NOAAs Space Weather Prediction Center issued a storm watch earlier this week for Wednesday into Thursday and has since extended the forecast into Friday.

In northern Canada, in places like Yellowknife, Whitehorse or Fort Smith, the northern lights are seen frequently, as they travel along the magnetic field lines on the auroral oval, which is like a donut around the poles. Sometimes the donut shifts farther south, and that allows people farther south to be treated to the light show.

You could just go outside and look north (though, if you happen to be in the north, it could be south or all around you). Or you can check to see what your chances are of viewing the show in your area.

The incoming storm also means people in some northern latitudes, including parts of the United States, could have a chance to spot the Northern Lights.  

The SWPC has a scale called the K Index that measures geomagnetic activity on a scale from 0 to 10. For cities like Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, a K index of 4 (or even lower sometimes) means you'll likely be able to see the northern lights. But for cities like Toronto and Vancouver, you'll need a higher index.

It may seem funny coming from me, a meteorologist, to question a forecast. Ive seen the more likely northern lights forecasts not show northern lights. Ive also seen low chance forecasts end up with vibrant northern lights. This is one reason northern lights remain so elusive to see, and exciting to hunt.

You can check the SWPC's site to find out where the measurement is on the scale. There are also apps available (search "space weather") and also sites like and

NASA says the recent energy shots from the sun, called Coronal Mass Ejections or CMEs, were weak CMEs. NASA says, however, that the combined strength of the three CMEs should disturb Earths magnetosphere enough to produce northern lights over the next few days.

Geomagnetic Storm Headed for Earth Could Mean Auroras Will Be Visible over Parts of U.S.

If you're in a city, try to get away from the lights. Drive a bit north and you increase your chances. Or you can set up a camera to take a 15-second exposure using an ISO of 1600 at f/4 or lower.

Remember that these are predictions based on observations, but there's no guarantee. Still, it's better to be prepared and not miss out on the potential of witnessing a truly magnificent sight.

Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.

Typically, the natural phenomenon — also known as the Northern Lights — only makes it this far north due to geomagnetic storms that create coronal mass ejections, according to 19 News Meteorologist Kelly Dobeck.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

If you missed out on the view last night, The Space Prediction Center reports another geomagnetic storm could arrive later this week, making Aurora viewing possible the the nights of May 15 and 16.

Cross your fingers for clear skies this week because parts of Canada could be treated to a spectacular show thanks to an incredible atmospheric phenomenon — the Northern Lights.

TOLEDO, OH (WOIO) – Northern Ohio got a rare treat Monday when the Aurora Borealis painted the night sky in the Toledo area.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a G1 Minor Geomagnetic Storm Watch for May 15 and 16.

However, Canadas Space Weather Forecast says a solar storm is set to display the Northern Lights on the evening of May 14 (aka tonight).

If you were awake and looking upwards overnight you may have witnessed a sky show last night. A strong (G3) geomagnetic storm triggered vivid auroras across the northern Great Lakes Monday night. Green curtains of Northern light waves flashed from upstate New York to Minnesota.

If youre looking up at tonights skies, NOAAs Aurora Forecast model shows that your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Canada is if you are located in the red zones.

Paul Huttner is chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio. Huttner has worked TV and radio stations in Minneapolis, Tucson and Chicago. Paul is a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul and holds a bachelor’s degree in geography with an emphasis in meteorology.

To catch the lights in full display, try to head away from city centres, light pollution, and competing light sources in the sky.

A few spotty showers may dot the Doppler late this afternoon and evening as a fading front sags south across Minnesota. Temperatures rise into the 70s this week. The Twin Cities peaks around 80 degrees with humidity Thursday afternoon.

Dont forget your cameras, remember to be patient, and sit back and enjoy Mother Natures light show!

NOAA’s GFS model has been cranking out widespread 2 to 4 inches-plus rainfall totals over the upcoming weekend. With dew points in the 60s to near 70 and multiple storms waves, we could see those kinds of rainfall totals locally.