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Northern Lights Forecast: How to predict the Aurora Borealis

Checking the Northern Lights forecast was really complex not so long ago since there were no free tools and apps like the ones we have available nowadays.

The great advances in technology have allowed us to predict the Northern Lights quite accurately, so much so that today it’s possible to plan trips to see the Northern Lights weeks in advance, ensuring a good display of lights.

However, in order to do this, you need to know how to read the Northern Lights forecast and be patient. No matter how good you are with predicting the Northern Lights, forecasts can change in minutes!

Northern Lights forecast

How to predict the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights forecast is all about physics, formulas, and numbers, but don’t worry. There are many Northern Lights trackers, making Aurora prediction straightforward to the average person. Now it’s easier than ever to understand it.

I’ve been photographing Northern Lights all over the world over the last few years, and in this article, I’ll summarize all my knowledge so you can learn how to read the Northern Lights forecast in an easy and digestible way.

Content:

  1. How to predict Northern Lights
  2. Northern Lights forecast tonight
  3. Northern Lights forecast in Iceland
  4. Northern Lights forecast in Alaska
  5. Northern Lights forecast in Canada
  6. Northern Lights forecast in Norway
  7. Northern Lights forecast in Finland
  8. Solar cycle and Northern Lights: Is 2020 a good year to see Northern Lights?

How to predict the Northern Lights

Before telling you how to predict the Northern Lights, I recommend that you take a look at our articles on the best time to see Northern Lights and the best places to see Northern Lights. If you aren’t in the right place at the right time, it will be very difficult to have a favorable Northern Lights forecast.

Aurora Borealis forecast

Northern Lights arch in Iceland – KP3

Now, let’s learn to read the Aurora forecast and the Northern Lights maps so you can predict the Northern Lights in real-time.

In the Northern Lights forecast, there are three main indicators for tracking the Aurora:

KP Northern Lights forecast

The KP index is the most common way to forecast the Northern Lights, and you can use it both for short-term and long-term Aurora prediction.

This Aurora forecast indicator (known as “planetary K-index”), is simply a scale to measure the geomagnetic activity that is directly related to Northern Lights visibility. Here you can learn a little more about what causes the northern lights.

The KP-index has a range of 0-9, and, generally speaking, has the following implications for the Northern Lights forecast:

  • The higher the KP-index the further south you can see the Northern Lights.
  • The higher the KP-index the more likely you are to see a big Northern Lights display at a high latitude.

 

For example, with a KP 3, you’re very likely to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, but if you want to see the Northern Lights in England, the data says that you’ll need a KP 5 or higher.

KP is just an indicator, but in most situations:

KP 1 to 3: Auroras are usually quiet and faint. The predominant color is green, and they are most visible in the northern sky at high latitudes.

KP 4 to 6: The Northern Lights are active. You can see how they move across the sky and they’ll possibly show vivid colors like yellow, bluish, or purple tones. Aurora coronas are also possible and the Northern Lights can be visible at lower latitudes, such as in England or the Northern states of the USA.

KP 7 to 9: Aurora strong storms. The Northern Lights are very active. They can cover the entire sky and show rarer colors like red. Aurora coronas are common and the Northern Lights can be visible at lower latitudes such as California, France, and even northern Spain.

It is already considered a solar storm of grade G1 at KP5. KP6 indicates a solar storm of grade G2, KP7 means a solar storm of grade G3, KP8 means a solar storm of grade G4 and KP9 solar storm of grade G5, the maximum ever recorded.

kp index infography explanation northern lights forecast

Long-Term Northern Lights forecast – Long-term KP Index

It is difficult to predict the Northern Lights over the long term.

Coronal mass ejections, which cause most of the solar storms and, therefore, stronger Auroras, are forecast 15 days in advance, but their strength and shape can vary once they get closer to Earth.

The best way to forecast the Northern Lights in advance is by using the long-term KP index.

I use the display of SpaceWeatherlive since they also show the moon phase and it’s very intuitive to use.

Long term KP Northern Lights forecast

Long term KP forecast by Spaceweatherlive

Is the KP-forecast a good Northern Lights Forecast tracker?

Always take this index with a pinch of salt because it’s not 100% accurate. It’s the best Northern Lights forecast indicator, but sometimes you can see strong displays with low KPs and vice versa.

Additionally, the KP-forecast takes some time to be updated, and strong geomagnetic activity happens very quickly. Sometimes the strong Northern Lights may have passed, even before they have updated the KP index.

