A Surprise Display

October 24, 2002
Photographs taken between 9:15 and 9:40 p.m.

Looking northwest.  The lights of Washburn, ND, are on the left, and the lights of Wilton, ND, are on the right.

Looking northeast.  The aurora is easily visible despite the bright moon.

Looking northeast.

Looking north.  The aurora is strongest over the lights of Wilton, ND.

Looking north.  The lights of Washburn, ND, are on the left, and the lights of Wilton, ND, are on the right.  Note the clouds moving in overhead.

Looking north.  The lights of Washburn, ND, are on the left, and the lights of Wilton, ND, are on the right.  Note the clouds moving in overhead.

Looking north-northwest.  The lights of Washburn, ND, are on the left, and the lights of Wilton, ND, are on the right.  FYI, I could actually see a "dull" red on the upper part of the display.  Note the clouds moving in overhead.  By the way, that "white stuff" in the foreground is snow!

Looking northeast.  Note the clouds moving in from the southwest.

Looking north.  Two minutes prior to my taking this photograph, there was a strong ray to the north.  I took this photograph after I set my camera up in a new viewing location.  The ray was gone, but I took the photograph anyway, and this is the result.  Again, note the light snow covering part of the landscape.

Clouds, clouds, clouds.  Sometimes, North Dakota - even with its semi-arid climate - can have clouds for weeks, as was the case on the October 24, 2002.  

I was disappointed this particular day because I knew that the northern lights would be visible at my location in the evening - but above the cloud layer.  

On this particular evening, after I got home from a meeting, I saw that the activity was good - but Bismarck was "socked in" with clouds.  

By chance, I called my dad on the farm and he said "it's cloudy, but let me take a look."  He walked outside and promptly told me, "it's clear out." 

Thus, I left at about 9 p.m., and prior to even getting out of the city limits, I could see the northern lights, high in the northern sky, with activity above 60 degrees.  

There was a cloud bank moving northeast, and one just behind me to the southwest.  I figured I had about 1 hour to view the show before clouds once again dominated the night sky.  

I could easily see activity as I drove north, despite the glare of the headlights from my vehicle.  I set up to photograph at about 9:15 a.m., and then a substorm began.  Despite bright moonlight, I had no problem seeing the northern lights right by the moon.  

Activity was decent, but then the show died about 9:40 p.m., and it totally clouded over at about 10:00 p.m.  

Now if I was a real "aurora freak," I would have driven north and east, ahead of the cloud bank.  However, sleep was on the schedule, and there will be another show .....

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