Northern Lights Yoho Canada

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 Northern Lights quite accurately. So much so that today it is possible to plan trips to see the Northern Lights weeks in advance, ensuring a good display of lights.

However, for this, you need to know how to read the northern lights forecast and be patient. No matter how good you are on predicting Northern Lights. Forecasts can change in minutes!

Northern Lights forecast

How to predict Northern Lights

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, and now it’s easier than ever to understand it.

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

Before telling you how to predict 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 are not 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 Nothern Lights maps so you can predict Northern Lights in real-time.

In 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 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, which is directly related to Northern Lights visibility. Here you can learn a little more about what causes the northern lights.

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

  • The higher the KP-index the further south you can see Northern Lights.
  • The higher the KP-index the most 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 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 are most visible in the northern sky at high latitudes.

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

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

It is already considered a solar storm of grade G1 at KP5. KP6 indicates 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 in 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 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.

Long term KP Northern Lights forecast

Long term KP forecast by Spaceweatherlive

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

Take always 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.

Also, 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 chances 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 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 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 in 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 the last Aug 31st and the Sept 1st, there was a KP 5. Twenty-seven days later during the 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, but it’s another way to predict Northern Lights visibility in the long run.

Northern lights forecast tonight

The simplest and more straightforward way to know the long-term Aurora forecast and the Northern Lights forecast for tonight is 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 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 in 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 will see nothing, so, 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 is very useful to use local tools that will show you in detail the locations with clear skies near to you to which you can go to see the aurora.

These are the best Northern Lights forecast 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 forecast and the Aurora prediction for all the other areas in Iceland.
  • The Moon phase. This is also interesting since the full moon could make weak auroras less visible. However, we have been able to see the northern lights also with a full moon.
  • The cloud coverage in 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 on this article we wrote about the best time and places to see Northern Lights in Iceland.

Northern Lights forecast Alaska

To find 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.

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

For general Northern Lights forecast in the USA, like for example, Aurora forecast in Minnesota, Montana 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 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 very good opportunity to know the Aurora forecast in Banff and 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. Besides, 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 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 Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights depends 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 a 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 it doesn’t mean that you won’t have any chance to see Northern Lights, it just means that there will be fewer Northern Lights displays and strong events will be rarer.

Just an example, 2019 has been a solar minimum-year, and yet during our Iceland Northern Lights Photo Tour, we could enjoy 2 nights of strong KP-5 Northern Lights during the nights of the 27thand 28thof 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 in understanding a couple of concepts like the KP-index and the Aurora prediction maps.

Use the KP as a rough idea for Northern Lights forecast; Make sure you’re trying to see the lights as long as 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 down; you won’t see the Aurora Borealis if the skies are covered.

And 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 increases 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

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

Don't miss out...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.