How to read Northern Lights forecast

Northern Lights KP5 in Iceland

Ovation Auroral Northern Lights prediction

The Ovation Auroral forecast is a model that provides a short-term Northern Lights forecast.

This model displays the Northern Lights forecast map around the Auroral oval zone, so if you’re inside the Northern Lights covered area or around 500 miles (800 km) above or below, you’ll have a chance of seeing the Aurora.

The intensity of the Aurora is shown in different colors from green (faint/normal activity) to yellow (higher activity) to red (very strong activity).

This Aurora forecast is also known as the NOAA Northern Lights forecast since it’s provided by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

Below you can see the NOAA Northern Lights forecast in real-time:

The Ovation Auroral forecast provides a short-term Aurora forecast. If you go to their website and press play, you’ll see an animated graphic with the Northern Lights viewing forecast for today.

Solar Rotation − Long-Term Northern Lights Forecast

Another thing to consider in long-term Northern Lights forecast is the solar rotation.

The sun rotates on its axis in a 27-day cycle, and if it ‘spits’ a big amount of solar particles towards the earth, it’s very likely that this event will occur again after 27 days.

Just as an example, during Aug 31st and the Sept 1st last year, there was a KP 5. Twenty-seven days later, on Sept 27th and 28th, the KP was 5. And 27 days later, on Oct 25th and 26th, the KP was again 5.

You can check all this data on the following Aurora and solar activity archive.

However, don’t take this as a rule of thumb. It’s just another way to predict Northern Lights visibility in the long run.

Northern lights forecast tonight

The simplest and most straightforward way to know the long-term Aurora forecast and the Northern Lights forecast for tonight is by using an Aurora application.

Most of the Aurora Forecast apps will show you all the things we mentioned before in a user-friendly and digestible manner, like the long term KP, the short term KP, and the Ovation Auroral forecast according to your location.

Northern Lights application to predict the Aurora

An Aurora App is the easiest way to forecast Northern Lights

Some of them also include more technical data, like the solar wind direction and speed and even pictures of the sunspots.

To me, the most interesting feature included in the best Northern Lights forecast apps is the alert and notification system that triggers when the KP is rising in your location.

Best aurora borealis prediction app

There are many great Northern Lights prediction apps on the market, but my favorite and the one I always use is “My Aurora forecast”. This free app includes all the basic and advanced features in addition to a cloud forecast according to your location.

Best iPhone app for Northern Lights prediction

Bear in mind that the solar activity doesn’t affect everywhere the same way. Also, some Northern Lights conditions, like the weather, change drastically from one location to another, so it’s important to know the best Northern Lights prediction for viewing Auroras depending on where you are.

Bear in mind that no matter how big the solar storm is, if the sky is covered, you’ll see nothing. In addition to using Aurora Borealis prediction tools, you need to check the weather forecast. Specifically, you want to check the cloud coverage, and for this, it’s very useful to use local tools that will show you the locations with clear skies nearest to you where you can go see the Aurora.

These are the best Northern Lights forecasts depending on your location:

Northern Lights forecast in Iceland

The best Northern Lights forecast in Iceland is provided by the Icelandic Met office site.

Best way to predict Northern lights in Iceland

Northern Lights in Iceland – G1 storm

On this site, you’ll see at a glance:

  • The Reykjavik Northern Lights forecastand the Aurora prediction for all the other areas in Iceland.
  • The Moon phase. This is also interesting since the full moon can make weak Auroras less visible. However, we have also been able to see the Northern Lights with a full moon.
  • The cloud coveragein real-time. This is the most essential tool for chasing the Aurora across the island.
Northern Lights forecast in Iceland

Aurora and cloud forecast in Iceland – Vedur

Related to the long-term Northern Lights forecast in Iceland, you can check Spaceweatherlive.

You can find more information in this article we wrote about the best time and places to see Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights forecast Alaska

In terms of the best Northern Lights forecast in Alaska, the most complete site is the Geophysical institute of Alaska.

On this site you’ll find:

  • The Alaska Northern Lights forecast in Fairbanks, Anchorage and all the Alaskan territory.
  • The Ovation Auroral prediction.
  • The current moon phase.
  • The 27-day long-term Aurora forecast for Alaska.
Northern Lights forecast Alaska

Aurora Forecast in Alaska – G.I. Alaska

You can also predict the Northern Lights in Fairbanks using this Northern Lights in real-time camera.

Lastly, this satellite cloud forecast for Alaska will help you succeed on your Northern Lights chasing experience in “the last frontier”.

