GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The sun is currently in an “active cycle,” meaning there is an increase in sun spots and coronal mass ejections.
For those of us here on earth, it means an increased chance in seeing the northern lights.
HOW ACCURATE ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS FORECASTS?
Space weather prediction is still fairly unreliable, but it is accurate enough to be able to detect when the sun sends bursts of energy our way. Along with a possible disruption of GPS signals at very high latitudes, these electromagnetic bursts of energy can give us a good shot at seeing the northern lights!
Experts are reporting that the sun has generated a class C2.4 flare with a rough arrival time to Earth on Aug. 17 and 18.
Right now, it appears areas north of Lake Superior will have the best chance of seeing the aurora.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?
One of the best ways to determine if you can see the northern lights in your area is to pay attention to something called the ‘KP Index’ forecast. The KP Index forecast directly reflects who is most likely to see a northern lights event based on the strength and impact of the CME headed towards Earth.
Right now, the forecast for Aug. 17 and 18 is currently calling for a KP Index of higher than five. A high KP Index is also possible Sept. 3 and 4.
Just like a weather forecast, the KP Index can change. It is important to keep an eye on the forecast and to know that space weather is much less accurate than a daily weather forecast.
As a general rule of thumb:
- The Upper Peninsula sees the northern lights when the KP Index is 4-6
- West Michigan sees the northern lights when the KP Index is 6-8
Here is a picture to use as a guide, showing how far south an aurora event is visible based on the KP Index value.
WILL THE WEATHER ALLOW FOR GOOD VIEWING?
The weather will be on our side if the aurora decides to spring to life over West Michigan later this week. Night skies are expected to be mostly clear with dry conditions and low humidity.
The moon phase later this week will be a waning gibbous with more than 50% illumination. This and city lights could lessen the opportunity to spot the aurora on the nights of Aug. 17 and 18.