How to Read a Northern Lights Forecast
Everyone wants to see the aurora borealis & experiencing it can be more attainable with knowledge of the northern lights forecast. This article has the basic information to dramatically increase chances of experiencing these magical solar flares glowing over the far reaches of our planet.
The KP Index is is the global geomagnetic storm index and ranges from 0 (very little aurora activity) to 9 (extreme amounts of aurora activity). As an adventurer and photographer, I have a direct interest in this information & have used the forecast successfully numerous times. It is cold and tiring to be out late looking for the aurora. Waiting until a prediction of 4 or above can save energy and increase your chances to experience the amazing aurora borealis. The forecast can shift but is very helpful to save time and energy.
27 day Forecast
The NOAA website has an extended 27 day forecast that can help with longer range planning. The furthest right column is the KP Index, and scan for numerous days in a row of 4 or above. If you are using a mobile device, turn to landscape for last column to appear. The 27 day forecast is helpful for bigger trips to give more time prepare logistics. It is important to note that this forecast is UTC time which is accurate if you are in Europe. However, look a day ahead if reading forecast for Alaska or Canada because these areas are in an earlier time zone. So if in Fairbanks, Alaska on the 1st of February, look to February 2nd on the chart to adjust for the UTC time zone. This forecast is updated every Sunday.
3 day Forecast
When getting closer to your dates to see the aurora, utilize the NOAA 3 day forecast which is broken down into 3 hour periods over the 3 days for more detailed planning. Again this is UTC time so adjust accordingly. If in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories of Canada subtract 7 hours to give a better estimate of the forecast. Again, I tend to look for predictions of KP Index of 4 or above for best viewing.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has a visual display of the aurora oval or area of high probability of northern lights along with the KP Index Forecast. This oval which expands with more northern lights activity goes over Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Canada & Alaska (Antarctica for southern hemisphere). You can adjust to specific region to get more detailed view of the aurora oval for a particular day.
Final Notes – Seasons & Weather
The aurora cannot be viewed in the summer months because of 24 hours of light near the polar regions. Weather is also a vital consideration. Checking the weeks forecast can help with understanding what nights are the best to aurora hunt. Understanding regional climates (coastal fog vs inland clear skies) as well as seasonal variations can help with picking where and when to head out. February & March tend to have lowest precipitation levels for the aurora viewing seasons. This information should dramatically increase your chances of experiencing the mesmerizing northern lights.