For general Northern Lights forecasting in the USA, such as, for example, the Aurora forecast in MinnesotaMontana and other cities where you can see the Lights during big displays, I suggest checking the Aurora forecast from NOAA for short-term forecast and Spaceweatherlive for long-term forecast.

Northern Lights forecast Canada

For the Northern Lights forecast in Canada, you can visit Aurora Watch.

Northern lights forecast in Canada

Northern Lights in the Canadian Rockies – KP 7.8 (G3 storm)

On this website, you’ll find:

  • The Short-term Northern Lights forecast in Canada.
  • Your % probability of seeing the Aurora in the Edmonton area. This is a good way to find out the Aurora forecast in Banffand the Canadian Rockies.
  • The historical data so you can plan your trip for the best time.

You can also use this Cloud forecast in Canada before starting your Northern Lights hunt. For further information, here is the post we have written about the best time and places to see Northern Lights in Canada.

Northern Lights forecast Norway

To forecast Northern Lights in Norway, the best prediction site is the Norwegian Center for Space Weather (NOSWE).

Northern Lights forecast Lofoten Islands

Northern Lights in the Lofoten Islands – KP 1.8

This site is the bible for Northern Lights in Norway, where you’ll find:

  • Northern Lights forecast in Tromso, Oslo, Svalbard, and many other places.
  • The Ovation Auroral forecast in Norway.
Northern Lights forecast Norway

Aurora forecast in Norway – NOSWE

To check the cloud coverage forecast in Norway, the best site is YR.no. For more information, check our article on the best time and places to see Northern Lights in Norway.

Northern Lights forecast Finland

For a Northern Lights forecast in Europe and other good regions to see the Aurora like Finland, you can use Auroras Now.

 To check the cloud forecast in Finland use the SAA website.

Solar Cycle and Aurora Borealis: Is 2020 a good year to see the Northern Lights?

To finish this article, I just wanted to address one of the most common questions we receive these days: Is 2020 a good year to see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights depend entirely on solar activity, which follows an 11 year-cycle.

During this 11-year cycle, the sun has a period of less activity at the beginning and end of the cycle, called solar minimum, and a period of more activity in the middle of the cycle, also known as solar maximum.

Solar cycle good year to see the Aurora

Solar cycle and Northern Lights forecast

During the solar maximum, there is more significant activity, which increases the possibility of seeing more frequent geomagnetic storms and strong Northern Lights at lower latitudes.

2020 is a solar minimum year, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get any chance to see the Northern Lights. It just means that there will be fewer Northern Lights displays and strong events will be rarer.

Just as an example, 2019 has been a solar minimum year, and yet during our Iceland Northern Lights Photo Tour, we enjoyed 2 nights of strong KP-5 Northern Lights during the nights of the 27thand 28th of September.

It is possible to see the Aurora during solar minimum

KP 5 (G1) during the 27th of Sept 2019 (Solar Minimum) – Capture the Atlas Photo Tour

Conclusion

Northern Lights forecast is real science, but it can be summarized by understanding a couple of concepts, like the KP-index and the Aurora prediction maps.

Use the KP as a rough idea for a Northern Lights forecast. Make sure you’re trying to see the Lights when there is a promising Aurora prediction and not just an estimation of what time you’ll see them.

Don’t forget to check the cloud forecast. Even if the sun is melting, you won’t see the Aurora Borealis if the skies are covered.

Finally, my last tip: if you’re planning a Northern Lights trip and don’t want to be bothered by maps and data, download any of the best Northern Lights forecast apps and activate the alarms/notifications to know when the solar activity will increase in your location.

Please feel free to leave any questions related to Northern Lights forecast!  Happy hunting!

Text and Photography by Dan Zafra - Capture the Atlas Photography Blog

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Dan Zafra

COFOUNDER & PHOTO TOUR LEADER

Dan is a professional nature and landscape photographer, photography educator, and co-founder of Capture the Atlas. His base camp is in Philadelphia, USA, but he spends long periods of time exploring and photographing new locations around the world.

Apart from shooting the Milky Way, the Northern Lights, and any landscape that can stir powerful emotions, he enjoys leading photo tours to some of the remotest places on Earth.

You can find more about Dan here.

26 thoughts on “Northern Lights Forecast: How to predict the Aurora Borealis

  1. Wing says:

    Hi
    I am travelling to Norway from 29/10 to 08/11 .Can you please advise when is the possible dates can see Northern Light ? thank you!

  2. Janine says:

    I’m planning on a trip to Whitefish Point, Michigan and would like to know is April the best time to see the Aurora or October?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi,

      It’s very difficult to see Northern Lights in Whitefish Point since the altitude is not very high. You have the same chances of seeing them in April or October. Bear in mind that you will need a KP higher than kp6 something that only happens a couple of times per year during a solar minimum year like 2020 is.

      Ascen

  3. Louise Murray says:

    We are travelling to Saariselka, Finland for a week commencing 9th February 2020 – how is it looking then !
    Thanks Louise !

  4. Neha Jain says:

    Hi team!

    Amazing website with useful information! Kudos! 🙂

    I and my husband will be in Rovaniemi and Saariselka on 15th – 17th Feb’20 and 18th – 20th Feb’20 respectively. Though we will be taking guided tours for Aurora chasing, however, some predicted information can come really handy. Can you help?

    Thank You!
    Neha

  5. George Mizzell says:

    Hey, we have been planning our trip to Tromso for about a year and we arrive next Wednesday night. We will be there for a week and will be with a Kensington tour group and should be out every night to see the Northern Lights. What does it look like our chance will be to see the lights? We leave on Jan 28. All of the apps are showing low KP values and since the trip cost a LOT of money – of course there are no guarantees – but we would like to start bracing ourselves if we might not see anything:(. Thanks so muh – loved reading all through your site:)

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi George,

      I understand your concern, the Aurora is an elusive phenomenon and some luck is always required.

      Even if the Northern Lights forecast for your days is low, Tromso is at a very high latitude, so your chances of seeing the Aurora are high as long as there are clear skies.

      Wish you all the best in your Aurora chasing experience!

      Dan

  6. Graham says:

    We have a trip booked for Tromso for 2 nights 26/27 Jan. How many days out will the forecast be accurate? This is our second try, first time in YLLAS (Finland) for 3 nights we did not see any glimmer.

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Graham,

      The 14-day forecast is accurate, but it can suddenly change so you never know. It can also change during the same night. Be patient and be sure it will be worth the travel 🙂

      Ascen

  7. Saurabh Bhola says:

    Hi,

    We are planning to visit Ivalo, Rovaniemi and Kakslauttenan (all in Finland) in the first week of March 2020. Would we be able to see northern lights at that time in those places? Or should we choose another place to be able to see them?

  8. Kath says:

    Hi,

    What a great site!

    Im going to Norway in the first week of December but fly into Oslo. Is it a good idea to fly north to Tromso or should I wait another few years for the solar activity to be better?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Kath,

      Thanks so much for your message and words!

      I strongly advise getting a flight to Tromso. Even though we’re in a low phase of the solar cycle activity, it doesn’t mean that you can´t see big displays of Northern Lights. At high latitudes like Tromso, there are very high chances of seeing the Aurora during any time of the solar cycle.

      Wish you the best in your Northern Lights chasing experience! 😉

      Dan

  9. Carsten says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for a great website with a lot of useful information.

    I was wondering how much the moon affects the visibility of the aurora. Can you give an estimate? e.g. a full moon would make the aurora less visible corresponding to 1 Kp, thereby reducing the Kp from e.g. 4 to 3?

    Thanks in advance,
    Carsten

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Carsten,

      Last year in September we saw the Northern Lights with a KP4 in Southern Iceland and with the moon shining to 80%. It is impossible to say how much KP reduces the full moon, since, it is not the same to have a Kp4 in Iceland than in the Canadian Rockies. Besides, it is not the same to have a KP4 with high solar wind speed than with low solar wind speed.

      There are too many variables to be able to estimate the visibility in advance. Just go out there and have fun chasing this jaw-drop phenomenon.

      Ascen

  10. Simran Mann says:

    Hi!
    I am visiting Alberta next week for 5 days. Mostly Edmonton and Calgary. I read alot about northern lights, but not sure where to go to see them, jasper or Banff?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Simran,

      I’ve checked the Northern Lights forecast and your best bet is next Monday to Tuesday, Tuesday to Wednesday and Wednesday to Thursday nights. The northern you go, the higher the chances you’ll have. So I’d try in Jasper.

      Good luck!
      Ascen

    • Maggie H says:

      Hi,

      My husband and I are traveling to Tromso on the 20th Jan 2020, is there a chance we’ll see the Northern Lights? We’ve signed up for an organized trip for that evening.

      Thank you

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      The KP looks low on the 20th, but you never know. It can increase suddenly and in Tromso, you will see the Northern Lights even with a low KP. However, check the cloud coverage.

      Ascen.

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